With the release of NBA 2K15 just around the corner (7 October), it seems now is the time to offer the most informed opinion of who best to play with in NBA Blacktop mode. Some choices may seem obvious to you, and they are, but they have been hand-picked after months of trial and error with similarly brilliant players who, for whatever reason, just didn’t work out. While one could say having an all-time five this close to the new release is redundant, I say it just took the maximum amount of time to suss out who is the best.
Picking an all-time NBA 2K14 Blacktop team should be a simple process, right? Just collect the world’s finest players of the last 50 years, et voila. A starting five of Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson would do just fine against any other five players from history, in real life. But Blacktop isn’t real life, even if it feels like it sometimes.
As any connoisseur will tell you – and I consider myself to be a mad Keith Floyd-style Blacktop bon viveur, armed with a bottle of inexpensive wine and a grim determination to field as many foreign players as possible – Blacktop is a game all of its own, with its own nuances and unsung legends, especially once you incorporate drinking games. This is an opportunity to learn how Joel Anthony can be more terrifying from the 3-point line than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar running a sky hook clinic.
As opposed to a normal game of basketball, Blacktop is an informal game replicating a pick-up match. Played on an inner city court, fouls are harder to come by, the rules are slackened and more freelancing is expected. Scoring points by ones and twos, the winning team has to reach 21 points while being more than a single point ahead of their opponent (the old “win by two” rule). Plays can’t be called, except unhelpful pick-and-rolls and virtuosity reigns.
To know the best possible Blacktop team, you need to first understand the difference in gameplay. For reasons unknown, NBA 2K14 threw a couple of spanners in the works, most notably inverting player positions so the tallest player on the court is given ball handling duties while your most diminutive waterbug naturally strays down to the low block for pick-setting and not getting rebounds. The other most obvious change concerns when you are offline. There is no access to the league’s best players, creating a parallel universe where Danilo Gallinari and Chandler Parsons rule the basketballing world.
In its own way however, Blacktop is the greatest exponent of new-age basketball thinking, an Erik Spoelstra dream world where hybrid players fill every position, running, shooting, and jumping their way into immortality in the minds of those sedentary enough to care about this sort of thing. Know that shooting is the most important thing in Blacktop and only a small band of players can ever be considered for selection when lacking that skill, Andre Drummond is great, but give me Danny Green any day.
After countless hours and bathtub loads of the Turkish lager Marmara Gold with fellow IC conscript John McCabe, I have lovingly devised the best possible group of Blacktop players so you don’t have to. Save your thanks. Just know that blood has been spilled in the process. Blacktop is a different game to anything else. Playing a game of regular NBA2K14 after a Blacktop binge is like having three cans of lager and then sitting on a bus for an hour, by yourself.
To extend this analogy, if a regular NBA2K14 game, for the purist, is like enjoying a night of scallops and white wine with a group of learned friends while discussing how “The Simpsons” is the greatest tapestry of the human self since the ladies from Bayeux put needle to cloth, then Blacktop is like injecting a speed ball into your nut sack, hooking your nipples to a car battery, putting Hunter S. Thompson under the table, and wanking off a tramp before ending up on a boat to another country followed by an hour’s worth of trying to climb into your own shoe. It’s addictive, it’s destructive. It’s degrading, unedifying, and raucous but, by God, how that time flew by.
When there are essentially no positions and your smallest player is asked to play center, James with his versatility and grace with size is an obvious choice, and I mention him first to get the obvious out of the way. He’s great. If he’s open it goes in and it still goes in even if he’s not. James passes, rebounds, defends, makes plays, and generally makes life easy. The rock-paper-scissors pre-game ritual for the first pick is essentially like the 2003 NBA Draft – whoever lucks out can get LeBron.
Defensively, he’s a beast who almost brings pangs of Stockholm Syndrome on you with his almost blissfully disturbing blanket defence, a bit like sniffing a bowl of Vix with a mat of straightened pubic hairs over your head.
Enough about LeBron. Read Zach Lowe if you want to know the intricacies of his genius. Stories about James aren’t in short supply. This is Blacktop. I love high-brow basketball talk, but this isn’t the time or the place.
So, without further ado:
The Starting Five You Would Take to Moron Mountain to Play the Nerdlucks From Space Jam. (Don’t Worry, There’s Nuanced Lineups Further Down)
The bearded glass-eater is almost a circus act when it comes to Blacktop. Lights-out shooting and elite rebounding makes Love a must, and the only player that could ever challenge LeBron for the No. 1 pick. On a court full of shooters in a high-volume fling-em-up game, good rebounding is an underrated skill, and no one combines ball boarding and shooting like Kevin Love. There has probably never been a player like him in NBA history. OK, OK. Apart from Brian Scalabrine.
Again, though Love is obvious, he’s an elite player with an almost unfair skill set. Not picking him would be an egregious oversight and deserves an evening in NBA Siberia while you think about what a moron you are and read a book about NBA spacing.
Now, this isn’t the obvious pick you’d think it is. Of course, it’s Jordan, so you pick him, but it’s so much more than that. First, you need to pick which Jordan. Young, impudent 1980s Jordan is a gazelle that makes Bo Jackson look like JJ Barea, but, much like a pimp you meet in a Vegas alleyway, he’s a lot of fun but you just can’t trust him. Back then, Jordan was a running, dunking machine. The 3-point line was just a dot to him then; young Jordan didn’t realize the line was for a-shooting, it was just the next benchmark to dunk from after doing it from the free throw line.
Older Jordan, is a more distinguished beast. I’d say 1996 Jordan is – to employ another food-and-drink metaphor – the finest vintage of an overly competitive vineyard with a perfect terroir that was shut down and starting making Mateus Rose before returning to its former glory (followed by a binge in Washington where the wine turned to vinegar).
Jordan of ‘96 still has plenty of athleticism, but he adds to this great 3-point shooting and a fadeaway that is both unstoppable and unmissable.
Surprisingly, Jordan will sometimes be your fifth man. LeBron takes care of most of the heavy lifting and the better 3-point shooters take care of spreading the floor. Jordan misses plenty of threes; he won’t be your No. 1 option. Where he is at his best is as a release valve.
Remember: Blacktop scoring is 1 point for a field goal and 2 points for a “trey”, so the importance of outside shooting increases. But sometimes you just need points. Sometimes you’re a point away from winning and you just need a simple basket but you’re too revved to think out a nice play. That’s where Jordan comes in. As in life, he’s the ultimate closer. It’s more than acceptable to just run full pelt into the opposition half and fling an off-balance, hand-in-the-face shot with Jordan and be confident it’s going down.
On the other hand, he is a sparkplug when you’re down. The natural inclination when you are down by a distance in Blacktop is to fling threes until the rain comes. Wrong. You give Jordan the ball, guarantee 5 points from five possessions and know that the opposition will muck up their lead because they’re either too giddy or too drunk.
The ultimate hybrid player. Shoots like Kyle Korver, as tall as Tim Duncan, and runs like Usain Bolt. Perfect Blacktop, although personally I pick him because I should, not because I’m good with him. On the contrary, under my command, Durant looks more those huge semi-inflatable spectres you see before big sports events, arms flailing uncontrollably. But he’s good. So pick him.
NBA finals MVP and marginal Blacktop legend. Hybrid, great rebounder, and good shooter who can finish a dunk like a tramp finishes a bag of crisps. It hurts to not pick Larry Bird (too slow), Jerry West (too small at the center position), Pete Maravich (great fun but not a good idea, like telling your in-laws about your sex life), Bill Russell, or Magic Johnson (no J), but this is Blacktop and the world is at stake. You have to go with the gloves that fit. A lineup of LBJ, MJ, K-Love, KD, and Leonard has no weaknesses.
OK. Fine. The only weakness is rim protection but who needs rim protection when you’re jacking up threes? Everyone can pass, shoot, rebound – somewhat – and run. You have that and you have found Blacktop gold.
Of course, it’s very hard to amass such a universe of talent in real life when playing against someone who will automatically select Love second if you take LeBron first. Diamonds in the rough are key. Here is where alcohol gets involved and certain unheard-of players become indispensable.
Unit: A specified slug of drink, whatever is to hand. The same volume of sluggage regardless of alcohol percentage.
Timespan: Immediately. No playing when you should be drinking, although you can play with one hand.
When to drink: After a dunk, steal, or block; after a “deep three”; if your opponent looks you right in the eye for the duration of a player’s shooting motion and it goes in; if a designated player – the 12th man on a given NBA roster – scores any points whatsoever.
Clincher: If Joel Anthony hits a three, you have to do a shot, forfeit the game immediately, and admit you’re “a cunt”.
Tips: Pick Joel Anthony. Know your 12th men (Scalabrine, Darko Milicic, Hasheem Thabeet, etc). Keep your cigarette in the ashtray between drags. Trying to play with one hand that’s also holding a cigarette while you drink because Jamal Crawford hit a three from the half court line can play merry hell with your upholstery. Also, just because the local shop has no cheap liquor, don’t buy Malibu in lieu of that, it’ll be the worst 10 minutes of your life.
Personally, I struggle with him. John doesn’t, so I pick Crawford so he can’t have him. Like in real life, Crawford can either single-handedly win you a game or single-handedly lose you a game. Whatever the weather, you’ll be drinking a lot. As ESPN has proved, if a 4-point line existed, Crawford would be its best practitioner. I have lost games and mulled throwing the controller at a homeless person because Crawford went off and there was nothing I could do about it. He’s the ultimate X-factor. Down by five with the other player on game point? Crawford time. His liquid handle and length don’t hurt either. A quick tip: pressure the ball from the back court if he has it. He can make it from anywhere at any time. It’s like death, you can game plan and take precautions but sooner or later, he’ll get you.
A little will-o’-the-wisp but his jumper is like watching honey being poured onto the German women’s football team. Tenacious D and a stroke so smooth it’s like a cigarette advert from the 1950s.
Orlando Magic-era Shaq
It’s easy to forget now that Shaq spends his time next to Charles Barkley and is clearly the more rotund of the two, but in his heyday with the Magic, Shaq was like a 300-pound Giannis Antetounkmpo. I’ll wait while you check his early highlight reel. Go ahead.
See. Shaq ran like a gazelle. And the game knows it. Incredibly fun to play with and a genuine coast-to-coast fast break option, Orlando Shaq is a beast. More than that, in the post he is a guaranteed bucket. Like Jordan, it’s very useful when you just need points. The only problem is because of the whole position-reversal jobby, Shaq mainly hangs around the 3-point line both offensively and defensively. Getting him in the post can be arduous and getting him near the rim defensively is too hard. You can try jacking threes with him to keep the defence honest but that would be like entrusting your life savings and kids’ college funds to Barkley. O’Neal is still an unbelievable rebounder and ridiculous fun; he just has to be played with from time-to-time. If the positions were as they were (two guards, two forwards, a proper center), he’d be in the original list for sure.
AI was born for this kind of souped-up fun. Personally, I’m hopeless with him. John, however, is legendary. Like the real AI, he is fearless, finishes over anyone, has a ridiculous handle, and has even pulled off the odd block on people twice his size . I hate playing against Allen Iverson.
Lights. Out. But slow and actually a bit rubbish. Make sure you pick someone smaller than him otherwise you’ll be jacking up shots from the low block.
Like Kevin Love but not as good.
So much fun but always the smallest player so they spend their time under the hoop. They’re great but the Blacktop gods probably decide to make the position switch-a-roo because it would have been unfair having this pair launch threes with impunity.
A tall shooter with a good handle who is known as one of, if not the worst, ball stoppers in the NBA. While the Knicks will likely regret bringing him back for another round of underachievement, he can be more than useful in Blacktop. His shot is fluid and easy to master. On many an occasion a game looked done before Meloball reared its head with a pair of pull-up threes on the break…but much like in real life he’s never going to win it all for you.
Drinking game legends
The Blacktop Jesus. The Molotov Cocktail. From Russia with Love. SK47. Stalin’s Little Helper.
Karasev is a heart breaker who’ll make you drink like a Siberian farmer. He nails threes, that’s what he does, with an almost preposterous percentage. In the 2K14 version, Karasev inexplicably lies at the bottom of the Cleveland Cavaliers roster and has been known to be picked ahead of LeBron. When I see Karasev cranking up for a three, I reach for my drink to get the slug done and dusted by the time the ball drops through the hoop. More than that, he can do a few other things. He’s locked LeBron down before. He occasionally whips out a dunk that sends shudders through the floor. His passing is well above average, so he can toss up the odd alley-oop in a pinch.
This may have been a great summer for the Cavs, but they’ll never know what a mistake it was to let Karasev walk to the Russian-owned Brooklyn Nets-ky.
Didn’t get Karasev? No worries. Novak is arguably the more reliable of the two, even if his game isn’t as rounded as Karasev’s. If he’s open, it goes in. He has no cold spells. Deploy Novak early and you can disorientate your opponent with drunkenness. To boot, he’s a decent rebounder and surprisingly good Tomahawk dunker. To be found at the bottom of the Toronto Raptors roster.
The red rocket should be a first ballot Drinking Game Hall of Famer. Get his motion right, and it’s butter on the bread. But he has a slightly funky – and slow – shooting motion. On top of that he can’t do anything other than jack threes. Also, he’s ginger.
“Break glass in case of emergency.” Because of Anthony’s elevated status thanks to his lowly skill set, the Boston Celtics’ big can bail you out of any situation. If he scores a three, you win the game. Disruptive though that rule is, it needs to be done. Must be handled with care.
Only to be used in mercy games. Zero tool. If anything, minus tool.
Should be better but isn’t. Jenksy has his moments, so it’s good to keep him in your back pocket. But he’s a bit like chocolate-covered peanuts at a pick-n-mix stand; nice, but why pick him when there are so many other options?
John liked him. I didn’t.