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One on One

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Do you want to play that game tonight?

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers
Yes, the game looked just like this.
Photo by Anthony Neste/NBAE via Getty Images

Cast your memory, or if not recollection, your imagination, back nearly forty years to the first good electronic basketball game. The game that marks the true beginning of EA Sports, back in 1983. That’s right, it’s One On One: Dr. J. Vs Larry Bird. It’s ironic that EA has more or less abandoned serious NBA simulations (for now anyway), because they are the ones who started it all. (There was a time when NBA Live was for “purists” who wanted video game basketball that more or less looked like the game we see, and 2K was the “arcade” version of the NBA.)

The colorful Trip Hawkins at Electronic Arts was trying to make the game that eventually became the Category Killer, Madden Football, but the company was finding it hard to do in the early 1980s. Twenty-two players, running plays, with state of the art graphics? I’ll bet your phone has far more computing power in its memory buffer than the personal computers or game systems of the time.

EA decided to set their sights on something perhaps easier to accomplish with existing technology of the day: one on one basketball. Some say One on One: Dr. J vs Larry Bird is the first time celebrities appeared in a video game, it’s certainly the first time that NBA players did.

The game had features no one had seen before in video games: jumpers, fall away shots, dunks (including that 80s icon, the shattered backboard (and a guy cleaning it up, and angry fans complaining about it), putbacks, and stunningly, instant replay of key, or at worst “selected” plays. Players could shoot off spins, block shots, steal the ball, or get called for personal fouls if too zealous in guarding.

Yes, all that, and good (excellent) animation for the time. There’s a reason EA became a monster, and One on One is what got them going until Madden Football (or whatever its officially called, became the national touchstone it is now).

You can download emulators and the game to see for yourself. Remember if you play, it’s likely your current washing machine, or microwave oven, has more processing power than the systems that game was designed to be played upon. It’s a triumph of clever and efficient coding.

There was a follow up game in 1988 (Not yearly? How is it possible?) that featured Michael Jordan vs Larry Bird, with Bird the “eminence gris” in place of Dr. J, and it offered a dunk contest, and a three point shootout as well as improved graphics and animation.

Both of these are excellent games of their times. If you’re curious, you can go here, download an emulator and a tiny, tiny, abandonware file.

I played a lot of Bird vs Jordan.

Poll

Did you ever play an EA "One on One" game?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Yes.
    (16 votes)
  • 50%
    No.
    (22 votes)
  • 13%
    Yes, and I kicked Luka’s butt, too.
    (6 votes)
44 votes total Vote Now