Clyde Drexler, Dikembe Mutombo and Dominique Wilkins Reflect on the Immortality of “NBA Jam”
Along with James Worthy, the trio of stars will be bringing some ‘90s nostalgia to Cleveland for NBA All-Star Weekend
For people who don’t remember a time when video games were played on consoles and arcade cabinets instead of iPhones, the nonsensical exclamation “boomshakalaka” probably doesn’t mean all that much, if anything.
But for anyone who played the iconic video game NBA Jam following its 1993 release, that line from game announcer Tim Kitzrow conjures up images of larger-than-life cartoon basketball players soaring above the court to throw down thunderous dunks, slams and those eponymous jams.
That’s true for gamers, but it’s also true for some of the former NBA star players who were represented in the game, including Clyde Drexler, Dikembe Mutombo and Dominique Wilkins, all of whom will be in Cleveland to help bring some ‘90s nostalgia to the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend on behalf of Michelob ULTRA.
Along with Los Angeles Lakers legend James Worthy, Drexler, Mutombo and Wilkins will be involved in festivities around the city, some of which will include limited-edition Michelob ULTRA cans inspired by NBA Jam and a pop-up bar appropriately titled Boom Shaka Laka’s.
“I think the first time I got a chance to play NBA Jam was during All-Star Weekend,” Mutombo tells InsideHook. “It was fun. We see Mutombo with the high-top fade running around, blocking shots, doing the finger wag and all of that stuff. There was a lot more of me dunking the ball than shooting, because the shooting was not really a part of my game. There were a couple of seasons where I led the NBA in dunking.”
Drexler, who participated in the All-Star Dunk Contest five times, also felt the game’s creators nailed his ability to deliver a boomshakalaka dunk accurately, perhaps to a fault.
“Oh, they had it. It was better than I was actually,” Drexler says. “But it was one of those things. Everybody played NBA Jam back in the day. It was cool, it was hip. Back then, there wasn’t a whole lot of technology available like that. That game was on the cutting edge of technology and it was something to behold. To do something like that with real players and real movements, that was a lot of fun. You’d play it with your kids and your nieces and nephews. That was certainly one of the fondest memories of that time.”
For Wilkins, who won the Dunk Contest twice, taking the digital court of NBA Jam was also a family affair.
“I think the first time I ever played was with my son. I was in a foreign country. He was a genius on it,” Wilkins says. “Even to this day, I can’t handle him, man. These kids now, when it comes to these games, it’s just incredible. I hate all the time, kids say, ‘Man, I scored 42 with you the other night.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ They’ll say, ‘The game, man. You can score in the game.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, okay. That’s nice.’ To see that the game is still so strong in this world, and not just in this country, is amazing. I mean, guys jump over the backboards in the game, so I think they got it right.”
Beyond playing some NBA Jam this weekend, Drexler and Wilkins are also looking forward to Saturday night’s dunk contest, despite it no longer being quite the star-studded affair it was in the 1990s.
“It’s changed. It went from all the great players competing to more random guys deciding to get in the contest at the last minute,” Wilkins says. “I would love to see a lot of the superstars who are athletic get into the dunk contest. When Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon were in it, it was amazing what they did. They put on a show. Now you’ve got this new group of guys in this All-Star Weekend. I am very interested in seeing how they perform.”
Even if the dunk contest ain’t what it used to be.
“It used to be the best players who participated in the dunk contest. We all competed and it wasn’t a big deal,” Drexler says. “I think now guys are more concerned about their brand and are worried about losing. The NBA is all about competition. If they think enough of you to name you as a contestant in the dunk contest and you’re still young enough to compete, you’ve got to go out there and have some fun, because the fans want to see it. Go out there and show them what you got and let it be what it’ll be. Don’t worry about what could happen if you don’t win.”
As for Mutombo, he’s considering bringing his size-22 sneakers and joining the contest as a contestant.
“I still can jump. Make no mistake about that,” he says. “I have a basketball court in the backyard and I dunk on my kids all the time. Every time they challenge me, they see daddy can still jump. I haven’t lost my hops yet and my height is still there. I don’t play as much as some guys, but I can still get out there for five minutes — if they pay me right.”
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