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Basketball (Atari)


Known as the lightning sport, which can bring emotions with speed and charm. This in an sport with mandatory videogames, particularly those targeting the North American market, where the basketball has strong popularity. Atari had at the end of 70s a strong line of home computers with a remarkable library of videogames, having within their most ancient titles, one dedicated to basketball.

We have to say that the original game was developed for the Atari 2600 console, but in less than a year, it was available for the company’s own 8bit computer line and also as an Arcade game.


Company: Atari
Year: 1979
Plataform: Atari 8bit
Controller: One-button Joystick


Home advantage is quite overrated.

The game is very simple, and that is the key to its popularity. There are two virtual basketball players: one, maybe an avatar of Larry Bird, controlled by the human player, while the other one, probably an avatar of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, controlled by the computer. The human player can control the movements of its virtual athlete with the joystick and depending the time pressing the joystick button, is the angle which the ball travels to the basket: it can be a long shot, or a very short one. It’s amazing that you can perfectly distinguish the “inclination” of the hand to get an idea of how will be the shot.

To my amusement, there is a two-player cooperative mode. This way a second player can incorporate the game, with the corresponding joystick and help the first player with an avatar of either Moses Malone or Julius “Dr. J” Erwing while the computer does the same with one of Rick Barry or the mexican Manuel Raga (altough this guy played remarkably well in Europe, not in the NBA).

Well balanced teams.

Other modes allow up until four human players. Forget deffense, the best way to play the game is trying to score as quick as possible because steal the ball is practically impossible.

In two-player modes, the passing is funny, because it’s required the player who DO NOT has the ball press the botton of the joystick in a way that when the player who HAS the ball press the button to make a pass instead of shooting to the basket. It’s the equivalent of shouting “To me!!!”. You have to consider that the standard Atari joystick only has one button and in future consoles, with more buttons, the situation was solved.


Atari 2600

The match is close, even if it does not look that way.

The successful videogame console was the first one with this sport videogame, considering that the console never was known for great sport titles, this one was amongst the best.

I had the chance to play it in my hometown, and the game was quite fast and funny. It quickly became a fan-favorite because you can shoot t the basket from afat and if you moved the virtual player fast enough, you can catch the ball in mid-air while it was going up. Basically you can make auto-passes this way, and it was hilarious.

We have to remember that this title, being made during late 70s, had a curious palette of colors. While the other two adaptations had a certain feeling of realism, this one you think it’s a match between two aliens in the Moon.

Insist, playing with the auto-passes is hilarious.


Funny scheme color for an arena, I think it could work.

As already mentioned, the game was ported to being played as an Arcade game. In this port, the player can control the virtual athlete with a trackball which is surprisingly effective for this kind of games.

The game, released also in 1979, does not have the two player option against the AI, and only uses one button.

It’s very interesting controlling the virtual athlete with the already mentioned trackball, because while disorienting at first, it works really well.


For the competition with other platforms, particulary with Intellivision, which were more popular and with better reviews for its sports titles, Atari made new versions for most of its sports titles for Atari 2600, and also for the next console, the Atari 5200, known as Realsports.

Curiously enough, the two for basketball for the home consoles, wnt unpublished. There were many reasons, but both of them were not as bad as other released titles from the time. They will be mentioned in another entry as mere anecdotic cases.


The game’s simplicity allows it to play a quick match of basketball is the main feature of the game, because the time flies and the scores can be… interesting.


Sport Icon designed by Smashicons of FlatIcon licensed by CC 3.0 BY.

Console Icons taken from Retroarch.

Image used in title, taken from Atarimania.

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