EA to announce return of 'NBA Jam'

When EA Sports community manager Alain Quinto tweeted back in December that EA execs were preparing to announce a new game, the rumors and speculation spiraled out of control. Was EA going to steal the WWE license from THQ? Is "MVP Baseball" coming back? Is a new sport like lacrosse finally going to break through with an NCAA-licensed game? To make it simple, no, no and no.

Instead, sources confirmed to ESPN that the new title is actually one of the all-time classics coming back to consoles as EA Sports has acquired the rights from the NBA to deliver an updated version of "NBA Jam" that will ship to retail exclusively for the Wii.

For those too young to remember, "NBA Jam" is a two-on-two basketball game that hit arcades back in 1993 and instantly took the video game industry by storm. The game (originally published by Midway) shattered all coin-op records, and still holds the mark for most money earned at a single location in one week.

"'Jam' was making so much money when it first came out. There was so much four-player action at this one arcade in Chicago that the first week they had to shut the arcade down, because there was a huge fight over whose turn it was to play," the game's creator, Mark Turmell, told me last year for a piece in ESPN The Magazine. "There was so much money coming in, they had to change the coin-box every day. It was crazy."

And that crazy four-player action is set to return big-time as sources claim that EA has not only hired Turmell to work on upcoming sports games (would love to see him also bring back "NFL Blitz"), he's already been brought to EA's Vancouver studio to help consult on the new "Jam." Sources also claim that Turmell isn't the only old-school "Jam" vet being brought back into the mix, which makes me wonder if EA will also hire the voice of the original game, Tim Kitzrow, to once again unleash phrases like "Boomshackalacka!" and "He's on fire!"

And considering that "Jam" was famous for including hidden characters like Bill Clinton and Will Smith, one has to wonder if EA is planning a hidden Obama character to deliver a presidential throwdown on King James.

Then again, even if there's no president this time around, the prospects of who will be in this game are intriguing, to say the least. Thinking back to the dominant teams in "Jam" history, dynamic duos like Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, John Stockton and Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and John Starks, and Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp ruled arcades and consoles for years. Will Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol be this generation's best squad? Or will a team of Shaq and LeBron make for an unbeatable one-two punch (especially considering that Shaq was in the original arcade game way back when he was teaming with Scott Skiles).

I guess we won't know until EA Sports officially announces the game later this month.

Until then, I leave you with some of the secrets of "Jam's" past from my ESPN The Mag column, straight from the mouth of famed creator Mark Turmell:

The Limited Edition Team of Michael Jordan and Gary Payton

"Payton didn't make the cut to be in the [first arcade] game, and of course, Jordan pulled himself out of the licensing of the NBA, so we had to pull him out of the game," explained Turmell. "But one day, I got a phone call from a distributor out on the West Coast who told me that Gary Payton was willing to pay whatever it cost to get into the game. So we told him what to do in terms of taking photographs, so he sent in photographs of himself and Jordan, saying, 'We want to be in the game, hook us up.' So we actually did a special version of the game and gave both players all-star, superstar stats. There are only a handful of these machines, but Jordan and Payton did end up being in one version of the game."

The Pack-A-Shaq

"Shaq actually bought two machines," said Turmell. "He kept one at home and then, if you can believe this, they shipped the game with them on their road trips, setting up the machine in their hotel rooms as they traveled. The players would play, then get someone to pack it up and ship it off to the next city."

The Pippen Jinx

Did Scottie Pippen's ratings really drop when he played certain teams or was I just the least clutch shooter every time I played Detroit? "It's true, but only when the Bulls played the Pistons," explained Turmell. "If there was a close game and anyone on the Bulls took a last-second shot, we wrote special code in the game so that they would average out to be bricks. There was the big competition back in the day between the Pistons and the Bulls, and since I was always a big Pistons fan, that was my opportunity to level the playing field."

The One Where Drazen Petrovic Haunted the Studio

"We had already finished making 'NBA Jam' when Drazen Petrovic died," said Turmell. "The game had already shipped and he was on the Nets. So we had all of these coin-op machines around, and one night we were playing 'Mortal Kombat' and there was a 'Jam' machine next to it, and all of a sudden the game started calling out 'Petrovic! Petrovic!' And this only happened after Petrovic had died. Everyone started freaking out. Something weird was going on with the software, and to this day, if you have an original 'NBA Jam' machine every once in a while it will just yell out 'Petrovic!' It's wild."