Applying NBA Jam Vernacular To Nightlife


NBA Jam was a staple of my entertainment intake from roughly 1993-1998. Let’s face it: there were few things that could nurture mutual respect and camaraderie amongst middle school males like a game of NBA Jam (an illicitly gotten copy of Playboy was probably high on that list). But all smut aside, for the twelve minutes of pixilated basketball action crammed into each game, you’d be willing to put aside hatred of even the biggest weenie in your social circle. When it was time to Jam, you jammed. The feeling I had when I won a game by the skin of my 16-bit teeth is one that I won’t soon forget: palms sweating, heart racing, vision bleary; I might as well have just piloted an F-14. When I lost, the lows were just as severe. Controllers were launched across the room. But then I hit Reset, cranked up the digitized funkiness of the soundtrack, entered my initials and off I went, shoving and blocking and dunking from the foul line.

So whereupon I returned home last weekend and dusted off my Sega to find, lo-and-behold, it actually worked, I nearly lost my shit. I didn’t sleep much that night. Now the system remains parked in my apartment living room, NBA Jam glued to the console as my roommates and I hunker down with some Miller High Life, Wheat Thins, and monster video game dunks.

All of this got me thinking — wouldn’t it be fun to reappropriate the NBA Jam lingo that so furiously invaded our lexicon some fifteen years ago to describe situations that we, as supposed adults, now face? Of course it would. In life as you now know it, to what scenarios would phrases like “Tag Mode,” “On Fire” and “Turbo” apply? For better or worse, these are my thoughts.

Tag Mode: Tag Mode allowed you to control both players in your lineup. Rather than being forced to choose between the munchkin-sized Tim Hardaway and the hangtime-challenged Chris Mullin, Tag Mode let you have the best of both worlds. How would this apply to real life? The most obvious and natural application would be the Wingman. Sure, some Casanovas are able to roll into bars solo and charm the Uggs off of unsuspecting women, but in most situations, it helps to have a wingman. To put it simply, the Wingman, like Tag Mode, makes you a well-rounded threat. What you might lack in knowledge of Mad Men, your buddy can pick up the slack. What he lacks in effortless good looks, you can more than carry your weight.

Computer Assistance: With Computer Assistance, every game came down to the wire. You’re up eight with 90 seconds to go? Doesn’t matter. You’ll brick a dunk and your opponent will start nailing threes. It’s inevitable. With Computer Assistance off, you find out who’s out of their league. Similarly, when you find yourself in a social situation talking, somehow, with a beautiful girl that makes you babble like an idiot, you better hope Computer Assistance is on. This means, of course, that she’s had a couple drinks and is willing to put up with your inanity. You build some confidence, and who knows, you might just pull off the upset. With Computer Assistance off, be careful. It could be a massacre.

On Fire: Everyone knows what it means to be “On Fire.” You hit three shots in a row and the golden basketball is bestowed upon you. You can’t miss. When you “grow up,” being on fire means going out hard three or more nights in a row during the workweek. It’s tough to do, but the stories that result from such nights are better, because they’re unexpected. These are the nights that Christmas trees are stolen, that you bowl a 240 at 2 a.m., that you run into Owen Wilson at Little Branch and tell him he’s got everything to live for.

Turbo: Turbo was the juice. The shoes lit up and man, could you scoot. But if you rode Turbo for too long, your momentum would come to a screeching halt, leaving you susceptible to violent shoves, a turnover, and a barrage of obnoxious shit-talking from your friends. In real life, or in our case, nightlife, Turbo is akin to pacing yourself. At the beginning of the night, you hit Turbo: you have a few drinks to get the mojo going. But be careful. If you overdo it too early, you crash. You become susceptible to violent shoves, spilled drinks, and a barrage of obnoxious shit-talking from your friends.

The Nail in the Coffin: The Nail in the Coffin is the dagger that puts the game out of reach. Put a fork in you, you’re done. In social situations, the Nail in the Coffin is the shot that you clearly did not need. It ends your night and throws all hopes of frisky behavior with the opposite sex out the window. The Nail in the Coffin is the Cab Shot: the shot that makes you take a cab home, where under different circumstances you would be lucid enough to take the damn train.

Boomshakalaka: Boomshakalaka was perhaps the most ubiquitous phrase to emerge from NBA Jam. It meant, frankly, that you were kicking ass. As such, it can apply to a whole host of real-life scenarios. You get a raise? You win at Blackjack? You sign off a conference call? Boomshakalaka. There are however, times where you definitely should not use the phrase. Vomit at the bar? Fall asleep on the subway and wind up in East New York? In bed with your girlfriend? Holler it in any of these situations and you’re liable to get smacked.

So there it is. Use them as you wish. If you’ll please excuse me, I have a game to play.

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image – NBA Jam