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NBA Jam’s mythical Michael Jordan version may yet survive

Creator says he’ll dig through his old EPROMs

NBA JAM NBA Jam/Midway
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

The legend of the NBA Jam with Michael Jordan in it will not, and probably never will, die.

The game's creator has again reignited hopes that that a copy of this EPROM, custom-built for His Airness and two other hall-of-famers and shared only with them 24 years ago, may become public. Doing a Reddit AMA yesterday, Mark Turmell suggested he "will try to dig up" anything he still has, and maybe even show it to the general public.

The story goes like this: The original NBA Jam, launched in arcades in 1993, was developed by Turmell, working for Midway in Chicago, where Jordan was of course playing for the NBA's Bulls.

Jordan was in early builds of the game and had appeared in video games before. But, Turmell said, Jordan's marketing pact with Nike caused him to opt out of the NBPA's group license "weeks before we were to ship nationwide." Jordan was also involved in two solo video games (as many top stars did in those days) with Electronic Arts at that time, and that could have played a role in him pulling out of the group license.

Even without Jordan, NBA Jam quickly became a sensation. By early 1994 it was the highest-earning arcade game of all time. Up in Seattle, the SuperSonics' Gary Payton — who likewise was not in the first NBA Jam (he was in the Tournament Edition update, however) — and the Mariners' Ken Griffey, Jr. thought it was a scream.

They "reached out through their agents to get a custom game with themselves included, and said Jordan wanted to be included as well," Turmell said. "So we made special EPROMs and gave them to the three."

A Redditor then asked Turmell if there was "any chance [he ] could dump those EPROMs to the Internet." Turmell replied. "I could! Will try to dig up."

Polygon checked with Turmell on what he meant by this remark. "I was referring to EPROMs." he said. "I have a cabinet stored away with sets of them.

"Have to see how they're labeled when I get in there," he went on. "Can't imagine getting into any trouble at this point!" meaning he foresees no rights issues with sharing whatever he has.

Turmell is currently working on Wizard of Oz: Magic Match, a free-to-play mobile game from Zynga that is fully licensed by the film's rights holders. Turmell joined Zynga in 2011 after reviving NBA Jam for EA Sports in 2010.

Jordan had an on-again, off-again relationship to licensed video games during his playing prime, beginning with 1988's Jordan vs. Bird: One on One, by Electronic Arts. He missed much of the 1990s because of his licensing holdout and retirement. He featured prominently as a retired star in 1999's NBA Live 2000, and returned for NBA 2K2 and NBA Live 2002. By then, he was a member of the Washington Wizards in an ill-fated two-year return from his second retirement.

Nine years later, with 2K Sports' NBA 2K11, he returned as a Chicago Bull in a landmark edition of that franchise. He has been available in the series' classic teams rosters ever since.

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