Aside from that new ball, NBA Live 07 may be the worst product to bear the league's name this year. The new basketball game from Electronic Arts is so glitchy that scores of buyers launched an online petition demanding a do-over.
Luckily for the rest of us, consumers have a choice when it comes to NBA sims (we're looking at you, Madden). And this year, the choice is clear: NBA 2K7 from 2K Sports is the one basketball game you need.
Although little more than a roster update, the series retains the best elements of its forebears. Players move fluidly and realistically. Yao Ming posts up strong, just like the Great Wall himself. Steve Nash whips dimes through impossible openings. And when Dwyane Wade uncorks a hesitation crossover at the top of the key and knifes to the basket for an acrobatic flush, it looks like the real thing.
The game lets you control not just the type of shot you hoist up, but also the fancy footwork that'll get you an open look. While earthbound, you can spin with the ball or wrap it around your back. Once you lift off, you can switch hands in mid-air or throw down a slew of nasty dunks. Play as LeBron James and windmill jam through traffic. Now you can be witness and executioner.
That's not to say it's easy to look flashy. Thanks to some nifty artificial intelligence, your computer opponents will throw a barrage of offensive and defensive sets at you. They might run a center flash out of the triangle. Or smother your outside shooters with a 3-2 zone.
Unlike a lot of sports games, 2K7 forces you to play smart. Ill-advised passes on a fast break will usually result in turnovers. And you'll need to get your teammates involved. Isolating too much on your defender and trying to blow past him is a surefire way to pick up offensive fouls.
All that realism makes it tough to dominate the court for long with a lone superstar. Those who pine for the arcade days of NBA Jam are better off with one of the NBA Streetgames, which more closely resemble an "And-1" run-and-gun game.
As smooth as 2K7 handles, it still lays up a few bricks. Draw a double team near the basket, and it's only natural to kick the ball out for an open jumper behind the arc. But three-point snipers like Gilbert Arenas, who should be lurking on the perimeter, are often moshing around in the post. And when big men do get inside, they miss far too many dunks.
Some of the lesser players in the NBA also get short shrift visually. Chris Kaman, the Los Angeles Clippers' center, looks like some kind of albino sasquatch. Player photos get shamelessly recycled too. Come on, we all know that the fictional Nihat Buruk from Turkey is not the same guy as Bobcats center Primoz Brezec from Slovenia. Right?
If quick games with obscure Europeans don't sate your hoops hunger, you can always dive into "Association" mode, the most labor-intensive aspect of 2K7. Here, you'll micromanage every facet of a team, from deciding what drills to practice to evaluating college players in the draft. It's exhausting but enjoyable, and superfans will relish the opportunity to guide their favorite squad into the playoffs.
2K7 is, without doubt, a seven-foot monster in the low post of videogame basketball. And this year, it packed NBA Live's weaksauce back to juco.