As one would expect from a game named after the world's premiere Basketball league, NBA is all about shooting baskets, dazzling the crowds, and proving your worth on the court. Make baskets into the magnetic hoop for extra balls, collect the Triple Double, then get the Rebound for more points. While the spinning basketball on the playfield keeps things lively, complete the various All Star challenges, loop the orbits for the Fast Break, and become an MVP to activate double scoring. If you're good enough to get six World Champion rings, you can reach the NBA Finals and shoot for the basket before the clock runs out.
According to John Borg, NBA was originally planned for release only in China, and was designed as a relatively simple game for players who were unfamiliar with Pinball. However, budget cuts at Stern prompted management to release NBA in the west (with a few extra features) as an inexpensive way to bolster their library. A low production run keeps it fairly obscure; many players initially dismiss it as an overly simple game, but those who've learned the rules have discovered that there's actually a fairly deep challenge underneath.
NBA demonstrates the following tropes:
- The Cameo: Various Real Life NBA stars appear in the game.
- The backbox translite has Yao Ming, Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade and Kevin Garnett.
- The game itself features Carmelo Anthony, Gilbert Arenas, Elton Brand, Baron Davis, Kevin Durant, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Nate Robinson, Derrick Rose, and Brandon Roy.
- Catapult to Glory: The Free Throw saucer kicks the pinball through the air and towards the basketball hoop; a magnet in the backboard grabs the ball and drops it through the hoop.
- Foreign Remake: Reversed; the game was originally for China only, but was updated for its release in western markets.
- Difficulty by Region: The spinning playfield basketball disc, the Free Throw catapult, and the Triple Double diverter were added to the original Chinese version, to make the game harder for the more experienced Western players.
- Match Sequence: A player spins a basketball on his finger, then stops it to reveal the match number on the surface.
- Not Using the "Z" Word: For some reason, the Pinball term "Jackpot" is never used anywhere in the game. Many have speculated that this was a requirement by the NBA to avoid accidentally associating basketball with gambling.
- Product Placement: Spalding basketballs are prominently featured throughout the playfield and backbox. Justified because that's the brand the NBA uses.
- Ramp Jump: The left jump ramp, which vaults pinballs towards the backboard.
- Spectacular Spinning: The spinning basketball disc in the middle of the playfield.
- Spelling Bonus: N-B-A starts NBA Multiball, F-I-R-E enables Fire Mode, H-O-O-P advances the bonus multiplier, A-L-L-S-T-A-R starts an All Star Challenge, H-O-R-S-E plays the Horse challenge, and M-V-P doubles all scores for 20 seconds.
- Spiritual Successor: To Space Jam; NBA even reuses some of the playfield, display animations, and game modes from Jam.
- Wizard Mode: "NBA Finals," which is available after completing all six World Championship objectives. This is a timed mode where all four pinballs are launched onto the table and the player has 60 seconds to make as many shots into the basket as possible. Each shot made awards a value, starting at 600,000 points and increasing by 100,000 per basket.
- Bragging Rights Award: The game records the initials for the player who gets the best NBA Finals score.