NBA Ballers is one of the Spiritual Successor titles Midway Games created after losing the NBA Jam name to Acclaim Entertainment. The original was released in 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox. The game was a hit, both critically and commercially, thanks to its hybrid of Midway's fast-paced, easy to learn but hard to master gameplay with the rival NBA Street's emphasis on flashy moves and the Glam Rap lifestyles that captured the public's attention stood out from every other basketball game before it.
Unlike its predecessors, Ballers is a street basketball game. Games are played in best two of three matches where the two players have three minutes to score eleven points before the other guy does. Different players have different perks they're allowed to access, such as having a fan at courtside to pass to, a one-time sweet spot where their shot is near-guaranteed to go in, the ability to catch fire as in old-school NBA Jam, and so on. Players can also perform various over-the-top trick moves to fake out defenders and earn extra points. By playing well, the player builds up their House meter. When it fills all the way up, they can "Bring Down the House", a move that breaks the hoop and instantly grants that player the win.
Another aspect of the game that made it unique was its presentation. The game was presented as a Show Within a Show also called NBA Ballers where the NBA's best played one-on-one on yachts, in famous streetball courts, or each other's mansions. The graphics were some of the best of its time, with detail beyond what any other sports game had. It also was the first licensed sports game to have a story mode. In Rags to Riches mode, you played the role of a created player who's just a regular amateur. The Midway Sports Network holds a tournament at Rucker Park, which serves as the pilot for a reality TV show centering around the winner of the tournament, who goes on to take on a gauntlet of the NBA's best and acquire cash, fame, and a crapton of expensive stuff. If he wins, he gets to keep everything. How you played with this character determined his stat development. Dunking a lot increased his dunking skills, shooting from long range increased his three point skills, and so on.
The game went on to have two sequels, subtitled Phenom and Chosen One, as well as a game on PlayStation Portable subtitled Rebound. However, now that Midway is out of business and EA has revived Jam, it is unlikely there will be another installment in the Ballers series.
NBA Ballers and its sequels contain examples of the following tropes:
- Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: More like "arrogant streetball guy", but Hot Sauce is as good as he claims to be, and has no problem letting you, or anyone else know it. He even goes as far as to publicly humiliate you, and frame you up to get ejected out of a tournament, all out of spite. Even when it becomes clear that you're just as good, if not better than him, he keeps crapping on you and your skills right before the final tournament game; which causes your character to finally snap, and nearly slug him in the jaw, until Ludacris and Chauncey Billups stop him.
- As Himself: Ludacris, MC Supernatural, Jin, and Hot Sauce (a real-life AND1 streetball legend) all appear as themselves in their respective games. MC Supernatural doubles as both play-by-play and the narrator of Rags to Riches, and both Luda and Hot Sauce can be unlocked for exhibition play in Phenom if you win their respective matches.
- Battle Rapping: In Phenom, one of the side activities you can do is challenge real-life battle rap champ Jin to a rap battle. Winning unlocks Jin as a playable character in exhibition play.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: MC Supernatural occasionally makes references that hint he may know he's in a video game, including mocking a player's low shooting attributes if they miss enough shots.
- Complexity Addiction: For the final tournament of the original game, the executives try to screw you over by constantly putting you against dynamic duos like the Lakers' Shaq and Kobe. Problem is, these matchups aren't 2-on-1, but 1-on-1-on-1, which means your opponents can easily end up screwing each other over while you capitalize on the tension to win it all anyway.
- Cutting Off the Branches: Chosen One picks up where Phenom left off and assumes you took the NBA-leaning route, with your character's tournament win over Hot Sauce securing you a spot in the tournament against the league's 2007 draft class.
- Executive Meddling: An in-universe example. The story mode kicks off with two network executives trying to come up with a hit TV show. They come up with NBA Ballers: Rags to Riches Edition, the show within a show your character is the star of. Said executives will go on to mess with the events of the show as your created character rises in prominence, culminating in putting you in three-way matches for the entire final tournament.
- Gold Digger: Implied with the player's ex-girlfriend Kimberly in Phenom, as she left him to get with Hot Sauce after he gets a basketball contract, and only gives him the time of day when he starts making money and connections with Ludacris and some of the NBA players. Luda wisely warns him to stay away from her after she disses you for Hot Sauce a second time, and sets him up with his assistant instead.
- Karma Meter: In Phenom, playing in tournaments will provide points for the two career paths available, namely NBA player and entertainment mogul. Similar to Mass Effect, the two meters build separately, but all it really does is determine which of the two endings you get. The game presents both options as equally viable, and if there's even the slightest difference between your totals for the two paths, you get the ending for the one you have more points in.
- Product Placement:
- In the first game, you can buy one of multiple Cadillacs and put it in your character's custom mansion court. The game also plugs MC Supernatural's album The Lost Freestyle Files, which was released a year prior to Ballers
- Phenom is loaded with it. In story mode, your created baller has a T-Mobile Sidekick and can wear clothing with T-Mobile clothing on it, as he can for AOL and Sprite. In fact, one of the cutscenes puts him in a Sprite jacket if he wasn't already. Then there's the Sprite you can buy and use as a power-up in tournaments, the multiple Adidas basketball shoes that come with stat boosts when equipped, the sidequest revolving around putting up posters for Ludacris's record label...
- Rags to Riches: The story mode is even called that. Phenom follows a similar arc, starting with the protagonist living out of his car and ending with him as either a star NBA player or a hip-hop mogul—which, either way, lands him a spot in Chosen One's eponymous tournament.
- Rhymes on a Dime: MC Supernatural, being a skilled freestyle rapper, frequently does this while on commentary.
- Rules of the Game: In the original Ballers and Phenom, certain matches will impose special rules that can help or hinder you against your opponent. These range from not letting your opponent score a certain amount of points, legal fouls and goaltending, points being deducted if your opponent is in Fire Mode, and so on. In Rags to Riches mode, this is justified by way of the show's executives, who are actively trying to screw you, and make you lose all your earnings.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Early on in Phenom's story mode, Hot Sauce pulls strings to ice your character out of the Beverly Hills tournaments for a decent stretch of the story. After building up enough goodwill with Ludacris, he makes it clear that Sauce doesn't have as much pull as he thinks, and lets you inside the Beverly Hills gates.
- Shipper on Deck: In Phenom, Ludacris sets the main character up with his assistant, Courtney, after he gets dissed by his ex a second time.
- After a foul, MC Supernatural will sometimes remind the players that this is not NFL Blitz or Mortal Kombat.
- Supernatural will sometimes drop lines from famous songs; including, but not limited to:
- Show Within a Show: The original features two of them at once. Specifically, there's NBA Ballers, a show where NBA players play one-on-one streetball at the custom courts in their extravagant mansions, and then there's the spinoff, NBA Ballers: Rags to Riches, which serves as the framing device for the story mode.
- Super Mode: Fire Mode, which works exactly like it did in NBA Jam. Notably, Chosen One is the only Jam descendant from Midway not to have Fire Mode.
- Tone Shift: Chosen One is a mild example, as while it retained most of the arcade-y streetball action, it drifted closer towards realism than any other Midway basketball game; going as far as to even remove the longtime Fire Mode and "Bring Down the House" abilities.
- Totally Radical: Played for subtle comedy in the first game with Bob Benson, a white TV analyst who uses the same 2004 hip-hop slang that everyone else does in this game, only he does it in the silky-smooth voice of a classic sports announcer.
- Trauma Conga Line: Phenom really puts the boots to your player character for a good chunk of the story. Before the story even begins in full, Hot Sauce disses him, and steals his contract and girlfriend, leaving him destitute and broke. Then, when he finally gets to face him in a game, he and Kimberly manage to frame him up for intentional fouling, which gets him ejected from the tournament. And to top it off, the car he was living in gets towed, and thrown into a junkyard not long after said ejection. Then Hot Sauce pulls strings to prevent him from competing in the Beverly Hills tournaments, though Ludacris later puts an end to Sauce's stunt. And then, Kimberly disses him again for Hot Sauce, despite freely mooching off your character when he was hanging with Ludacris and Chauncey Billups in their private planes and mansions. Thankfully, your character's fortunes begin turning around for good from that point on.
- Writing Around Trademarks: Although Hot Sauce is present, AND1 isn't explicitly mentioned or shown in Phenom. The player character only refers to it as "that globe-trotting, trick-balling show mixing it up on courts coast to coast" in the story mode's intro.