As far as basketball games go, EA Canada and NuFX's NBA Street is definitely up there at the top of the list. The 3-on-3 sports game was a total gamechanger that kickstarted a wave of other Street-themed series inside EA, like FIFA Street and NFL Street.
However, speaking recently to former EA employees, it was somewhat shocking to learn that all of this almost never happened, with EA management at one point coming to close to pulling the plug on the original NBA Street until an exec stepped in and put his neck on the line. We first heard about this story from NBA Street's art director Daryl Anselmo and lead designer Josh Holmes. When we checked the story with producer Wil Mozell, he argued that it was exaggerated. So we reached out to the executive in question, Stanley Chow, to hear it from him.
Chow, who was an executive producer inside EA at the time, told us via LinkedIn:
"It is true that NBA Street was put on the chopping block by upper management at one point during development. I was not involved in the meetings, but I believe it happened because of budget.
"Our EA Canada (EAC) Studio management was meeting with EA Worldwide Studio (WWS) management about budgets and EA Canada had to get to a certain spending number which they were over at the time. NBA Street was put on the chopping block in order to get to the target."
According to Chow, it was easy to see why NBA Street was the project singled out. Though the studio had been making NBA Live for years, NBA Street was its first attempt at an arcade-style basketball game since Jordan vs. Bird: One on One from 1988. In the intervening years, Midway and Acclaim had also dominated the genre with its series of NBA Jam games.
This meant NBA Street was no guaranteed "slam dunk" for the company, so it made sense on paper to cut it, rather than pull additional funding away from the other more established properties. But Chow believed in Anselmo, Holmes, and the producer Wil Mozell, as well as the developer NuFX, so, rather than take the decision lying down, he made one last-ditch effort to save it, staking his own job on the decision:
"Even though I understood the reasoning, I did not agree with the decision. I believed in my team (Josh, Daryl and Wil Mozell), the developer and the product. So, I decided to have a meeting with the head of WWS and plead to have the the product re-instated.
"I told him about my confidence in the team, the product and our ability to create a new franchise for the company... and I told him I was going to stake my job on it. At the end of the meeting the head of WWS said he would re-instate the project."
As we all know now, with the benefit of hindsight, Chow was right to make the decision. NBA Street launched in June 2001, and by August 2006, it had sold 1.7 million copies with total revenues of $57 million, according to Next Generation's analysis of The Top 100 Games of the 21st Century.
NBA Street was a not-so-modest success for EA, and, even today, the series seems to have had a lasting cultural impact on a generation of players, with demands for a remake or reboot resurfacing regularly. All of this might not have happened, however, if not for Chow's total belief in his team and his willingness to stick his neck out for those working for him.