System: X-Box
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Visual Concepts
Released: October 2002
Genre: Sports (Basketball)
Capabilities: Memory Unit, HDTV720p, X-Box Live Online Play, Communicator Voice Headset Compatible

Review Written: October 19, 2002

The Game

Sega debuted their basketball franchise on the X-Box last year, but for this year there are two important additions. The most noticeable one is the ESPN license. Konami dropped it after the disappointing sales from the last year’s games. The other major addition to NBA 2K3 is online play. It’s the only X-Box basketball game to boast online play over Microsoft’s broadband only, X-Box Live network. Let’s see if these key additions make NBA 2K3 either a rushed update, or a must buy sequel.


As each year progresses, the visuals keep on getting better with this franchise. The player models are as real as it gets. You’ll notice all the tiny details on them such as muscle tone, tattoos, and headbands. If you look close enough, you’ll notice that the players actually sweat in the game! The event centers you play in are packed with everything you see on television. This includes shot clocks on top of the hoops, media & mascots at the sidelines, and coaches & teammates cheering you on! Sega has added some new player animations, most notably for passing. If a player launches a pass over halfway across the court, the player will reach their hand up and struggle to bring the ball down to them. The only problem with that animation is that it happens too often, and can ruin the perfect fast break.

Sega Sports games from the past always had a tremendous presentation. Now, with the addition of the ESPN license, things just got eons better! There are ESPN shows for pre-game, halftime, and post-game. There are also daily wrap-ups in season & franchise modes that highlight the other game scores and give you the highlight of the day. All the stat screens and game menus have a Sports Center scorecard layout to them. That classic ESPN “swoosh” introduces the action replays, which blow away the replays from any other basketball game! Speaking of the instant replays, the developers added a special touch to them for the X-Box version only. With the exception of the player the replay is focused on, the rest of the graphics will be filtered to a separate color scheme. I love this touch, and it makes the play that happened stand out a lot more than the replays used from the past games. NBA 2K3 runs at a lightning fast frame rate, and doesn’t slow down like it did in last year’s game. In a sheer move of brilliance, Sega had the pre-game show act as the loading screens for all games. Don’t be surprised if you go a few games without realizing it either.


Just like in NFL 2K3, Sega uses hired voice actors for the commentary in NBA 2K3. While they may not be the regular “hired guns” we’re use to from most other basketball commentary teams, they get the job done a hell of a lot better. They deliver the most lines of commentary than the other games, and unlike the competition, they actually sound like they’re into the game! The audience is a key factor in the game, while you’re team is working out the play, you’ll hear them stomp their feet, or the PA guy will play a fight tune to get the groove going. A variation of an ESPN theme is what you hear while browsing through the menus, and unlike NFL 2K3, you can’t pick any classic background tunes used in past games.

Game play

If you’re use to playing the NBA 2K games on a different console before, then don’t worry about adapting to a different system’s controller. Sega made this as easy as possible. As a matter of fact, the smaller Controller S is designed very similar to the Dreamcast controller. Both feature shoulder triggers, which are the key to making free throws. You do this by aligning two arrows by the amount of pressure you put on the shoulder triggers. That right analog stick comes in handy for easy passing. All you have to do is move it in the direction to the player you want to pass to, and that’s it. My only gripe with the controls is that you have to be very precise in order to make your shots. Even the highest rated shooters can't make the easiest of shots.

NBA 2K3 has all the modes from last year’s game. There’s the slew of modes we’re use to like practice, exhibition, and quick match. Then, we have Street mode, which is much different since its addition to the series in NBA 2K1. You can have anywhere from 2-on-2, to 5-on-5. Instead of NBA scoring, you now have actual street scoring, where you can have first to 7 or 21, or anywhere between. NBA 2K3 boasts four new street courts that ups the total to nine.

For main single player modes, there are the usual playoffs, tournament, and season modes, but if you want a mode that lasts, then you have to check out the revamped franchise mode. It operates the same as most other Franchise modes where you go through one NBA season after another, complete with an off-season period where you retire players, make trades, hire free agents, negotiate contracts, and go through the draft. The draft is what got a complete overhaul, where you attend the draft and scout out the hottest college prospects. You’ll get informed on their strengths and weaknesses; however you won’t get any numerical stats for the players. It makes your pickings a bit more difficult, but the information you get should get you by. You can put your players on trading blocks where other teams will bid for players on your team as well. All these new additions make the Franchise mode a must to check out.

The hottest new mode to NBA 2K3 is the online play. I’m a beta tester for X-Box Live and have already played several games online. If you didn’t already know by now, X-Box Live is broadband only, so that means none of the dial-up users can log in. This may be a low blow to the many narrowband users, but for us broadband users with cable or DSL connections that means most games are guaranteed to be lag free. From the several games that I already played, I can assure you this is the case, with barely any lag interfering during most games. We also get lots of great extras for online play that include friend’s lists so we can see if our favorite opponents are online and challenge them whenever they are. NBA 2K3 also keeps track of our online win-loss record, and ranks us among Sega’s best on their leader board. One of the best online features is the ability for live voice chat with the communicator headset. You can be Mr. Sportsmanship and complement your opponent on how they’re doing or trash talk with the best of them by getting all over in their face!

As always, Sega includes lots of customization features for us. Besides doing the usual trades, and line up changes, we also have the ability to create players, playbooks, and teams. You have a slew of headbands, tattoos, hairstyles, and other selections to assign to your own created star. If your name happens to be a common one, the announcers will recognize it and call you it during game play. You can also create a player profile and it will keep track of your win-loss records, and personal best records. Also, if you enable the brand new, Sega Sports Challenge, you’ll get passwords for your personal records for you to enter on the Internet to see how you stack up against the world.

Replay Value

There’s plenty of ways for NBA 2K3 to have you play forever. For the solo gamer, the Franchise mode will be your main way to play, where you can spend hours on end in making your average team into a basketball dynasty! If you don’t have many friends that prefer basketball games, then you can always challenge anyone online as long as you meet the X-Box Live specifications. After that, you got all the fun stuff you can do like creating players, teams, and playbooks. If you’re tired of all the simulation action and NBA rules to follow, then you can hop into Street mode for a change of pace. You can play with up to four people on one X-Box, or a total of eight online. Even though NBA 2K3 has plenty of modes to choose from I wish some of those specialty events like the 3-Point Shootout, or one-on-one street play that NBA Live has would be in here.

In Brief

+: Superb graphical effects used in instant replays, a completely revamped franchise mode, online play runs insanely fast over X-Box Live

-: You have to extremely precise with most of your shots, X-Box Live eliminate the large percent of narrowband gamers

The Final Ratings Rundown 

Graphics: 9.8
Sound: 9.3
Game play: 9.0
Replay Value: 9.0

Overall: 9.2

Rounded to fit GameFAQs Score: 9


NBA 2K3 is a lot better than last year’s game. The extra features such as the revamped Franchise mode, ESPN license, and especially online play warrants the purchase of this year’s game in my opinion. If you don’t have broadband access, than you might be better off with NBA 2K2, because the online play is the key addition to NBA 2K3

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