Forgotten Gems: Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball

By Ben Beck

In Forgotten Gems, we look at some of lesser-known classics of console, computer, and arcade gaming. First up, a total oddball sports game in an era of console gaming where that was the norm: Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball, for the SNES.

Sports games are pretty dull nowadays. Other than some arcade throwbacks on Steam and the Nintendo Switch, most sports games are either austere and respectful mainline franchises like EA Sports’ FIFA series and 2K’s NBA 2K games, or austere and respectful management sims like Football Manager. It is, if you haven’t guessed, a bit too austere and respectful for my tastes.

But it wasn’t always this way! Weird and wacky sports games used to be more commonplace, in the era before uniform licensing. Back in 1991, on the SNES and Genesis, even Madden didn’t have player licences yet, and games like Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball were able to be made.

I know what you’re thinking — who the heck is Bill Laimbeer? And even though I’m a pretty big basketball fan, Laimbeer didn’t immediately jump into my mind either.

Laimbeer was the starting center for Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman’s “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons teams that won back to back championships in 1989 and 1990. Laimbeer was known for his aggressive style offensively and defensively, and was accused by many rival teammates of playing dirty. He was also one of the most gifted outside shooters of the 80s and 90s, making great use of three pointers at a time when most of the league, let alone most centers, were struggling to figure them out.

Which of these traits do you think they made a game about?

Hudson Soft created Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball as an off-the-wall future sports vision of basketball, a kind of gladiatorial mix of NBA Jam and Speedball II: Brutal Deluxe. The early 1990s were also a high water moment for the future sports genre as well, as it enjoyed a glut of fast-paced, arcadey, and brutal games on both consoles and computers.

The most remarkable thing about Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball isn’t that it’s a particularly goofy licensed game, it’s that it’s actually really quite an engrossing game! Compared to the likes of trash like Charles Barkley Shut Up and Jam, Chaos in the Windy City, and the immortal (and wholly terrible) Shaq-Fu — you could do a lot worse.

Check out these longplays and see what you think!