It’s Not Gonna Write Itself: Championship Basketball League

When I was a kid, I didn’t have video games. My parents were never big fans and I didn’t help my cause with some of the video game related tantrums I threw while leaving my grandmother’s house sometimes (my cousins had all the consoles). So when I was alone in my room, I was left to my own devices. Or action figures if you will. But I always hoped for the day that my parents would surprise me with a gaming system of my own.

That day came when my mom got me a Game Boy for a birthday or a Christmas. I was thrilled. I had Tetris, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue, NBA All-Star Challenge 2… and I think that was it. But it was more than enough. But when I tried to bring my Game Boy home with me from visiting my mom, it was promptly put in a drawer until my next visit. I wasn’t allowed to have video games with my dad and stepmom, period. Then my Game Boy came up missing at my mom’s place but that’s an entirely different story.

For my birthday in 1994 (I think), my parents pretended it wasn’t my birthday. In fact, I think my dad was officiating basketball and it was just me and my stepmom most of the day. And she refused to acknowledge my birthday. I was devastated and I went to bed crying. Lo and behold, after I had drifted off to sleep, I was awakened and brought into the kitchen where I presented with a cake and brand new Game Gear. So I now had my very own gaming system. Ran that thing into the ground; gave it way more credit than it deserved. But I worked with what I had.

There was also a whole Sega Genesis debacle that I might bring up on the pod at some point.

I say all this to bring us here: I love basketball. I mentioned NBA Action for my Game Gear way back in the first Penny column and how much time I spent with it. Other NBA simulations that stand out from my youth were NBA Jam and Bulls vs. Blazers and the NBA Playoffs. But what really changed everything was NBA Live ’95.

I had very little exposure to it; I think my cousins had rented it for a weekend or borrowed it from a friend. When I got some time with it alone, I was floored that I could make the Jordan-less Bulls a powerhouse starring Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill. The customization and my imagination could have given me hours of entertainment; alas, I had to go home. Until emulators I don’t think I played Live ’95 again.

Now, I loved my NBA Action game but I wanted more control, which the cart didn’t offer. Plus, I was always getting in trouble and having my Game Gear taken away for long periods of time. I wanted a basketball game that I would be able to play no matter what, when I wanted.

One day, I took out my huge box of duplicate basketball cards and created a way to play a basketball game. By setting my alarm clock for 12 minutes from the actual time, I created quarters. I used an actual quarter to determine whether or not a shot would fall. And then I selected 10 cards from my box and created 2 teams. Then I would call the action out loud (or as quietly as possible; my parents knew I was a weird kid) and keep track of the stats. Once I played 4 quarters, the game was over. I thought it was genius but I don’t think I ever showed my coin basketball game to anyone else. The few times I played it, I had fun.

But I wanted to still have more customization and I wanted to be able to put myself in the game. Thus, the College Basketball League was born (CBL). I was really into college basketball and the top teams at the time were Kentucky, UMass, Kansas, and UConn. So, on paper, I created 4 teams with 7 players each made up of my friends from school. Matt and I were on Kentucky of course. Now, for some reason, I decided to forego the coin and just call the action real-time, making decisions on every facet of the game as I went. So yeah, I was literally saying, “Conley takes the pass, fakes right, launches a three… and it’s good!”

I had just created a game that in my head, if I was the one running it, I knew the outcome would be fair.

So of course, I tried to get my dad to play with me.

If you could have seen the look on his face when I explained that we were supposed to make up the game as we went along while I kept stats… it was a combination of bewilderment and worry at best. So we never made it past a possession each.

But I LOVED it. I had each team meet twice creating a 8 game season… maybe it was a 12 game season, I forget. But I played every single one of those games and then it was on to the playoffs, single elimination style to determine the league champion. Kentucky won of course, and I was the MVP.

And it didn’t stop there.

Before I go on, the details get a little fuzzy here. My apologies in advance.

Somehow, I roped Matt into playing the game as well. He either really enjoyed it or was nice enough to humor me. I started the second year of the league but took it a step further by eliminating the college names and placing teams in major NBA markets. After a few clever nicknames, (Matt and I were on the Chicago squad of course), I rechristened the league Championship League Basketball and play was under way, this time with Matt’s help. The league expanded to 10 teams (I think) by then and Matt would help me play the schedule out.

I got to a point where I wasn’t finding enough time to play the actual games, so I began simulating by simply filling out my scorer’s book (yes, I had a scorer’s book. This was serious business!) until all 4 quarters were full. Then I would tally up the results. Matt would keep his results on paper and then everything for the season would go into an old expanding file folder that I had. I kept stats for everything too.

So with a successful season almost completed, naturally I had the bright idea to expand to other sports. But not just created leagues; I wanted the professionals. So I meticulously copied down rosters for every NFL, MLB, and even NHL team and Matt and I began playing simulations of those. I can tell you though, whether doing the play-by-play or by simulating, those sports didn’t capture the magic that CBL had for me.

I don’t remember who won the championship the second year of the CBL but I do recall it not being my team. And for season 3, I was going all out with more teams, drawings of jerseys and even shoe deals for select players across the league (with more drawings!).

But that wasn’t enough for me. My big announcement of my imaginary game company (there was a name, I don’t remember it now) was NBA ’98 where I was going to tackle the NBA in all of its glory for a full season! I made the rosters and started playing it shortly after the 1997-98 NBA season began… but eventually, I lost interest.

The NFL and MLB games fizzled out shortly after they started. And as for the CBL, it too fell to the wayside. An idea that had brought me years of fun finally had run its course. My free time became occupied with learning to craft the very rhymes that lead to my rap career and my imaginary sports leagues were forgotten for a long time.

Something reminded me of my time playing CBL years later and I found myself wishing that I kept some of the papers that I had back then. Just to have some kind of record of that time in my childhood when I controlled the destiny of an entire league of basketball at my fingertips.

As the years passed, basketball games got better. Created players, custom teams, custom leagues, etc. And every now and then, I would wonder if I’d be able to create the magic again, except this time on a video game. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to though.

Even now, I still wish sometimes I could just get away and go be a player in the CBL again.

I even found this awesome online game called Basketball GM, were you actually control a whole league of fake teams and you’re the GM of one of them. Upon discovering the game last year (after I remembered I saved it in my Reddit a long time ago), it didn’t take long for me to play through hundreds of seasons with this fake league. But just like with most online games, I eventually got bored and moved away from it. There might yet be a way for me to customize Basketball GM to recreate the CBL, but I haven’t taken the time to figure it out.

My current Basketball GM account.

And that’s the story of the Championship Basketball League. I’m sure my younger self would be thrilled that his ideas are now seeing the light of day on a public forum. And who knows? Maybe there’s some other kids out there that made their own way to play a basketball game without actually having a console in front of them. But I’m probably just trying to not make myself not feel like a weirdo.

But for all those games that I played or simulated, I wouldn’t take them back for one second.

And that’s exactly how my hall of fame speech would have ended if I played long enough so that I could have retired and then been elected into the CBL Hall of Fame.

Just saying.

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