NBA Jam was an arcade classic, and like many other classics, it featured a few hidden characters. Among the high-profile cameos and NBA all-stars were Will Smith and Jeffrey Allen Townes, or the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff. But it sounds like Townes wasn’t expecting to see his likeness on the pixelated screen.
In an excerpt from an upcoming Boss Fights Book on NBA Jam written Reyan Ali and released on Polygon, the author dives into the story of Townes discovering his own role in the game. The DJ known for his early collaboration with Will Smith was apparently an avid gamer who waited in line for Jam at the arcade.
"Yo, dude," someone said to DJ Jazzy Jeff, gesturing toward the television. "You’re a character in the game." The DJ born Jeffrey Allen Townes was hanging out with friends when a group had fired up a game of NBA Jam and entered his code.
Though it was "almost a badge of honor" for Townes to be in NBA Jam, it seems like he may not have seen the monetary benefit of his appearance in the game. It’s an issue that fellow musician George Clinton, or P-Funk, shared.
The fine print on one of the game’s boxes showed a copyright notice for George Clinton’s "P-Funk" nickname, but Clinton did not recall ever receiving any payment or signing any agreement for his likeness. The same went for Townes. While Clinton thought his inclusion as a secret character was cool, he associated it with a time when he routinely went unpaid for use of his likeness and music. His career, he said, had been plagued by stories of reneged contracts and missing royalties. "NBA Jam," he said, "is just one of 1,300 of them."
While it became one of the highest-grossing arcade titles of all time, it seems like some of the secret characters in NBA Jam never saw the actual benefit of that in their bank accounts. While NBA Jam remains a golden example of arcade sports done right, it’s a bit of a bummer to hear DJ Jazzy Jeff’s surprise wasn’t quite so equally compensated.