Forgotten Player of the Moment – MIKE IUZZOLINO

Mike Iuzzolino

(by Bill Barnwell)

A long time ago, there was a place where kids went when they had a little bit of spare change that they’d manage to dreg up from their couches or the floor of their room or, if they were lucky, from their parents. They’d round up a couple of friends and head to the local coin-op arcade, trying to maximize the small bits of scrap they’d acquired in a place dedicated solely to taking those small tokens of financial freedom and success away from them as quickly as possible.

There is only two ways an arcade can make money, by the way. The first is for the kid throwing a birthday party; and that business got driven out by Chuck E. Cheese and their ilk. The second only works for arcades that run on “No Cash Value” tokens. A couple of kids will go to the arcade with their father and they will get a couple of dollars in tokens to begin with. Dad will go play Tetris or Galaga or something to remind him of his hair while his kids play the $.75 a “credit” (the last desperate attempt to draw blood out of a bare stone) games. When they return and want more cash, Dad is busy and doesn’t want to have his game interrupted. What does he hand them? A $20. No two children can ever spend $20 at an arcade. After an hour and about $10, they get tired. What does that leave them with? $10 of useless tokens. That $10 is the arcade’s profit margin. Their only hope for survival, now that the arcade has been painted as a haven for gangs and/or the Gabe White’s of the world. Which…which is true. But still.

Anyway, I have moved myself far away from the real topic at hand. Any kid who was old enough to reach the controls of an arcade machine without requiring a box or stool in 1993 only really cared about one game. And with good reason. NBA Jam was, when I was ten, the greatest thing ever created by man. It has now fallen to a close second only as a result of my introduction to Popeye’s biscuits. The game was absolutely the most random cluster of basketball and violence ever; a game so great that it got released for every sport and basically inspired an entire sub-genre of sports games that exists today.
My personal experience with NBA Jam wasn’t within an arcade but instead at my local…something that doesn’t really exist any more, a sixties drugstore/lotto/lunch stand left out to dry in Queens, waiting for its proprietor to retire so it could be replaced. I’d go with my grandmother, who would decide on lotto numbers while I drank a chocolate eggcream, grabbed my buck of quarters from the guy behind the counter, and went to go try my luck at the game. He unplugged the game every night, so my record never stuck; that had to wait for the arcade at the Queens Center Mall. Where I am shocked I was never beaten up.

Maybe I was right to turn down Homicide’s sister’s advances. But without records, sometimes I played as Air Morris, sometimes I instead played as the Nets. Oh yeah – you better believe I was all over Drazen Petrovic, even at nine. But, inevitably, I got to know the first opponents I would be forced to play in my never-ending quest to the NBA title very well. It was always the Dallas Mavericks, worst team in the NBA the year before. Derek Harper was a nifty little defensive guard who’d end up making it to the Knicks and uglifying tons of Knicks-Heat games. His partner, though, was an obscure white guy who’d end up playing all of two years in the L. Mike freaking Iuzzolino.
Iuzzolino’s name can only be pronounced in my head like it is by the obnoxious as anything announcer from the game: Iz-O-LEEEE-No (often followed by “for three”). The only way I can figure him being in the game is that the Mavericks traded Rolando Blackman and Herb Williams to the Knicks at the end of the ’92 season; with those two gone, it was basically a toss-up as to whom should go alongside Harper. Iuzzolino probably made it because he was scrappy. At least – I imagine he is scrappy. I have never seen him play real basketball. He’d always go for like 30 in the arcade NBA Jam though, usually sinking a half-court three to beat my Nets by two. There is a reason I am not a Nets fan anymore.

I have no clue what happened to Iuzzolino after his two years in the NBA – I am presuming he went to Europe, and there are assorted links to some pictures and articles in Spanish, but in protest of Eurobasket charging (geez – can Chad Ford really drum up that much business) for player bios, I refuse to go to any of them. I guarantee he got more pub just from being on that first computer team in NBA Jam than anything else in his little life, though. IZOLEEEEEEENOOO!!!! BOOMSHAKALAKA!!!!

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