Space Jam Celebrates 20 Years

When Space Jam first dropped, I doubted that it would have a lasting legacy that would be celebrated for years to come. When my daughters were little in the early 2000’s, I came to appreciate the film much more because whenever I popped it in, they’d sit transfixed from beginning to end, allowing me to get some much needed rest.

For those who have either never seen it, or for whom it has been some years since cheering on MJ and the Looney Tunes as they battled the Monstars, the plot revolves around an amusement park called Moron Mountain, where the boss concocts a plan to kidnap the beloved cartoon characters from earth in order to boost his bottom line.

A basketball game ensues where the Tunes are given a chance to win their freedom back. But as history has taught us, those in power never relinquish it without vicious attempts at duplicitousness and cheating. And let’s not forget the standard page from the playbook of oppression: pillaging.

The aliens proceed to steal the talents of NBA stars such as Charles Barkley and Larry Johnson, though their scouting department must have gone on to work for the 2012 Bobcats and 2005 Atlanta Hawks, because they inexplicably purloined the skills (?) of Shawn Bradley as well.

The lilliputian aliens morph into the giant, menacing Monstars, forcing the Tunes to kidnap Michael Jordan, who’s whiffing on more curveballs in the minor league’s than Trump saying kind things about women and Mexicans.

I must say that Larry Bird and Bill Murray could never have my back in a bar fight, because they simply shrugged their shoulders and walked away when MJ disappeared down that golf hole. But that’s a bigger discussion for another day about knowing who your friends are.

Long story short, Bugs, Daffy, Foghorn Leghorn, Porky Pig, Pepe LePew, Yosemite Sam and the rest of them have about as much talent as Miguel Nunez in Juwanna Man, but MJ is Air Jordan, so if you don’t know how it ends, I’ll spoil it for you: he leads the Tunes to victory, and everyone lives happily ever after. Well, except for Shawn Bradley, who just got dunked on again, right now as we speak, by somebody’s grandma at an open run in Boca Raton.

Despite its shortcomings, Space Jam has morphed into a cultural phenomenon. There are rumors that LeBron James will soon star in a sequel and one of the most highly anticipated sneaker releases off 2016 is the Air Jordan 11 Space Jam, which will come in a Looney Tunes-themed box.

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When the film was initially released, the critics panned it as if they were expecting the next coming of a cinematic masterpiece along the lines of The Shawshank Redemption. But they failed to recognize that, despite its shortcomings, the combination of Bugs and Air Jordan was more championship-worthy, long term, than him and Scottie Pippen.

Space Jam earned more than $90 million in the U.S. and $230 million globally. It did more than $1 Billion, with a capital B!, in retail sales. No basketball film ever grossed more. EVER!

And who can forget the R. Kelly effect? Space Jam made more women furious once they took they grandkids who’d gotten good grades on their report cards to one of his concerts, where they were greeted with “F’n you tonight” when they were expecting “I believe I Can Fly!” (If you know me and I haven’t told you that story, remind me to do so in person.)

Space Jam is more than just a movie, though. At least for me, it was a way for me to share my love of hoops with my daughters in a way that got them excited.

A couple of years ago, when they were pre-teens, they were talking about Michael Jordan.

As the soon-to-be old man chasing kids off my lawn, I overheard them and said in my Bernie Mac voice, “Ya’ll don’t know nothin’ ’bout no Michael Jordan!”

My oldest said, “Dad, remember when I met him?”

I smiled thinking about something I’d long forgotten. She came with me to work one day, just a toddler back then, and MJ walked into the practice session that I was sitting in on and writing about.

And the younger one came back with, “I know all about Michael Jordan. I love his shoes. And he was the best basketball player ever!”

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“C’mon Dad!” she said. “Duh!!! He was in Space Jam!”

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.