Basketball is life. I could spend this entire article and hours of my time proving how such a thing could be true, but it would always come back to those three words. Before the existence of Space Jam, basketball meant nothing to me. I was a chubby five-year-old who only had time for chocolate milk and Free Willy. However, after witnessing Space Jam on the big screen in 1996, my life was forever altered. Once basketball has a hold of you, it’s never gonna let you go. I can promise you that. Just ask Michael why he didn’t stay retired the first time around.
It’s funny how last names don’t really matter in the basketball world. You say names like Michael or Kobe and everyone naturally knows who you’re talking about. My proper introduction to Michael and his superior talent came, not during reality’s game of basketball, but during his interaction with the Tune Squad in the greatest game of basketball ever played. Allow me to paint the scene:
In 1993, Michael Jordan announces his retirement from the NBA and follows in the footsteps of his late father, who was a baseball player. Basketball and baseball are two different sports, however, and Michael is quite terrible at the latter. Elsewhere, in outer space, an amusement park known as Moron Mountain has decreased in popularity, so Mr. Swackhammer, the scumbag owner of the park, sends his tiny alien minions, the Nerdlucks, to capture the Looney Tunes as entertainment for Moron Mountain.
The Looney Tunes, as anyone with common knowledge knows, reside in an animated world hidden in the center of the Earth. When they are met by the small Nerdlucks, the Looney Tunes laugh off their threats and challenge them to a game of basketball, agreeing to join them on Moron Mountain if they lose. Unbeknownst to the Looney Tunes, however, the Nerdlucks steal the talents of professional basketball players Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, Shawn Bradley, and Larry Johnson– absorbing the talent for themselves and transforming into giant creatures, known as “the Monstars”, who are physically superior in addition to being legit ballers.
While playing golf with Larry Bird, Bill Murray, and Stan, his new publicist, Michael is sucked down a hole and recruited by Bugs Bunny to help the Tune Squad defeat the Monstars. Michael refuses initially, which should come as no surprise since he’s suddenly been pulled down a goddamn golf hole and cast into an animated world. However, when he is insulted himself by the Monstars, he sends Bugs and Daffy Duck to collect his basketball gear so that he can teach these otherworldly fools about the G.O.A.T. After a small amount of practice, the day of the match arrives and we’re treated to the most exciting sporting event that half-animated films have to offer. Let’s meet our starting lineup!
Standing at two foot four, “The Wonder from Down Under” is the first introduced member of the starting five. Though his position on the team isn’t announced, his agility and ferociousness makes him an opponent’s nightmare on the defensive end. He isn’t a wholly efficient two-way player, but he’s one of the greatest role players on the Tune Squad.
Standing at three foot two, “The Heartthrob of the Hoops” is listed at the Small Forward position. Though charming the opponent is a tactic that Lola uses well, she’s arguably the greatest asset of the Tune Squad outside of Michael. Lola is an elite offensive player in Space Jam, and she’s more than capable on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Starting at Power Forward with an unannounced height, “The Quackster of the Court” is an unsung hero of the Tune Squad. Though not the most talented athlete Space Jam has to offer, Daffy brings a hard-nosed toughness to the team, along with a willingness to match the dirty antics of The Monstars. Though the crowd in attendance doesn’t appreciate him, there’s no doubt that Daffy Duck is a champion.
Standing at three foot three (four feet if you count the ears), the co-captain of the Tune Squad is the heart, soul, and brains of the team. “The Doctor of Delight” always has the best interest of his teammates at heart. His defense is superior, especially when causing turnovers, and as Point Guard, he keeps the offense flowing smoothly. This is just as much Bugs’ team as it is Michael’s.
The final member of the Tune Squad’s starting lineup is by far the tallest. Standing at six foot six, from North Carolina, the player-coach of the team is as dominant in Space Jam as he is in life. A lockdown defender with an unrivaled ability to score the basketball, “His Royal Airness” is superior in every way.
It’s apparent from the opening tip that the Tune Squad are over-confident and under-prepared, with the Monstars jumping out to a 6-0 lead before Michael is able to score his first two points of the night. Even with the newly acquired Michael Jordan, the Tune Squad find themselves physically outmatched- and it’s apparent early on that technical fouls don’t exist in Space Jam. The underdogs find themselves down Kinda One-Sided, Isn’t It? to 18 at the half, with the team having lost all confidence in their basketball-playing abilities.
Being the leader Michael is, however, he attempts to rally his team at the break, telling them that they are still in the game. Nobody buys it though, and why should they? Michael’s words are simply words at this point, but the co-captain, Mr. Bunny, knows exactly what his team needs: to be lied to. Filling up a bottle of water with a label that reads “Michael’s Secret Stuff,” he convinces his teammates that this drink is what causes Michael to be such a superior athlete. Bugs passes the bottle around the locker room, re-energizing the Tune Squad and building team confidence so that they can mount a second half comeback.
The second half begins with a new-look Tune Squad. Whereas they came out in the first half expecting an easy game, they enter the second half with a much-needed toughness and swagger. Typical Looney Tunes hijinks ensue, again without technical fouls, as the Tune Squad quickly climb back into the game. After a dunk by Elmer Fudd pulls our team within two points, Mr. Swackhammer calls a timeout and jumps down the throat of the Monstars. Deciding that he’d rather have Michael as his captive on Moron Mountain than the Looney Tunes, Swackhammer and Michael come to the agreement that if the Tune Squad wins the game, he’ll return the talents of the NBA players, and if the Monstars win, Michael must return with him to his amusement park.
Under order by Swackhammer to crush the Tune Squad, the Monstars come out of the timeout with a dirty mentality- intentionally injuring the majority of the team. Down 77-76 with ten seconds left on the game clock, the Tune Squad find themselves without a fifth player and in danger of having to forfeit the game. Enter Bill Murray. As a newly minted member of the Squad, Murray enters the game with an offensive gameplan, quickly realizing that the team is currently playing defense. He forgoes his well-thought-out plan and falls in line with Michael’s orders to steal the ball and put it in his hands. When the greatest speaks, you listen.
After a gut-check by Daffy, Murray comes up with the loose ball and pushes the fast break, getting the ball into Michael’s hands. Surrounded by defense at half-court with only five seconds remaining, Michael leaps over the defender and soars through the air, stretching his arm as if he were one of the Looney Tunes while the Monstars grab a hold of him. As time expires, Michael drops the ball through the hoop, leading the Tune Squad to an improbable 78-77 comeback victory over Swackhammer’s minions. In summation, Space Jam isn’t entirely basketball accurate, but it remains fun family fare that every age can consistently enjoy. There are plenty of laughs to be had as the animated characters you love play the greatest sport in the world with the greatest player in the world. And though Bill Murray retired from the sport immediately following the win over the Monstars, even he would likely agree on one thing…
Basketball is life.