Illustration by contributing illustrator Michael Pantaleon. Co-founder Adrienne J. Romero contributed to this article.
Watching the movie on VHS, you were greeted to an opening montage of Michael Jordan’s career up to that point. Quad City DJ’s rap in the opening scene meshed with Jordan’s greatest hits could make any kid excited.
It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
“Space Jam” influenced me to choose Michael Jordan as my favorite NBA player of all time, and the greatest NBA player of all time. But not only did the 1996 film influence its audience, it also influenced the sneaker world and the game of basketball — even now, 24 years later.
I was born in 1990. Many of the movies I saw were usually Disney movies, a lot of them were Disney Princesses, so “Space Jam” was something different.
I wasn’t able to watch a majority of Jordan’s career, I only remember the later parts, so the montage was a great way of letting me understand how amazing Jordan was.
I was a kid from the 90s, and the movie reflected that era
Watching “Space Jam” gives you an idea of what the 90s were like.
There’s a line in the movie about the many endorsements Jordan has had. The brands were: Hanes, Nike, Gatorade, and McDonald’s — brands I still use to this day, because of Jordan.
Jordan debuted the Air Jordan 11 Colorway “Space Jam” in this movie, which the blue Monstar Bupkus comments, “Cool shoes.” Those were my thoughts exactly, the Air Jordan 11 is my favorite sneaker of all time, and the “Space Jams” are my favorite colorway ever.
Looney Tunes characters — like Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Daffy Duck, Marvin The Martian, Porky Pig and Taz — stars in this movie; during this time, their popularity was at a peak.
But I wasn’t the only 90s kid starstruck by the characters.
Felician University alum Kristen Keller was 5 years old when she first saw the film. She remembers “loving” the movie because Bugs and Lola were in a movie with real people.
Meanwhile, Maleek Welsh, a recent Saint Peter’s University graduate, was around 8 years old when he saw the movie, and he said it was “one of the most groundbreaking movies” at the time.
“My favorite scene from the movie is when Bugs Bunny and the rest of the team drank Jordan’s secret stuff,” Welsh laughed. “It made me believe that if I drank the right flavor of Gatorade, I could do anything.”
There were also cameos from Patrick Ewing — who at the time, played for The New York Knicks and was a legitimate threat to Jordan’s shot at a championship — and Charles Barkley — who was leading a Phoenix Suns team that was a couple of years removed from his 1993 MVP season and lost to Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals.
The movie soundtrack also felt different from any other kids movie at the time, since it was mostly hip-hop and R&B — really sticking to the aesthetic of the 90s.
The movie opens with R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” during a time the singer did not have as many legal issues.
There was also Quad City DJ’s rap in the opening montage “Space Jam.” Barry White and comedian Chris Rock have a song called “Basketball Jones” that plays as Barkley gets blocked by a 5-foot girl in the movie.
Seal’s “Fly Like an Eagle” plays as Jordan shows he still has the skills to play basketball.
“The Monstars’ Anthem” is rapped by B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coollio, LL Cool J, and Method Man. R&B singer Monica performs “For You I Will” during the end credits. All of these artists were big hits in the 90s.
The movie put sneakers on a pedestal
The idea for the movie “Space Jam” actually came from a Nike Air Jordan 7 commercial.
In the commercial, Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny team up to play basketball, while wearing the Air Jordan 7 “Hare.”
Then the duo reunited for a Nike Air Jordan 8 commercial. In this commercial, Marvin the Martian has stolen the Air Jordan 8. Jordan is seen wearing the Air Jordan 8 “Aqua” while Bugs Bunny and Marvin the Martian are seen in the Air Jordan 8 “Bugs Bunny.”
The movie itself has many sneakers that can be seen worn by others.
Jordan is wearing a baseball cleat version of his Air Jordan 9. Barkley is seen playing against the Knicks in his Nike Air CB 34 while Ewing sports his Ewing Empire Hi.
Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck head to Michael’s house to get his Air Jordan 9, in which Jordan wears the shoe as he practices his basketball skills to prepare for the big game against the Monstars.
Jordan debuts the Air Jordan 11 “Space Jam” during the game as the camera gets a closeup of the sneakers.
Bill Murray also makes a cameo in the film, and saves Jordan from a loss while wearing the Air Jordan 2 (In the movie, Murray would end his “career” undefeated and untied in these shoes).
Winning in basketball went beyond the Looney Tunes world
If you watched “The Last Dance” on ESPN or Netflix, the documentary explains how “Space Jam” helped Jordan win his fourth NBA Championship.
In 1995, Jordan left baseball — after a 18-month stint with the Birmingham Barons, the Chicago White Sox’s AA minor league team — and returned to the Chicago Bulls. But he ended up losing in the NBA Playoffs to the young duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway and the Orlando Magic.
In August of 1995, Jordan started to film “Space Jam,” and Warner Bros., the producers of the film, built a facility for Jordan to work out during filming breaks and play pickup basketball games with NBA players after filming.
Jordan would also scout the NBA players to learn their strengths and weaknesses.
“I think the movie helped propel (Jordan) in the eyes of the youth and show other players in the NBA how hard he’s willing to work and how dedicated he is,” Welsh said. “He took time during filming the movie to make sure that he was still consistently working out and practicing.”
“If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.”
From 1995 to 1996, Jordan and the Chicago Bulls snagged the best record of all time at the time, going 72-10, and being considered the greatest team of all time.
Jordan had many accolades that year including his fourth MVP, his fourth NBA Finals MVP and winning his fourth NBA Championship — his first championship after the death of his father.
LeBron James and Space Jam 2
James, who just won the 2020 NBA Championship with the Los Angeles Lakers, is set to star in “Space Jam 2: A New Legacy,” and it’s planned to premiere July 16, 2021.
James, a four-time NBA champion, is regarded as one of the best players to ever hit the court and is often compared to Jordan. Keller — a big Jordan fan — said she thinks it adds “fuel to the fire” for the Jordan versus James debate, but overall, she’s here for it.
“(It’s) bringing back this cool concept with the MJ equivalent of today,” Keller said. “But I’m still a little salty about it.”
But Welsh, a big fan of James, said he’s excited to see how it plays out.
“LeBron is viewed and revered as the Michael Jordan of our generation, so it should be fun to see how he handles this role.”
James will be teaming up with characters including Bugs, Daffy, Elmer Fudd and more.
Keller added that “Space Jam” had impacted society in many ways including sports and film.
“I think it showed that sports has a place outside of a field and showed the entertainment side of the sports industry,” she said. “I think it also introduced a young generation to the world of sports that they might not have had exposure to otherwise.”
While we wait to see what “Space Jam 2” will add to the film’s legacy, visit the official “Space Jam” website — it’s still up and running, and can give you a taste of the 90s.