By Joe Romano
With all things considered, 1996 was a monumental year in United States history. Bill Clinton was re-elected into office, the Dallas Cowboys were cementing themselves as “America’s Team,” and Will Smith commenced his tenure as Earth’s premier guardian in regards to extraterrestrial invasion.
Although Independence Day was the year’s top-grossing film, it certainly wasn’t the most important film of 1996. That designation belongs to Warner Brothers’ epic apologue depicting Michael Jordan’s initial return to the NBA. To this day, I refuse to believe that Jordan’s recrudescence to basketball prominence was influenced by anything outside of Looney Tune Land.
When Michael Jordan shook Mister Swackhammer’s hand and potentially subjected himself to an eternity of humiliation on Moron Mountain, there wasn’t a single individual in either galaxy who spoke. Time stood still and Jordan’s legacy, for the first time since he was cut from his Varsity basketball team, became susceptible to derogation.
The stipulations were confirmed and the venue that would ultimately showcase the greatest demonstration of competitive engagement was set. The only aspect left unsettled was the outcome. With that said, here’s why Space Jam ultimately won the ’90s.
Michael Jordan Was Perfect
There are only a handful of athletes in the history of professional sports who could’ve made a movie like this work. Scratch that, actually. There is only one athlete in the history of professional sports who could’ve made a movie like this work and Warner Brothers nailed it on the head.
Michael Jordan is the epitome of professionalism and arguably the most iconic individual to ever don a jersey. In a nutshell, Space Jam wouldn’t have been as successful if it starred anyone besides Air Jordan and that sentence cannot be argued as anything short of factual.
Recently, LeBron James announced via a Q&A on Twitter that he has given thought to potentially undertaking a Space Jam sequel. Given the enormity of such a contention, paired with the ongoing, media-fueled “Greatest player of all-time” debate, obviously James’ statements created a whirlwind of rumors and dialogue regarding a potential sequel.
There’s no question that LeBron James will go down as one of the all-time greats, if not the greatest of all-time. That being said, there’s a reason Michelangelo’s David remains the only one of its kind. Masterpieces don’t need continuations, but if you must try your hand at recreation, you best be able to deliver.
The Supporting Cast Was FIRE
Although Michael Jordan absolutely played himself to a T, it was the supporting cast that put Space Jam over the top. The script was absolutely brilliant, but without the precise personnel, Space Jam could’ve fallen into a trap that a lot of high-budget children’s films ultimately fall into when attempting to reach a broad audience.
Wayne Knight (Newman from “Seinfield”) was an absolute wrecking ball for the 12 minutes of screen time he had as Jordan’s personal ball washer, and I don’t think there’s another individual on this planet who could’ve voice acted a four-foot, cigar-smoking criminal alien boss more accurately than Danny DeVito.
Furthermore, when it’s all said and done, I think Bill Murray might go down as the single greatest human being of all-time. I wholeheartedly don’t think that man has done anything wrong in 60+ years of existence. The best line in the entire film occurs during an exchange he has with Jordan and Larry Bird on the golf course.
Wearing an umbrella hat, Murray questions whether or not Jordan’s skepticism regarding his ability to compete in the NBA has anything to do with his skin color. When Jordan refutes this notion by indicating that Larry’s white, Murray epically corrects Jordan by contending, “Larry’s not white; Larry’s clear.”
The Soundtrack Was Loaded
One of the most undervalued aspects of Space Jam was the fact that the film’s soundtrack was absolutely RIDICULOUS. From start to finish, you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive compilation of symphonic dominance than what Atlantic Records put out in October of 1996.
For starters, the movie opened up with the melodic stylings of R. Kelly, who convinced all of us that we were capable of flight. In fact, his effort was so inspiring that it launched his career to unrivaled heights and ultimately earned him a Grammy.
Although “I Believe I Can Fly” was the most critically-acclaimed work on the musical accompaniment, other notable hits included the Space Jam theme, which was performed by the Quad City Dj’s, and “Hit ’Em High,” which featured Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Coolio, and you guessed it, Method Man.
If that wasn’t enough to solidify the Space Jam soundtrack as one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, Bugs Bunny even tears up a 4-minute track entitled “Buggin,” which was written by none other than Brooklyn native, Shawn Carter (Jay Z).
The Controversy Was Unmatched
No movie, or rivalry for that matter, is complete without controversy. In Space Jam, the level of controversy regarding the heavily anticipated showdown between the “Tune Squad” and the “Monstars” was unparalleled.
Even before the game was played, skepticism ran rampant throughout the galaxy. Media and fans alike voiced their concerns regarding the Monstars’ training regimen, as well as their talent level and extraordinary size, which seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
It was later revealed that the Monstars had actually stolen the basketball talent from Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson, and for some reason, Shawn Bradley and Muggsy Bogues. Though this was never verified, the skepticism still exists and evidence hints that these alleged false practices were, in fact, implemented by the expansion team prior to tip-off.
As for the actual game, things became even more complicated. The “Tune Squad” got buried in the first half and a lot of it had to do with terrible officiating. The Monstars implemented an incredibly physical style of play and Marvin the Martian didn’t reach for the whistle once. There was one point in the first half where Foghorn Leghorn was literally burnt to a crisp at mid-court and the refs completely missed it.
Although most of the disputation regarding the game was aimed in the direction of the Monstars, a lot of people questioned the Toon-Squad’s half-time adjustments, and more specifically, a liquid that has been most commonly referred to as “Special Stuff.” Critics of Jordan’s team allude that Bugs had tainted team water bottles with deer antler spray, but when it’s all said and done, we all know that his actions were of inventive gamesmanship.
The Game Was Incredible
The one aspect of Space Jam that gets lost beneath its controversy and star-studded cast was the fact that the actual meeting between the Tune Squad and the Monstars was incredible from a sports’ perspective. Tune Stadium had a colosseum-type atmosphere that night and the sheer grit and determination of both teams were on full display from the opening tip.
In 2011, a student-run organization at Harvard University known as the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective actually went through the trouble to produce a statistical breakdown of the game and the results are nothing short of staggering.
Some notable things to consider when examining the box score of the game is the contrast between the first and second half performances by both teams.
Although the “Tune Squad” went into the locker-room at halftime trailing 18-66, they heroically managed to dominate the second half and pull off a 78-77 victory on the back of Michael Jordan, who managed to throw down a full-extension half-court dunk as time expired to seal it.
Lola Bunny Was the Ultimate SMOKE
With regards to the sexiest cartoon characters of all-time, a fair majority of the population tends to bring up names like Jessica Rabbit and Betty Boop. Obviously those are admirable candidates, but with all due respect, people who think that Lola Bunny isn’t the sexiest cartoon character of all-time are just flat-out lost and in dire need of a childhood reevaluation.
I guess you can make an argument for other characters, but when it’s all said and done, a vote for anyone other than Bugs’ female counterpart is a vote in the wrong direction because Lola Bunny changed the game regarding the sexual potential of pre-CGI animation.
Although characters like Betty Rubble, Sailor Moon, and Daphnee from Scooby Doo paved the way for future sex symbols in the realm of frame-by-frame animation, Lola Bunny redefined the genre.
She was attractive, athletic, smart, tough, and most importantly, dripped sex from her initial appearance. I always hated on Bugs for grinding out that post-game kiss at the end of the film but I guess he deserved it.