For those involved in the film industry at the time, the 1996 blockbuster release Space Jam, was a novel way of pushing the limits of animation technology while conveniently doubling as an irresistible marketing machine. For the basketball community, however, it was more than that.
The movie itself, highly-anticipated and generously budgeted, provided an opportunity for a sport to fill a role that before never had been and likely never will again; to extend beyond sports bars and premium cable packages and hit the mainstream in a new and large way.
Led by none other than the man who had already taken sports marketing to an all new level, the project was too big to fly under anybody’s radar, whether they loved, hated or were indifferent to Michael Jordan.
RottenTomatoes.com, which establishes a rating system for films based off positive or negative reviews from within the movie critic community was more than just indifferent to the film. It gave the movie a measly 38 percent “rotten” rating. In other words, 62 percent of the experts wouldn’t recommend seeing it.
If I were a movie buff, I might have to agree, but I’m not. I’m a sports buff, and was, specifically at the time of its release, a 10-year-old basketball buff.
The mid-1990s were a lot of things to a lot of different people and the impact the movie Space Jam had on particular individuals varied depending on where and at what stage they were at in their lives.
Yahoo!’s Ball Don’t Lie editor Kelly Dwyer was 16 years old when the film hit theaters; a wayward teen brimming with angst, committed more to wooing females than watching cartoons.
I, in contrast, had the privilege of hosting a 10th birthday party less than a week after Space Jam’s Nov. 15 release. Unlike Dwyer, young Austin Kent had no such understanding of the allures of the opposite sex, save for the occasional strange dream about Lola Bunny. Needless to say, our outlooks were different.
I’ll let him explain.
I don’t have any memories of Space Jam, the film. I’ve seen the movie once, in between freshly applying Clearasil to several affected areas and wondering just what haircut I could get away with that would impress a girl, while still allowing me to not think of myself as a major sell-out. Suffice to say, I was 16. I was not in the best of moods, and this kiddie hoops fantasy, while lovely I’m sure, wasn’t meant for me at the time.
What I do remember is what it gave me, as solace in a girl-less world. The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, led by an in-shape Michael Jordan that did most of his offseason damage playing pickup games against NBA pros on the Space Jam set in the summer of 1995. That movie, and its Hollywood green-screen’y location, allowed for MJ to ball against Reggie Miller, Penny Hardaway, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen as he worked his way back into muscle memory. It was the best offseason workout set-up that we’ve ever seen, and the end result was a 72-win season. Mostly (seriously) because of Space Jam.
By the way, I ended up marrying that girl I was trying to impress. I don’t credit Space Jam for that, though. Just my awesome pompadour.
For basketball fans, if nothing else, the film was a point of pride. It wasn’t Ken Griffey Jr. or Dan Marino who got the nod to star alongside the most famous cartoon characters in entertainment history. It certainly wasn’t Wayne Gretzky. It was silver screen proof that the NBA, though not necessarily more profitable than the NFL, was certainly more marketable.
That millions of children around the world were basically forced to learn about Shawn Bradley was simply a bonus.
Whether we had the action figures, Tune Squad jerseys or Monstars comforters on our beds or not (don’t judge me), the impact that Space Jam had on popular culture at the time resonated in all of us.
When I first started to consider ways of commemorating the film’s 15th anniversary, I had some reservations, unsure of whether or not we’d have the personalities to put together a modern-day version of the amicable cast chosen for the original.
You could go on for days and days about how no star will ever have the appeal of Michael Jordan, and you’d probably be right, but how about the Charles Barkleys and Muggsy Bogueses? Grandmama anyone?
There’s a very good chance that a film like Space Jam won’t come around again any time soon, so TheGoodPoint.com decided to wrangle up some of the best young sports writers the internet has ever seen. The results surprised me for the best, so hopefully you like them too.
It’s not easy trying to replace the sports heroes of yesterday, but with contributors from publications like Ball Don’t Lie, SLAM Magazine, NBA.com, The Basketball Jones, Free Darko and Hardwood Paroxysm, you kind of figure it out.