Love of Space Jam is the perfect case study in false memory—take a childhood novelty, give yourself a decade of distance, layer on some of the currently rampant ’90s nostalgia, and all of a sudden everyone you know swoons over something that was pretty bad. The sum total of praise Space Jam deserves is that its soundtrack is still dope.
Sitting through Space Jam right now would not be as fun as you remember. You are probably also misremembering the amount of fun you had watching it at the time. If we’re stuck watching ill-conceived ’90s NBA star vehicles, I would rather boot up Kazaam, because it’s way less self-aware, offers more genuine camp, and off-court, Shaq will always make for more entertaining viewing than a non-weeping MJ.
And now we have word of an upcoming Space Jam 2 starring LeBron James, which has all the potential to be similarly disappointing. (At the least, let it be better than the many YouTube videos trying to predict what a sequel would look like.) But there may be one way to save it.
My theory took root in this nice essay by grad student Dan, which very patiently attempts to redeem Space Jam by arguing that it fictionalizes the very real aimlessness and pain Michael Jordan felt after the death of his father, his abrupt retirement from the game he dominated, and pivot to a new one.
During his time away from the NBA, Jordan was forced to deal with not only a tragic family situation, but also the falling out of his sudden, shocking retirement announcement. Despite it’s cartoon cast and campy nature, Space Jam is a serious account of heartbreak, acceptance, benevolence, and triumph.
And later he very generously mines more themes:
[T]he effects of loss, desire, and companionship no matter what the odds. Doing what makes you happy is a major theme explored by Space Jam, displayed by the hall of fame career Jordan enjoyed, the 6 NBA titles Chicago has to their name, and the $230 million this movie made at the box office, tripling their budget. The final, lasting commentary displayed by Space Jam is this: If it has Michael Jordan’s name on it, it’s gonna make a ton of money.
So the way to fix this otherwise doomed Space Jam 2 is to reuse that essential strategy: Fictionalize some painful, transformative aspect of LeBron’s actual life. One obvious choice would be to revisit his catastrophic Decision, brief Miami villainy, and prodigal-son return to Cleveland, but that seems too tidy, and I’d prefer to examine more recent emotional wounds, anyway.
Let’s envision a very realistic near-future in which LeBron’s Cavaliers make it to the NBA Finals year after year, only to get smashed by the Warriors each time, without the excuse of injuries to their 2nd and 3rd best players. LeBron himself has been completely edged out of the popular spotlight by the more lovable, relatable, watchable Stephen Curry—could use a Lola Bunny type as a thinly veiled stand-in, that seems like a good fit—and grows increasingly resentful. Out of jealousy and frustrated ambition, LeBron plots to steal Steph Bunny’s mojo by means more sinister than a magic basketball, kidnapping him, turning his ankles to glass, entombing him in the wormhole between cartoon world and ours, or some other dark scheme.
LeBron must be the villain of Space Jam 2 if it wants to hold our attention and serve as the gritty reboot this franchise needs.