Twenty-five years after basketball legend Michael Jordan starred in animated action comedy Space Jam, there’s a new basketball icon in town. Four-time NBA champion LeBron James carries on the torch with Space Jam: A New Legacy.
LeBron James always felt a special connection to the original film.
“When I was 12 years old, I needed inspiration where I was growing up,” says the Ohio-born legend. “Michael Jordan was one of those people who gave me inspiration, along with my mother. When I think back on watching Space Jam, always having a love for Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes – and then you add Michael Jordan, one of my favourite inspirations growing up? It felt like it was a match made in heaven for me.”
“LeBron has an endearing quality to him that a lot of athletes of his caliber just don’t have,” says Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, who executive produced this new iteration of the film. “Everybody respects what he’s done on the basketball court over his career. It’s just really exciting for him to be the star of this film, for him to be the vehicle of people’s reintroduction to these characters.
“It’s a story with a lot of scope that has predicaments you wouldn’t necessarily see coming. This film exists at the intersection of entertainment in a way that’s so incredible. But at the end of the day, it’s a father/son story,” adds Coogler.
As the film opens we learn about the hard work and sacrifice it takes to be the greatest basketball player of all time – and meet with a version of LeBron who is frustrated that his younger son, Dom (Cedric Joe), does not adhere to his own strict work ethic, preferring to play and design video games.
The family’s struggles make them easy prey for egomaniacal digi-villain, Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle), who lures LeBron and Dom into the server room. There he essentially kidnaps them, sucking them into his digital domain and forcing them to go head-to-head in a basketball showdown involving a wacky and wonderful array of Looney Tunes characters.
As a long-time amateur basketball player, Cheadle thought he’d died and gone to heaven at the prospect of playing ball with one of basketball’s all-time greats, although his hopes were quickly dashed when they got on set.
“I would have loved to have the opportunity to play around with LeBron but, at the same time, if LeBron had injured himself on our set because he was just goofing around with some actors – that would have been very bad,” says the Oscar-winning Cheadle. “So I’m fine with how it all turned out. I played basketball very hard for 20 years straight, so it was time to hang up the gym shoes for sure.”
While LeBron has long been eyeing a show business career, his good friend and business partner Maverick Carter believed Space Jam: A New Legacy to be just the right project. “This story landed in a place that I truly believe LeBron – as an actor, as a basketball player, as a human, as a father, as a son – is uniquely positioned to be at the centre of,” he says. “It’s a totally new film that really has a message and deals with issues that the world can relate to.”
In the quarter century since the original film’s release, James, 36, has ascended to the top of his game on the court.
“It’s an honour for me to be a part of the Space Jam world, to be able to reintroduce it to kids today and show them how unbelievable the Looney Tunes are, and how great our sport of basketball is, as well,” he says. “There are also some things in this movie that will catch a lot of people off-guard. That’s what’s exciting about it.”
Cheadle believes the film lives up to its name, establishing an entirely new legacy. “This is different in every way, other than the main character being forced to play basketball. It’s a family story, and a story about a kid finding his way and following his own path. Of course, it still centres around the greatest basketball player of his time, and a game that’s taking place in a fantastical world – but I think this one is about deeper things.”