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Michael Jordan and Space Jam: a Branding Match Made in Heaven (or Space)

Ah, the 90s … a time when the Bulls, Looney Tunes, R.Kelly, and naturally, Space Jam, were at their prime. Besides its predecessor Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in 1988, Space Jam was the second movie ever to combine cartoons and live action for a full-length feature film.

michael jordan tv guide

Oh Michael Jordan, you sly dog.

Michael Jordan had already won three championships for the Bulls in ’91, ’92, and ’93 when he retired from basketball in the 1993-’94 season. Michael Jordan returned to the Bulls in 1995 (announced via a two-word press release. He just keeps getting cooler and cooler) and played well, although the Bulls didn’t win a championship that year. AND THUS, Space Jam was born. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it happened, but Space Jam certainly secured Michael Jordan as a family name.

Conveniently enough, Space Jam released on November 15, 1996, the year in which Michael Jordan went on to win another championship, and then two more in ’97 and ’98. While I’d like to believe that Space Jam was the reason for Michael Jordan’s success after his return to basketball, I’m pretty sure it was mainly because of his awesome b-ball skillz (dude holds the record for SIX Finals MVP awards. C’mon) and the skills of his teammates.

Space Jam portrayed a fictional version of Michael Jordan’s retirement, in which he was inspired to go back to basketball thanks to the Looney Tunes’ desperate need for his help. The film was actually inspired by this 1993 Super Bowl commercial for Nike.

bugs bunny

“C’mon and slam!”

Clearly the folks over at Warner Bros. took a look at that commercial’s success and realized the pairing would be an instant cash cow. What could possibly go wrong when pairing the most popular and widely known cartoons with one of the greatest basketball players in history? Answer: nothing.

I’m going to take a quote from the Space Jam website (which yes, is still live), and say that Michael Jordan “plunge[d] literally headfirst into the world of the animated Looney Tunes characters.” The result was a win-win for Warner Brothers, Looney Tunes, and Michael Jordan – the film raked in $230 million at the box office. The Bulls sold out arenas game after game. Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan took advantage of each other’s popularity to boost one another’s brand.

For Michael Jordan in particular, Space Jam allowed him to broaden his audience and create a family-friendly brand image for himself and the NBA. By hopping right into the looniness that is the Looney Tunes he was able to appeal to a younger audience, thus making him a hero even for kids who weren’t interested in basketball. (e.g. me. This is the most I have ever written about basketball in my whole life. Worth it)

Still not convinced? Check out this 1996 trailer for Space Jam to get a closer look at how these two brands teamed up to dominate the 90s.

What do you think? In what other ways did Warner Brothers and Michael Jordan benefit from one another? More importantly, isn’t Space Jam the best? Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now…leave your comments below!

Photos courtesy of the Official Space Jam Facebook page, trainman74, and the Official Space Jam website.


Jenna Markowski

Jenna has a much easier time writing about the media and pop culture than she does writing about herself. She enjoys the simple things in life, like puns and typography. She is an avid fan of pop-punk, Halo 3, Spider-Man and origami, with a slight Taco Bell obsession. Her spirit animal is either a bulldog or a panda bear. You can also connect with Jenna on Google+ and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Rachel

    SPACE JAM! I am now going to have the entire soundtrack stuck in my head, GREAT.

    Awesome post, though. :) Jordan and Looney Tunes really were a great branding match! You’re right: the movie broadened his appeal, especially to young kids who weren’t basketball fans but who loved cartoons (AKA all children ever). Aaand now I have an overwhelming desire to watch Space Jam. :)

    • Jenna Markowski

      The Space Jam Soundtrack totally rules, so there’s nothing wrong with having it stuck in your head!

      The movie definitely helped make Michael Jordan a household name. Before the film, only kids who were interested in basketball knew who he was. After Space Jam everyone wanted to be like Mike! Aaand, yes. Watch Space Jam! :)

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    Here’s one thing I know after reading this blog: I need to watch Space Jam. Also, yes, this was a match made in space. My family was pretty into the Bulls during the MJ years, but it wasn’t until Space Jam that we were really, really into them. The movie definitely helped him become a family-friendly household name!

    But congratulations on finally writing this blog, Jenna! I know it’s been about a year in the making. :)

    • Jenna Markowski

      Yes. Everyone needs to watch Space Jam!

      Thanks for your comment, Mandy! I agree with you. My family knew what was up with the Bulls, but I know I wasn’t really particularly interested until after Space Jam.

      C’MON AND SLAM! :)

  3. Mr. Commet

    Space Jam was one of the best movies made – EVER!

    If you haven’t seen it yet; you haven’t lived.

    There wasn’t a sporting event – Jr. High, High School, College, or Pro that didn’t have the movies soundtrack on tap on the 90s.

    I think this movie did a lot more for Jordan’s image than it did for Warner Bros or Loony Tunes. It’s sad how Warner Bros. has sort of let the Loony Tune characters die a slow death.

    … I love the fact that the original website is still up and running also. Brings me back to my AOL days! :)

    • Jenna Markowski

      I totally agree! Space Jam is one of the best movies OF ALL TIME! Haha, okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but you’re totally right that every sporting event in the 90s had the Space Jam soundtrack on loop.

      Very good point. It seems like MJ definitely benefited from this pairing more than the Looney Tunes did. Poor Looney Tunes. :(

      Yes, that website is one of my favorite things on the internet! :D

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