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 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.
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.