Welcome to Producer’s Chair, a mini-column in which Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman offers his own career advice to artists and various figureheads in the film and music industry. In this installment, Associate Editor Collin Brennan takes over and works with noted basketball scholar Corbin Smith on detailing the Monstar Squad that will inevitably take on LeBron James in Space Jam 2, all in honor of the original’s 20th anniversary this month.
Collin Brennan: A few weeks back, Toronto Raptors power forward Patrick Patterson hopped on The Players’ Tribune and posted an impassioned plea against the proposed sequel to the 1996 live-action/animated basketball comedy Space Jam. “I feel it’s time for me to finally take a stand,” he wrote. “It’s still almost impossible to recreate great films, much less make them even better… To make a sequel to Space Jam would be like trying to paint the Mona Lisa again. Sure, you can probably do it, but why the hell would you want to?”
It’s a good thing Patterson has a nice perimeter game, because he’s probably not getting work as a film critic with pull quotes like that. Strip away the nostalgia and the novelty of watching a late-career Michael Jordan ball with Bugs Bunny, and the original Space Jam hardly amounts to a “great” film. We tend to treat relics from our childhood with undue reverence, and a basketball movie starring the Looney Tunes and aliens with superpowers checks off pretty much all the boxes for ‘90s kids.
Then again, basketball writer and podcaster Corbin Smith might disagree with me. Corbin, now’s the time to get all your thoughts about the O.G. Space Jam on the table.
Corbin Smith: Well, well, well. I see how it is. Holed up in your pop-culture ivory tower, ignoring us scum down here in the dirt writing about sports, all up until it’s time to write about Space Jam, huh? I have opinions about culture, you know. I could write about prestige TV or Steve Reich or whatever! But to you people, all I’m good for is churning your Space Jam sausage. Makes me sick.
But, anyway, I don’t like Space Jam. I might have when I was a kid, but I was stupid and feeble then. I lived in a bed and only drank smoothies because I had no bones. But since I grew bones, I have turned on this garbage movie. The plot is bad, it’s a Nike commercial, and Michael Jordan is the second-worst actor I’ve ever seen behind Larry Bird, whose scene in this movie is maybe the most embarrassing thing an adult has ever done.
On top of that, the animation is weirdly dissociative, with each character highlighted with weird 3D-looking shadows so they don’t seem unreal-looking next to Michael Jordan. The best I could say about Space Jam is that it provides a very real portrait of Michael Jordan’s competitive madness somewhere around the 70-minute mark.
Collin Brennan: Fair enough. There are a lot of places where we can poke holes in Space Jam’s half-animated fabric, but the one I’m interested in today is the Monstars’ starting lineup. Cleveland Cavaliers superstar (and defending national champion, hey-yo) LeBron James has reportedly been cast in the lead role, despite Jordan’s own protestations that Clipper Blake Griffin would make a better successor.
But casting a star in Space Jam is the easy part — it’s the other guys you’ve got to worry about. Space Jam’s original director, Joe Pytka, recently called the sequel “doomed” because the NBA of 2016 lacks the big personalities for a proper follow-up. Looking back, though, it’s not as if his own Monstar squad was overflowing with talent and personality. Charles Barkley was a pretty inspired pick and Patrick Ewing wasn’t half-bad either, but Muggsy Bogues? Shawn Bradley? You’ve got to think those guys were cast only for their extreme discrepancies in height.
Corbin Smith: They probably were. Also, they were all Nike-sponsored players. Larry Johnson was pretty cool, though, even if he probably doesn’t seem famous enough for the movie now.
Collin Brennan: Did you ever read the article that Harvard kid wrote, in which he compiled all the Monstars’ stats and created a box score for the game? Barkley and Ewing’s stand-ins clearly outclass the other scrubs, scoring a combined 71 points versus a whopping total of six from Johnson and goose eggs from Bogues and Bradley. I’ve got to think that, if Space Jam 2 accomplishes anything…
Corbin Smith: It won’t.
Collin Brennan: Well if it does, it’s going to have a more well-rounded Monstars starting five. After all, the NBA has changed a bunch since the ‘90s, and mostly in good ways. The sheer level of talent teams are trotting out these days is bound to give Space Jam 2 a much deeper well to draw from, and the fact that stars are more plugged into social media and actively seeking to market their “brands” (e.g. Griffin’s Kia commercials and State Farm’s Meet the Hoopers series) makes me think that Space Jam’s sequel might actually be better than the original. Or at least not as shitty. If you could divorce yourself from your burning hatred for Space Jam for just a second, would you agree that there’s a chance?
Corbin Smith: No, but I will go along with this exercise anyway, because I am magnanimous and kind and gentle.
Collin Brennan: So put on your Hollywood hat and bear with me. If you were drawing up a starting lineup for Space Jam 2 and you had pretty much the entire NBA to pick from, what would be your criteria? The NBA more than any other professional sports league is a league of personalities, so I’d have to think raw talent would only be one part of it.
Corbin Smith: Charisma. Good looks. Long arms, so they can cover perimeter shooters. Maybe enough backstory to produce spin-offs, make a Space Jam-o-verse, really haul in long-term box-office dividends. Danilo Gallinari and the Animaniacs, maybe?
Collin Brennan: Danilo would actually be a pretty good choice in the power forward slot, though he’d probably get injured walking onto the set.
Corbin Smith: C’mon man, that was one ACL tear that was WILDLY mismanaged. Could have happened to anyone! He has been almost completely healthy since he got back!
Collin Brennan: I guess that sort of brings up an interesting point about movie magic, though. Some of the ways we judge players in real life wouldn’t necessarily have to apply to their alien versions in Space Jam 2. Can you imagine a beefed-up version of Derrick Rose who never has to worry about tearing up his knees again? Or a Danilo who can actually make it through a full season (or at least a two-hour feature-length film)? The possibilities!
Keeping that in mind, I’d like to propose an actual starting lineup for the Space Jam sequel comprised of players from the modern-day NBA. It’s admittedly a silly exercise, but I have this notion that talking about players’ Space Jam-ability might not be the worst way to evaluate the current state of the league and call out the guys who really stand out, whether because they’re genuine superstars or because they have some other quirk that makes them League Pass-worthy.
And, because the talent pool is so deep and we’re bound to argue, I’ll even make room for some reserves. Sequels always have to be bigger, right? So fuck it — let’s double up on Monstars! I guess we’ll start with probably the deepest talent pool, which would have to be point guards.
Collin Brennan: Corbin, what are you thinking here?
Corbin Smith: Isaiah Thomas. He is small, like Muggsy, but he is also probably better than Muggsy. Also, he has a kind of cinematic Pacific Northwest warmth about him. I could see a scene where he gets a little cranky with his kids as a result of aliens taking his basketball powers or whatever this movie is about.
Collin Brennan: Thomas is a good call. I think films have a way of latching onto certain definable features, and he’s got a few of those. For starters, I believe he’s the shortest guy currently playing in the NBA. But he’s more in the Nate Robinson mold of “I’m small but I’ll dunk in your face” than the Bogues mold of “I’m just a small guy who’s pretty good at basketball.” I think that attitude would translate well to the big screen.
Corbin Smith: I don’t think IT (I call him by his initials, because we are close friends) can dunk regularly. He is very mean, though. Also Nate Robinson was a novelty, unsuited to motion-picture stardom. What next?
Collin Brennan: Well, we’d need a backup PG in case the Monstars’ coach (obviously not Tom Thibodeau, in this scenario) doesn’t think his guy can handle all 48 minutes of Looney Tunes punishment.
Corbin Smith: Matthew Dellavedova, of course. His cartoon opponents would be turned into real human beings and ground into dust by his grime. Also, he smells terrible and cartoons hate that.
Collin Brennan: I like the idea of casting a real-life basketball villain in a fictional basketball role. The execs would eat that one up, especially if Delly’s monster has to square off against former teammate LeBron James on a key possession. It would be like an underdog story, but with the roles reversed.
Starter: Isaiah Thomas
Backup: Matthew Dellavedova
Collin Brennan: Let’s move on to shooting guards now that we’ve got the PG slot squared away.
Corbin Smith: Collin, my dude, I gotta tell you something: Most shooting guards are terrible, and I don’t think any of them should be in the NBA, much less in the movies, which are like big-screen basketball games with plots.
Collin Brennan: I agree, wholeheartedly. But for the purposes of this argument, how do you feel about including some of those hybrid-type combo guards? The James Hardens and such.
Corbin Smith: Harden is much too busy attending worldwide orgies to be in a movie. Instead, I will suggest the combo-guard lion in winter MANU GINOBILI. It doesn’t matter if he has aged. He’s lost none of his sneaky charisma. Ladies loved watching him go from a floppy-haired dynamo to a dignified bald man, and they will turn out in droves to objectify him on the big screen.
Collin Brennan: Does Ginobili get his hair back in alien form?
Corbin Smith: Yes, because his alien is very, very insecure. Actually, in the movie, when Ginobili loses his skill, he just sort of accepts it and moves on to something else. He has his family, his health, the great classics of literature; he doesn’t need the hustle and bustle of NBA life any more. It’s actually all very moving.
Collin Brennan: I’m fully on board. As a backup, I would like to propose Orlando Magic two-guard Evan Fournier, if only because I want to see what a French alien with terrible facial hair looks like. But I think Fournier is a smart choice philosophically, as well, because in the last 20 years, the NBA has moved in a decidedly more international direction.
To the point, where the original film’s lineup seems kind of xenophobic by today’s standards. It doesn’t hurt that Hollywood has also embraced the international market, with blockbuster films now routinely doing better business overseas than at home. From all angles, Ginobili and Fournier seem like a win.
Starter: Manu Ginobili
Backup: Evan Fournier
Corbin Smith: Gonna have to go with the legend, Joe Johnson. Joe is playing a pivotal role for the Jazz this year and is probably the most famous player a normal person has never heard of.
Collin Brennan: You’ve got to be kidding me. Joe Johnson could have starred in the original Space Jam.
Corbin Smith: Because he’s more charismatic than Michael Jordan? Yeah, I agree.
Collin Brennan: Also, we’ve got Kawhi Leonard! The classic strong-and-silent type.
Corbin Smith: When he enters a room, they could play “Cry” by Carly Rae Jepsen. See, I know about non-sports stuff!
Collin Brennan: I’ll call you up the next time we need a moderator for a Kawhi-Carly Rae round table. But think about it this way: The problem with so many blockbuster films (and NBA teams, for that matter) is that they’re packed with too many screen-hogging stars. Kawhi offers not only the benefit of a 7’3” wingspan (or whatever that stretches out to in alien form), but a guy who’s going to do the grunt work and not demand too many lines in the script.
Corbin Smith: (Dreamily writing “Mr. Carly Rae Jepsen” on his Trapper Keeper) Huh? Oh, yeah, sure.
Collin Brennan: Other than Joe freaking Johnson, who do you envision as the backup here?
Corbin Smith: Harrison Barnes, just because he would do it for free just to get the Black Falcon brand out there.
Corbin Smith: Wow, Barnes is kind of perfect. Another Chapel Hill boy who cares deeply about his brand. A Monstar carved in Michael Jordan’s own image.
Starter: Kawhi Leonard
Backup: Harrison Barnes
Collin Brennan: Let’s move on to the big guys, because they make better basketball-crushing aliens anyway.
Corbin Smith: You know, Joe Johnson has played the 4 in some smaller lineups…
Collin Brennan: The Monstars don’t play smallball.
Corbin Smith: Shame. Anyway, I’m gonna go with Draymond Green. He’s versatile, he can talk in front of a camera, and he has a really very profound villainous streak in his heart. He is probably the closest thing we have to a modern-day Barkley.
Collin Brennan: A good character foil for Kawhi, and a good one-two nut punch with Delly. Ref Marvin the Martian didn’t call many fouls in the first film, so you’d have to think the Monstars’ game plan for the rematch would involve copious and egregious nut shots. I could see Draymond thriving in that role.
Corbin Smith: A scene where Monstar Draymond just yanks dudes out from the crowd and punches them all in the nuts, one right after another, could be terrific cinema.
Collin Brennan: Not to be too “Let’s just pick players from last year’s Finals,” but I think Kevin Love makes a lot of sense as a backup. Assuming LeBron James is going to be the guy to lead the Tunes to victory, I want to see an emotional showdown with one of his current teammates, especially the guy who had all the trade rumors circling around him last year. I could see LeBron kind of feeling bad for Love in a rare moment of on-court weakness, at which point Draymond checks in and slaps him in the balls. End scene.
Starter: Draymond Green
Backup: Kevin Love
Corbin Smith: Marc Gasol. “Wendigo” would beast on everyone, tears them limb from limb, roam around the countryside burning houses and devouring cattle, then he would make a beautiful long two-pointer and take the world’s tiniest sip of espresso and tiniest bite of croissant.
Collin Brennan: Sounds less like Space Jam 2 and more like an NBA version of Trollhunter, but I’m into it. Marc’s another great pick for international audiences, and he comes with a hell of a lot more in the way of fundamentals than Shawn Bradley ever did.
Corbin Smith: Shawn was the only white player in the NBA at the time, in fairness.
Collin Brennan: Are you calling John Stockton translucent?
Corbin Smith: Stockton took two years off to play baseball around that time. People just don’t talk about it as much.
Collin Brennan: Do you think Boogie Cousins is too obvious a choice at Center here? I like where you’re going with Marc, but you’ve got to admit Boogie would bring the fireworks. If a Monstar could foul out on technicals, you’d have to think it’d be him.
Corbin Smith: Warner Brothers couldn’t afford him. He’s the lead in like half-a-dozen direct-to-Netflix action movies. Curse of the Rainclaw, Lethal Striker, PostMan 6, etc.
Collin Brennan: In that case,c I’m going with the other Gasol as a backup. Space Jam has never really capitalized on the sibling dynamic, and I’m of the school that says a family film should go out of its way to cast actual family members. Although, to be honest, what I really want to see is the Gasol brothers in a reboot of the 1993 live-action Super Mario Bros. film.
Corbin Smith: With Tom Thibodeau as Dennis Hooper’s King Koopa. I also think Thibs would be an eerily convincing Frank, if anyone is looking into an NBA remake of Blue Velvet.
Collin Brennan: I hear the Timberwolves are due for a new set of uniforms next year. Here’s hoping they’ll draw on Isabella Rossellini’s dress for inspiration.
Starter: Marc Gasol
Backup: Pau Gasol
Collin Brennan: So here’s what our final lineup is looking like:
PG Isaiah Thomas
SG Manu Ginobili
SF Kawhi Leonard
PF Draymond Green
C Marc Gasol
PG Matthew Dellavedova
SG Evan Fournier
SF Harrison Barnes
PF Kevin Love
C Pau Gasol
Corbin Smith: I still wouldn’t see this movie.
Collin Brennan: Fair, but I think we’ve got a good mix of established veterans and up-and-coming stars in our pseudo Space Jam lineup. The better question is, do you think that lineup as presently constituted is good enough to win a championship in the real NBA?
Corbin Smith: Nah, no Damian Lillard. Blazers gonna win it all this year, baby!
Collin Brennan: Well, I guess…