Michael Jordan's life-saving dunk from Space Jam gets a deep rewind

– [Narrator] This is by far the most important moment in Michael Jordan’s career. It’s early 1995, and we’re somewhere in the earth’s core. The domain of the Looney Tunes.

MJ’s Tune Squad is down one point in the final seconds of a high stakes basketball game against the Monstars. This is Jordan’s last chance to save the game and his own livelihood but before he tries to beat the buzzer we need to remember how we got here. How MJ, who’s technically not even a basketball player came to join a team of cartoon characters. How that team has competed against a roster of gigantic monster aliens, and how those aliens got so gigantic in the first place. We need to rewind.

(eerie music) So one thing you’ll notice about MJ is that his arm is stretched well beyond his 6’11 wingspan as if he’s not subject to real world physics. That’s because he’s not. Jordan is in tune world.

This chain of events all started in October 1993. Jordan was coming off the most successful but challenging stretch of his NBA career. After years of falling short, MJ’s Chicago Bulls broke through for back to back to back Championships in 1991, ’92, and ’93. But the summer following that third ring was a dark time for Jordan. His gambling habit was under scrutiny after a book shed light on his compulsion for high stakes betting.

And tragedy struck in August, when Michael’s father, James Jordan was found dead, the victim of a roadside shooting. Exhausted and depleted of the motivation to build on his accomplishments, Michael surprised the world by retiring from the NBA to spend more time with his family. And in early ’94 there came another surprise. Jordan signed a contract to play minor league baseball in the Chicago White Sox system, pursuing a lifelong dream of his father’s. Though merely an okay baseball player, Jordan was still a big time celebrity with the AA Birmingham Barons and improving day by day.

But a couple things started to push him away from baseball. One was the looming major league strike which threatened to interrupt his progress since he had no intention of crossing the picket line. The other, was the time he went golfing with his friends Larry Bird and Bill Murray only to get lassoed by Yosemite Sam and pulled through a hole deep underground where he was tortured by Looney Tunes characters. And now he’s playing alongside his captors in a basketball game so we should probably talk about what their deal is. These Warner Brothers cartoon creatures came about in the 1930s, gaining popularity in World War II propaganda.

And throughout the 20th century, the characters of Looney Tunes cemented themselves as American icons. Their immense success seemed unstoppable, until earlier this year when an existential threat appeared. Seemingly out of nowhere, a fleet of aliens called the Nerdlucks plunged through the earth’s surface into tune world. They’d been sent there by their overlord, Mr.Swackhammer who was desperate to pivot the business plan of his failing amusement park, Moron Mountain. His attractions no longer appealed to the children of outer space so he commanded his Nerdluck minions to capture earth’s foremost entertainers so he could enslave them, capitalize on their talent and keep Moron Mountain afloat. Friends, this is why you need a strong Union.

In the middle of a work day, the tunes labor committee called a unit wide meeting to confront the invaders. Though the Nerdlucks had superior firepower, they proved open to negotiation and granted the Looney Tunes characters an opportunity to defend themselves. After some brainstorming, the tunes achieved consensus and convinced the Nerdlucks to stake their freedom on a basketball game.

It seemed like an easy win. The Nerdlucks were short and component and unfamiliar with the game of basketball. Emphasis on were. The Nerdlucks have a lead now. That’s because they’re not really Nerdlucks anymore. I wanna take us back to last Spring.

Back to earth’s surface. Without Jordan, the Bulls’ dynasty ended and in the power vacuum, a new top dog became clear. Houston star Hakeem Olajuwon emerged as the league’s best defender and MVP in the regular season. And he dialed it up in the playoffs.

Hakeem’s Rockets crushed Clyde Drexler and the Blazers, won a hard fought series against Charles Barkley and the Suns, coasted through the Western Conference finals against Karl Malone, John Stockton and The Jazz, then outlasted Patrick Ewing’s Knicks in a grueling dramatic seven game final series. Oh, and the OJ chase happened. Sports have been very exciting since Michael Jordan retired and got kidnapped by cartoon characters. Why is any of this relevant?

Well, here you had a new pecking order of superstars and they all got back to work trying to unseat their new ruler Hakeem in ’94-’95. By January, Barkley and The Suns were on pace to be the Western Conference one seed while Ewing’s Knicks trailed the Magic in the Eastern Conference standings. The Suns-Knicks match-up on January 29, 1995 was thus an important battle in the build-up to the ’95 Playoffs.

The Knicks crushed The Suns that night in New York but the occasion was more notable for another reason. In the middle of the game, Barkley suddenly became feeble, almost lifeless. It vexed Suns teammate Danny Ainge and Coach Paul Westphal.

Especially when Barkley’s stagnation on defense allowed Ewing a wide open dunk. But Ewing himself would suffer the same symptoms soon thereafter. Pat couldn’t catch a pass. He couldn’t even hit the backboard with a free throw. His teammates were befuddled. And the mysterious affliction appeared to be spreading outside MSG.

– Five NBA players have been placed on the disabled list in the last 24 hours, all suffering from the same mysterious ailment. – [Narrator] The league spiraled into a panic. The Lakers refused to enter the Great Western Forum without gas masks and the building was eventually quarantined in a giant HAZMAT tent. Super agent David Falk declared a lockout on behalf of the players. They wouldn’t take the court again until someone figured out what the hell was going on. – There will be no more basketball this season.

(crowd shouting) – [Narrator] The answer is right here. Ewing and Barkley’s talents didn’t just disappear. They were stolen by the Nerdlucks who absorbed said talents to morph from miniature basketball noobs to humongous slam dunking superstars. That was a good plan by the Nerdlucks but looking at this narrow lead they’re holding, I’ve gotta quibble with the execution.

By stealing from Barkley and Ewing, the Monstars acquired All-Star talent if not the best of the best. They, for instance skipped over everyone on the prior season’s All-NBA First Team. And in filling out their roster of stolen talent, The Nerdlucks seriously underperformed. Their team needed a point guard.

The obvious option, Barkley teammate Kevin Johnson was out with a thigh injury the night The Nerdlucks visited New York, so maybe that’s why they passed on him. But skipping over all these other elite point guards to settle for 5’3 Muggsy Bogues, who is awesome if not an elite talent, was a questionable choice. The Nerdlucks showed no such discernment for injury red flags when they invested in the talent of Bogues’ Charlotte teammate Larry Johnson. While quite a famous persona and still fairly productive, LJ is recovering from a debilitating back injury.

Instead of rounding out the squad with, I don’t know, maybe some shooting? The fifth Monstar talent came from an additional big man. Not Olajuwon, not Shaq or Shawn Kemp or David Robinson, but Shawn Bradley.

A young center who’s decent but better known for his extreme height then for his basketball skills. So, I don’t know if it was just a matter of convenience or bad scouting or what, but these aliens seemed to have placed just as much value on guys who are funny heights or have commercial appeal as they did on, you know, actual All-Star basketball talent. It’s almost like they care more about appealing to kids than they do excellent basketball. It’s almost like that super agent we saw before represents most of these players and orchestrated their inclusion. Huh.

Anyway, that’s how the Nerdlucks got large and competitive and countering that, of course is why the Looney Tunes added MJ to their roster. And he has dominated this game! The Monstars have skills belonging to guys Jordan vanquished when he was in the league so it’s no surprise to see MJ cross them up in this context. Or dunk on them, or cook ’em with the occasional pull-up jumper. But let’s not forget that Jordan entered the company of these desperate cartoon beings against his will.

Then they abused him. What’s motivating him to ball out like this? First of all, the Monstars got cocky. The first time they met Michael, they called him chicken and baldy. – Baldy? – [Narrator] And they folded him into a ball and passed him around, then they smashed Tweety which was uncalled for.

Thing number two, MJ loves a bet and he raised the stakes for himself. In the second half, Jordan made a heroic, if extremely reckless proposition. – If you win?

– [Mr. Swackhammer] Uh-huh. – You get me. – Good deal, boss! – [Narrator] Instead of the Looney Tunes, Jordan volunteered himself as the captive basketball playing talent on Moron Mountain if the Monstars win this game.

And the other end of the deal doesn’t even benefit MJ. If the Tune Squad wins, – You give the NBA players their talent back. – [Narrator] That’ll be a big relief to a bunch of former Jordan rivals who’ve been hospitalized and psycho-analyzed to no affect. They’re still worse at basketball than literal children and they can’t wrap their heads around what happened. A fortune teller was the only expert to accurately diagnose the problem but they laughed in her face. So, MJ’s assumed a prominent role on this team.

He was introduced as player coach, as part of a starting line-up also featuring Bugs Bunny, Taz, Daffy Duck, and talented newcomer Lola Bunny. And facing first half deficits as big as “kinda one-sided isn’t it” to 18, Jordan encouraged the use of performance enhancing substances though I should note that he knew full well this secret stuff was really just water. – Play along. – [Narrator] The dude is cut-throat! And the placebo PEDs did help the Tune Squad into a second half run. The second unit in particular came through by employing their signature moves.

Wile E. Coyote dipped into his ACME arsenal, Yosemite Sam exploited tune world’s archaic stand your ground laws, Pepe Le Pew flummoxed the defense with his stinky ass. But still, especially in his role as coach, MJ’s been fighting an uphill battle. Many of his substitutions have gone awry. Putting Tweety Bird on the floor at the same time as his nemesis, Sylvester the Cat was an obvious misstep.

Foghorn Leghorn literally got roasted by the opposition. Sniffles the Mouse got smooshed by the ball. And frankly, Jordan was kind of naive to trust that the aliens made that second half bargain in good faith. – Crush ’em!

– [Narrator] As soon as the deal was struck, the Monstars got more violent. Coyote, Pig, Fudd, Leghorn, Devil and Bird have all been incapacitated. Daffy Duck is in concussion protocol. Bugs put himself in harm’s way because he’s so horny for Lola. In need of a fifth player, Coach Jordan called upon his obsequious, unathletic publicist Stan Podolak. Podolak got the Tune Squad a key bucket but only because the Monstars flattened him so forcefully that the ball squirted out of his hands and into the basket.

Which brings me to an important problem. A game with this much at stake should have the best of the best officiating but there is exactly one referee. Marvin the Martian. On the surface, Marvin seems like he’d be an impartial official. He is, after all, both space alien and Looney Tune. But even a cursory background check would’ve raised flags.

For instance, if you go back to 1952’s Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century, you’ll see Marvin attempting to colonize a newly discovered planet and you’ll see Marvin coldly executing Daffy while Porky looks on. He is a threat to both outer space dwellers and tunes with conflicts of interest all over this court. And Marvin’s calling the game like it. The dude does not blow his whistle. Not when a Monstar slaps Bugs across the face, not when Stan gets caught on a one man Spygate mission, not when Sylvester pantses a Monstar with a fishing rod which is a flagrant one in the rule book.

Marvin is corrupt beyond belief and there’s no better evidence than what just happened. After Stan got pancaked, which wasn’t called a foul by the way, medics came to re-inflate him and in doing so, revealed the score to be 77-67 Monstars, with 10 seconds left. Fast-forward back to present and with no game time having elapsed, the Tune Squad has gained nine points. If Marvin whistled a bunch of technicals or flagrants for that pile-up, we didn’t see it and it still wouldn’t add up.

There’s no accountability! But in any case, the Monstars got the ball back up one with 10 seconds left. They just had to run clock to win the game and take Michael Jordan prisoner. So how did we get here with the Tune Squad in possession as time expires? Clearly, the Monstars aren’t very clutch but it’s not just that, it’s this guy. Bill Murray.

Murray doesn’t need to be here. His career is in a good place. After some time spent mostly away from film, Murray has re-entered the scene in recent years with starring performances in hit movies like Ghostbusters II and Groundhog Day. He’s back on top! But Bill wants something else, something more.

He wants to hoop! As soon as NBA players started losing their talents, Bill wondered aloud if he might have an opportunity to fill in only to be disparaged by the retired stars in his midst. – Listen, it’s a man’s game and you can’t play. – [Narrator] Even after Michael got sucked into a hole, Bill was more fixated on his NBA potential than he was on his friend’s disappearance.

– Now if Mike is gone, the NBA is gonna need some new people! – [Narrator] It’s an obsession. So, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised when moments ago with the Tune Squad in need of an emergency fifth player, Murray suddenly showed up somehow already in uniform. And despite what MJ and Larry said about him before, Murray has proved instrumental in the final seconds.

Yes, he initially drew up an offensive set, not realizing the Tune Squad didn’t have the ball. – We’re on defense! – [Narrator] But once he caught up to the situation, he vastly improved on Jordan’s play call of- – Somebody steal the ball, give it to me! – [Narrator] By pulling Daffy Duck aside and coaching him to dive dagger-like into Pound the Monstar’s heart, thus forcing a loose ball which Murray himself stole. Bill then showed off some pretty impressive dribbling skills, tossed a heads-up outlet pass to Jordan, then after some frantic ball movement, dished off the last second pass that if MJ can finish, will constitute the game winning assist. And if MJ can pull this off, it’ll be the most important buzzer beater of his life.

It’ll save him from a lifetime of servitude on Moron Mountain. That was a fate once reserved for the Looney Tunes cast but after their alien invader’s pirated NBA skill from somewhat questionable sources, the cartoons made a bold move in the talent arms race. And it has paid off! Despite, or perhaps thanks to shady officiating by an individual with a checkered pass, Jordan has taken up the Looney Tunes cause as his own and has lead them to the brink of an upset win. If he pulls it off, he’ll owe Bill Murray an apology. Jordan lampooned Murray’s basketball dreams but his golf buddy has come through when the Tune Squad faced unpreparedness at crunch time.

Okay, we’re here. Let’s see if Jordan’s cartoonishly elastic arm can reach the rim before the buzzer sounds. Welcome, to a moment in history. (intense music) (buzzer sounds) (crowd cheering) (celebratory music) – The tunes win! (TV clicks off)