Space Jam: A New Legacy has a new star player in LeBron James, but the sequel knows who did it first: As LeBron, playing a version of himself, goes about recruiting a basketball team’s worth of Looney Tunes, there are a number of winky references to another NBAer having done this all before. It’s not until the movie’s big game that Michael Jordan’s name is first dropped. With the Tune Squad down by 1,000 or so points, Sylvester surprises his teammates at halftime by announcing that he found Michael Jordan in the crowd.
Keep reading only if you want the cameo spoiled: Are King James and His Airness really about to slam together?, you think to yourself. The music swells, the Tunes get tooney, the camera pans up and reveals: Michael B. Jordan, eating popcorn and looking confused. Animated jaws drop.
“Look, if you’re gonna have a Michael Jordan in your movie, you’re gonna want Michael A. Jordan, right? The Jordan,” producer Sev Ohanian told ET. “But if you have the opportunity to have this incredible joke that’s 25-plus years in the making, how could you not? It was the perfect, looniest addition to the film, and honestly, I just can’t wait to be in the theatre and watch audiences experience it live.”
B. Jordan being 9 when the original film came out aside, the cameo makes sense when you consider the movie counts Ryan Coogler as a producer, who not only directed the actor in Black Panther but counts him as a close friend. Still, A New Legacy castmembers like Don Cheadle say they didn’t know he was actually in the movie until they saw it.
“It’s an amazing way to play homage to M.J. [and] make sure that audiences know how much he matters to us and to this film and these characters,” Ohanian explains. “At the same time, once everyone heard the joke, they loved the concept and it was all in.”
Though every four-quadrant movie worth its Q Score will slip in jokes for the adults watching along, I’m curious what an actual child will make of the gag. Do kids, ostensibly the primary audience for this movie, understand the nominal connection and punnery happening here? (Or the Friday Night Lights reference he makes?) Then again, would they understand if Michael Jordan proper appeared onscreen, outside of those whose parents played them the 1996 Space Jam? (I assume most young people did not watch The Last Dance.)
According to the filmmakers, they never actually pursued a cameo from Michael A. Jordan. “I mean, M.J. has his own legacy with this film,” Ohanian hedges, though he adds, “It’s always been nothing but love between him and this film.” Director Malcolm D. Lee, on the other hand, only says, “I have spoken to Michael Jordan but not about this.”
“I just wanted to make the best movie possible,” Lee continues. “We tried to make sure that we were up with the times, to make sure that we had a movie that was going to appeal to kids and was going to appeal to adults and teenagers, if possible. Have great music. Have great visual effects. It’s a great spectacle, so the pressure was more of that than the legacy of the original.”
Space Jam: A New Legacy is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
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