In Honor Of Michael Jordan’s 50th Birthday: How The Winning Dunk From ‘Space Jam’ Encapsulates His Career

  • Joe Levine

Today marks the 50th birthday of Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time. Everyone is sharing their favorite MJ plays and memories today as we look back on the man’s life, but one aspect of Jordan’s career is woefully under-appreciated on this day: how Space Jam, specifically Jordan’s game-winning dunk from the big game, is the perfect microcosm of his days in the NBA.

There are four aspects of this moment from Space Jam that reflect directly on Jordan’s career:

1. The Toon Squad
2. The MonStars
3. The emergence of Bill Murray
4. Jordan’s game-winning dunk itself

Before I explain, let’s watch the big play:

Okay, now we can get into it.

The Toon Squad is nothing if not a pre-Scottie Pippen Chicago Bulls team

Disorganized. Uncoachable. Downright-awful. Am I talking about the mid-’80s Chicago Bulls or the Toon Squad? How about both? It’s no coincidence that the Toon Squad gets destroyed by the MonStars in the first half of their big game. The only player who shows up (other than Mike, obviously) is Bugs Bunny. Incidentally, who is the only holdover from those bad Bulls teams that makes it to the championship years of the early ’90s? John Paxson. And what position do they both play? Point guard.

It’s also likely more than just a coincidence that Jordan’s jock-sniffing assistant willing to do anything for MJ, Stan Podolak (played by Wayne Knight), stalks the sidelines like a large Doug Collins. Notice that Stan is incapacitated for the game’s biggest moment.

Also, if Taz isn’t a young Charles Oakley, I don’t know who is.

The MonStars are the NBA giants of the ’80s and ’90s

True, the MonStars also got their powers from Shawn Bradley, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bogues, but their top players took their skills from Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley. And Ewing and Barkley’s careers and relationships with Jordan are properly represented here. Ewing’s Knicks were never not Jordan’s whipping boys, regardless of if it was the ’80s and ’90s, and Barkley’s Sixers (and later, Suns) nearly always fell victim to Jordan as well.

But even more than that, Michael Jordan played in an era where the NBA was big and championships were won in the post. Appropriately, the MonStars ran out to a big lead in the first half while the undersized Toon Squad struggled to keep up, a la Jordan and the Bulls in the ’80s. Luckily, they mount their comeback in the second half, representing the ’90s, thanks to the emergence of one important sidekick…

Bill Murray is Scottie Pippen. Straight up.

How many rings did MJ get without Pippen? How many MonStars did MJ beat without Bill Murray? Bill shows up at the right time to play some solid team ball and act as the perfect complimentary player to Jordan, not to mention acting as a decoy to momentarily draw the defense enough to create space for Michael to get off his game-winner. As with Pippen, the defense had to respect Bill’s skills even if you and I knew damn well he wasn’t getting the ball. Can you even think of a time Jordan passed to Pippen for a game-winner? Bill Wennington (Porky Pig) or Steve Kerr (Tweety), sure. But Pippen? I don’t think so. Appropriately, Jordan didn’t pass it to Murray against the MonStar either, but just as with Pippen, he never would have been in a position to win without Murray by his side.

Michael bails out the Toon Squad in the end, just like he did Chicago so many times as a pro.

No further explanation necessary: