Sharp Movie Rewind: Michael Jordan’s Tune Squad vs. the Monstars in “Space Jam”
- The Tune Squad is a huge underdog versus the much larger Monstars.
- After falling behind early, The Tune Squad pulls off a miraculous comeback in the second half to get within striking distance.
- The game comes down to the last shot — and so does the over/under.
Every so often we’ll take a break from analyzing real-life events and look back at some of our favorite sports movies with the intention of setting odds on the film’s pinnacle game. With the Cleveland Cavaliers taking on the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals, we’ll break down another underdog story between two basketball powerhouses. Without further ado, the story of the Ultimate Game at Moron Mountain: “Space Jam.”
The NBA wasn’t exactly thriving in the mid-1990s. Its biggest superstar w̶a̶s̶
suspended for gambling decided to play minor-league baseball, and while it’s unfair to condemn Michael Jordan for fulfilling a promise to his deceased father by taking to the diamond, watching Jordan hit .202 in Double-A wasn’t anyone’s idea of a good time.
Luckily for Jordan and the basketball world, the biggest challenge of his career would soon present itself: Take down a previously unknown alien race of Monstars (sic) in a game of basketball for the ownership rights to Bugs Bunny and other Looney Tunes characters.
Despite persistent rumors of LeBron James‘ intention to help calm a similar animated-alien uprising, the Tune Squad vs. the Monstars presents the only known basketball game between non-Earth creatures. It also stands as Jordan’s only documented game as an adult outside of the NBA, NCAA or Olympics.
This naturally begs the question: How would sports books treat a group of lovable underdogs led by the basketball G.O.A.T. taking on juiced-up aliens with a massive home-court advantage?
Let’s take a look at a few key events from the film to help set a line for the Tune Squad’s ultimate showdown against the Monstars.
“These aliens from outer space want to make us slaves in their theme park. They’re little. So we challenged them to a basketball game. Then, they ain’t so little! They’re huge! We need to beat these guys.” – Bugs Bunny.
“Space Jam” attempts to give you the impression that Jordan is playing with teammates akin to Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, but some of Jordan’s teammates actually boast capable skill sets:
- Unlike Jordan, there were times when Bugs Bunny actually enjoyed success on the baseball diamond, and he and Lola Bunny (also a rabbit) form a very agile and springy backcourt.
- Tasmanian Devil and the Road Runner can reach estimated top speeds of roughly 15 and 20 miles per hour, respectively. Limited basketball experience is an issue, but these wings can certainly provide Jordan with some juice in transition.
- The bench consists of (literal) gun-wielding contributors Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd along with humans Bill Murray and Wayne Knight (Newman).
- It’s tough to call Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, and Sylvester the Cat anything other than liabilities.
The Tune Squad surrounds Jordan with plenty of athleticism, but their decision to also name the best scorer the league has ever seen as head coach proves costly. Their first practice is undone by an all-out brawl between Jordan and the Monstars, and their second practice barely lasts 30 seconds before Jordan refuses to continue until someone retrieves his University of North Carolina basketball shorts.
“Look at your hero now. You guys are making a mistake. You’re all washed up, baldy!” – The Monstars.
The Monstars agree to risk the ownership of the Tune Squad on a game of basketball despite their entire team not having any idea what the game entails, but this proves to be a short-lived issue. The small, alien-like creatures become massive beasts upon siphoning the basketball talent from Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues.
The problem is that the Monstars still have absolutely zero idea how to actually play basketball. They also don’t have a bench to speak of, and the aforementioned group of NBA stars whose powers they’re stealing are winless all-time in elimination games against Jordan. Ewing and Barkley are undoubtedly legends, but Bradley, Johnson, and Bogues have combined to make just two All-Star games.
It’s hard to get past the size deficit facing the Tune Squad at every position:
- Point guard: Bugs Bunny (3 foot-3, but 4 feet if you include the ears) vs. Red Monstar (6-foot-9)
- Shooting guard: Jordan (6-foot-6) vs. Orange Monstar (10-foot-3)
- Small forward: Lola Bunny (3-foot-2) vs. Purple Monstar (12-foot-2)
- Power forward: Daffy Duck (3-foot-4) vs. Green Monstar (13-foot-1)
- Center: Tazmanian Devil (2-foot-4) vs. Blue Monstar (17-foot-9)
The Monstars’ smallest player is basically a roided-up version of Paul George, and each of their starters enjoys a size advantage of at least two feet. Potential conditioning and late-game awareness issues aside, the Monstars are the 1990’s version of the present-day Warriors.
As Fivethirtyeight.com noted recently, Jordan was only an underdog in one of his six NBA Finals appearances. Of course, he never faced a Game 7 in the Finals, and anyone would feel at least a little bit of pressure with the burden of helping the Looney Tunes avoid their own imprisonment. The G.O.A.T. figures to be rusty after focusing on baseball for the better part of the past 12 months, and his undersized and mostly clueless supporting cast can hardly be counted on to pick up the slack.
Monstars (-30) vs. Tune Squad. Over/under: 155.5.
Early bettors flock to the sports books at Monstar Mountain, where 80% of the public seizes the opportunity to bet on Jordan as a 30-point dog. It’s not long before sharps find a way to get action on the game through offshore books on planet Earth, and they hammer the Monstars’ -10500 moneyline while the public largely backs the lovable +8000 underdogs.
The low total confuses many bettors who don’t realize that the game will be played in two 20-minute halves, leading to 75% of tickets coming in on the over.
Unsurprisingly, the Tune Squad is completely overwhelmed by the Monstars’ size advantage — as well as the Tune Squad’s own inability to play basketball. Jordan’s insistence on getting his teammates involved before looking for his own shot seems ludicrous, and the Monstars seize a commanding 66-18 lead at the half.
The Monstars’ second-half spread of -80 is openly mocked on AOL message boards as a sign of disrespect towards these newfound monsters, and Jordan’s halftime tactics won’t be confused with ex-teammate/punching bag/championship coach Steve Kerr‘s anytime soon:
- Jordan literally puts the locker room to sleep with a speech about physicality.
- Bugs Bunny finds Michael’s Secret Stuff and passes the drink around the locker room. When Daffy Duck mentions that it goes against everything he’s ever learned in health class, Jordan asks, “Do you want to win or not?”
- No substitutions or adjustments are made for the duration of the half.
An inspired Tune Squad utilizes a wide assortment of backhanded tactics (nobody ever said Jordan wouldn’t do whatever it takes to win) and goes on a miraculous 58-11 run to close the gap to 77-76 with just 10 seconds remaining.
The next sequence turns sports books upside down. The scoreboard indicates that the Monstars lead 77-67 with just 10 seconds remaining, but the Tune Squad is then credited with nine points with no time coming off the clock. (Earlier, Jordan stopped the game to clarify to the opposing coach that he would join the Tune Squad on Moran Mountain if they happened to lose, so the stakes are higher than ever before.)
Naturally, this ridiculous comeback gives Monstars bettors fits, while anyone with action on the total is knee deep in a pool of sweat.
After Bill Murray nabs a critical steal, Jordan proceeds to take the highest-pressure shot of his career …
… but the layup from half court counts for only two points!
The Tune Squad’s 78-77 victory is met with plenty of hoopla from fans and betting faithful alike, but over bettors are incredulous at both their moose and inability to argue with the Moron Mountain odds makers.
Meanwhile, bettors on Tune Squad and/or the under have just seven words for the fuming Monstars and over faithful: “The right side is the winning side.”