Michael Jordan's greatest victory was a lie. That's right, I said it. His epic triumph in leading a team of cartoon characters over a group of aliens with the talent of NBA superstars in the "Space Jam" game was not the result of his unparalleled talent or legendary competitiveness, but rather, a complete and utter failure on the part of the Monstars to game plan for the Tune Squad.
Don't believe me? Let's run through an abridged list of the mistakes that led to Jordan's 78-77 comeback victory:
- In the first half, this game looked like such a blowout that the scoreboard literally read "kinda one-sided isn't it?" The Monstars proceeded to blow that entire lead in the second half. Why? Because they only had five players. Of course they couldn't hold the lead, they had no bench. The starters must've been exhausted, and this was entirely avoidable. A box score of this game compiled by Harvard Sports Analysis lists 14 players as having suited up for the Tune Squad, but those are only the players who recorded statistics. When you factor in the footage shown of both the game and the bench, they were easily carrying over 20 players on their roster. Bill Murray didn't join the team until the fourth quarter. No rules were governing roster sizes in this game, and it's not as if the Monstars lacked personnel. Moron Mountain is presumably fully staffed. An early scene shows 12 aliens in Mr. Swackhammer's office. At a minimum, they should have carried 12 players.
- Arguably worse than not having a bench was not having a coach. The Tune Squad used Jordan as a player-coach. The Monstars made no such distinction for any of their own players, nor did they seek out the talent of an NBA coach for their own sideline.
- The height of four Tune Squad players is known: Jordan is 6-6, but Bugs Bunny is 3-3 (four feet if you include the ears), Lola Bunny is 3-2, and the Tasmanian Devil is 2-4. It can be assumed that Daffy Duck is shorter than Jordan but taller than the rest of the starters as he is listed as the team's power forward. This team employs a literal mouse. Its tallest non-Jordan player is a rooster. Yet the Monstars dedicated 40 percent of their roster spots to centers (Patrick Ewing and Shawn Bradley) and another 40 percent to power forwards (Larry Johnson and Charles Barkley). While the Tune Squad was revolutionizing basketball with small-ball two decades before the arrival of the Golden State Warriors, the Monstars built a team too big and too slow to meaningfully compete in any NBA era.
- The Tune Squad routinely used illegal foreign objects over the course of the game. This includes firearms, explosives, gas masks, mopeds, fishing poles and red paint. They also accessed reality-warping powers that were not Looney Tune-specific, as Jordan himself manages to stretch his arm from around the half-court line in order to dunk in the closing seconds. As dirty as the Monstars were, they never took advantage of the apparently altered rules of Looney Tune Land in this way.
Nobody wins without a little bit of luck in basketball, not even Michael Jordan. Were it not for these grievous errors, he would be losing one-on-one matchups with aliens on Moron Mountain right now. To prove it, let's correct Swackhammer's mistakes and rebuild a Monstars roster and strategy that could have taken down Jordan and given one of outer space's greatest amusement parks some shiny new attractions.
- Patrick Ewing
- Charles Barkley
- Dennis Rodman
- Shaquille O'Neal
- Scottie Pippen
- Gary Payton
- Joe Dumars
Ewing and Barkley get grandfathered in. According to the Harvard box score, the two accounted for 71 of the Monstars' 77 points in the original game. We're not fixing what isn't broken here. Shaq may not have been quite as good as David Robinson or Hakeem Olajuwon at this point, but we're taking him as our second center purely from a matchup perspective. Which Looney Tune is big enough to defend Shaq in the post? Yosemite Sam? The old Granny? He's free points in this matchup.
Those are the only pure big men we're bringing to this game, though. Everyone else has to be able to defend the perimeter and bring another specific skill along. Rodman is our rebounder and enforcer. Pippen is our insider, as he played with Michael Jordan in Chicago and could help us strategize against him. That he's also capable of defending him one-on-one doesn't hurt.
Payton and Dumars are here specifically to defend Jordan. Dumars may be a bit long in the tooth by this point as he was 32 in the summer of 1995, but Jordan has consistently called him the toughest defender he ever faced. He hasn't afforded Payton the same respect, but in the three games that he defended him during the 1996 NBA Finals, Payton held Jordan below 37 percent shooting from the field.
- John Stockton
- Reggie Miller
- Clyde Drexler
- Dan Majerle
As you'll see, we're sticking with our small-ball approach. Stockton's passing and shooting would be quite valuable, but his real function on this team is a defender for the other major Tune Squad threat: Lola Bunny. She is, as implied by the events leading up to the game, the only Looney Tune ever to have played competitive basketball before. She is extremely quick at 3-2, and we need a smaller defender to keep up with her. Stockton, a 6-1 five-time All-Defense honoree and the NBA's all-time steals leader, should more than suffice.
Miller and Majerle are our shooters. Miller makes the team as the NBA's best pure shooter at the time, while Majerle sneaks in to our other designated shooting slot by virtue of also making two All-Defensive teams. Drexler rounds out our bench as a one-on-one scorer. As stacked as this roster is, it wasn't exactly overflowing with isolation options, and we need someone who specializes in creating his own shot if this game gets close.
- Elmer Fudd
Okay, hear me out. Tampering wasn't a huge part of the NBA in the 1990s, but this was a common-sense move. The Looney Tunes are playing for their freedom in this game. You're telling me that not a single one of them would sell out the others in exchange for a commuted sentence? Nope. When the chips are down, these cartoon characters will eat each other. Literally. Sylvester has Tweety Bird in his mouth at one point in this game.
We're grabbing Elmer Fudd as our designated defector for a few reasons. First of all, he has the most axes to grind here. Long-time feuds with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck would likely dull his allegiance, as would the presence of a number of other animals he would likely prefer to hunt. He would also have the easiest time adjusting his life and fitting into human society when the rest of the Looney Tunes are on Moron Mountain because he is already a human. Most importantly he could neutralize Yosemite Sam by forcing him into a standoff, removing firearms from the Tune Squad's arsenal entirely. Wile E. Coyote's explosives would still be a threat, but Fudd's presence greatly diminishes one of the most dangerous (literal) weapons the Tune Squad has. There's always the risk that he turns back to his brethren, but hey, he's the 12th man here. He's not playing crunch time. It's a low-risk move. If nothing else, it gets us some more intel.
- Chuck Daly
Phil Jackson is the obvious choice, but his long-term vision of bringing Jordan back to the Bulls is incompatible with Swackhammer's plan to bring him to Moron Mountain. The risk of him tanking the game is too great, so we turn to a less famous but arguably better-fitting choice in Daly.
Daly has both beaten Jordan (in the playoffs on multiple occasions) and coached him (on the 1992 Olympic Team). No other option is better suited to shutting him down, and we've equipped this roster with two of his Pistons in an effort to help him do that.
Full roster, starting lineup and strategy
- PG: Gary Payton
- SG: Reggie Miller
- SF: Scottie Pippen
- PF: Charles Barkley
- C: Patrick Ewing
- G: Elmer Fudd
- G: John Stockton
- G: Clyde Drexler
- G: Joe Dumars
- G: Dan Majerle
- F: Dennis Rodman
- C: Shaquille O'Neal
Payton and Dumars will be staggered so that both can focus primarily on defending Jordan. Handcuffing Pippen to Payton gives the starting lineup another Jordan stopper, but more importantly, another ball-handler as Payton's focus will be dedicated mostly to defense. Miller makes the starting five as our floor-spacer. Matchups will dictate the crunch-time five.
Strategically, everything is going to be geared toward stopping Jordan. That means we're employing the gimmicky box-and-one defense exclusively to contain him. If the Looney Tunes can beat us on mid-range jumpers, then so be it. According to Harvard's box score, Jordan shot 22 of 22 from the field in the original matchup. That isn't happening with a scheme that exists solely to slow superstars.
The starting offense can operate through Ewing and Barkley as the original did. Again, why mess with what worked? The bench would be geared to take advantage of the Tune Squad's lack of size. The two base looks would be post-ups for Shaq and Stockton-Shaq pick-and-rolls with a spread floor. Given the limited size and length of the Looney Tunes, that means either an easy dunk or a clean look from behind the arc on every play. Rodman would clean up the occasional miss.
The saddest thing about all of this is how easy it was. Had the Monstars devoted even a sliver of critical thought to building their roster, this would have been a blowout. Instead, Jordan escaped with one of the most undeserved victories of his career.