How A Nike Super Bowl Commercial Starring Michael Jordan Turned Into The Space Jam Movie

Michael Jordan and his Tune Squad teammates in Space Jam

The unlikely pairing of Bugs Bunny with NBA superstar Michael Jordan ended up becoming the hit 1996 family film Space Jam. However, at the time, those children may not have realized that this unmatched live action/animated sports movie hybrid would have never existed if not for a Super Bowl commercial.

The movie stars Michael Jordan, who finds himself becoming the player coach of a team of cartoon characters after Bugs Bunny and friends challenge the plucky minions of an evil alien theme park owner (Danny DeVito) to a basketball game to save themselves from interplanetary enslavement. Little do they know that their little adversaries have stolen the talent of the NBA’s best (such as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing in hilarious cameos), proving to be a challenge even for “His Airness.”

The success of Space Jam as an enduring cult favorite of the ‘90s babies who grew up with it is relatively fascinating, even when taking its impressive blend of animation and live action visuals into account. Even more fascinating is its journey from a funny kids Super Bowl ad to getting the green light from Warner Bros.

Michael Jordan and animated co-star Bugs Bunny in Space Jam

The story of the Super Bowl commercial that led to Space Jam resurfaced recently on Reddit. As a retrospective article by The Chicago Tribune states, in 1992, Nike aired an ad for Michael Jordan’s line of Air Jordan sneakers during that year’s Super Bowl that paired the then-Chicago Bulls shooting guard with the de facto leader of the Looney Tunes. If you have not seen it, the answer is, yes - it is just as ridiculous as it sounds, but charmingly so. See for yourself in the video below:

The ad, which was the brainchild of advertising legend and lifelong cartoon fan Jim Riswold, proved to be incredibly successful, making a fan out of its own star and even inspiring a 1993 sequel in which Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan re-team to retrieve a load of stolen Air Jordans from Martin Martian. It was Jordan’s agent David Falk who had the idea to go the extra mile and take this partnership to the big screen.

Seeing it as great potential to revive the Looney Tunes franchise, Warner Bros. optioned to make Space Jam a theatrical reality, with “Hare Jordan” ad director Joe Pytka at the helm and Ivan Reitman signing on as producer (which was referenced in BIll Murray’s meta cameo). The film, about Bugs Bunny and friends enlisting Michael Jordan’s help to keep them from suffering interplanetary enslavement, would be the athlete’s first starring movie role as himself - a typically effortless feat when you’re not struggling to keep a straight face opposite green spandex-clad stand-ins for animated characters.

Michael Jordan, center with referee Martin Martian, faces off against the Monstars in Space Jam

Luckily, Michael Jordan’s confinement to green screen would not amount to nothing. Space Jam was released in theaters on November 15, 1996, and went on to earn an international gross of more than $230 million despite receiving mixed reviews. Not to mention its killer, Grammy-winning soundtrack also went six-times platinum. ScreenRant has a fun Pitch Meeting take on this story, which you can watch here.

More than 20 years later, Warner Bros. is set to release a sequel to Space Jam, which will see Bugs Bunny joining forces this time with Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, who also serves as producer and already has some acting experience up his sleeve with 2015’s Trainwreck, in which he also plays himself. The long-anticipated Space Jam 2 has seen years of development hell and premonitions of failure from Joe Pytka, but last time we checked, the movie is slated for summer of 2021.

Be sure to check back for more memories of Air Jordan and Hare Jordan’s iconic partnership and updates on Space Jam 2 here at CinemaBlend.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.