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Michael Jordan in Space Jam (1996)

While sports fans know Michael Jordan mainly for his legendary basketball career, he also holds a special place in the hearts of moviegoers for playing himself in 1996’s Space Jam. The animated, box office hit was Jordan’s first real foray into acting, allowing him to hone some skills he’d only put to use briefly in commercials. However, it appears his filming schedule also featured plenty of basketball as well.

The eighth installment of ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries highlighted Michael Jordan’s time working on Space Jam and revealed that when he wasn’t shooting the movie, he was on the basketball court. This was all a part of his training regimen for the upcoming NBA season, which even involved bringing in fellow players for him to scrimmage against. Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller enjoyed this “raw” style of play but was also amazed at how Jordan was able to pack so much into his day:

It was some of the best games. No officials, you’re calling your own fouls; so, it was a little bit more rugged and raw. I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know how he filmed all day and then still had the energy to play 3 hours. We would play until like 9 or 10 at night. He still had to get weightlifting in. Then his call time was like 6 or 7 in the morning. I don’t know how. This dude was like a vampire for real.

According to The Last Dance, Michael Jordan partially signed on for Space Jam on the condition that he would still be given an ample of amount of time to train. With this, the executives at Warner Bros. provided him with a private gym on the studio lot, and director Joe Pytka arranged the Chicago Bull’s schedule accordingly:

I said, ‘Look, I need to practice. I need a facility where I could work out.’ Sure enough. We came out there to do the film, and it was all set up… The days would be Monday through Saturday. We’d start off at 7. I would get a 2-hour break, and I would go work out… Then after we’d finish, which was around 7, we’d invite people and play pickup games.

Filming for Space Jam began shortly after the conclusion of the 1994-1995 NBA season, which saw Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls get ousted from the playoffs by the Orlando Magic. Determined to return to championship from, Jordan resolved to start prep for the following season sooner rather than later. The team would ultimately go onto to reclaim the elusive Larry ‘O Brien Trophy the next year.

The upcoming Space Jam sequel, starring LeBron James, filmed last summer, and one has to wonder if he and his NBA player co-stars took the same approach as Jordan and the others. If Warner Bros. was willing to make accommodations back then, there’s a chance they were open to doing the same now.

I guess we’ll just have to see if they used their time wisely if (or when) the NBA season finally returns. And those who aren’t basketball watchers can see LeBron James and the other players in action when Space Jam: A New Legacy arrives on July 16, 2021.

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