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Space Jam: A New Legacy is nearly here and will see LeBron James lead the Looney Tunes in a high-stakes game of basketball. But they won’t be going up against a gang of extraterrestrials this time. A New Legacy introduces audiences to Al-G Rhythm, Don Cheadle’s scheming algorithm (get it?), who challenges King James with his own Goon Squad. James and Cheadle’s characters may have gotten to play against one another in the movie, but such a matchup didn’t actually happen off camera. However, Cheadle has a great reason for never playing the NBA star in a real game while on the set.
For many, working with an athlete has to be a dream come true, especially one of LeBron James’ caliber, and some may be tempted to challenge said athlete to a game. So when I had the opportunity to speak with Don Cheadle about Space Jam: A New Legacy, he was sorry to say he didn’t get the chance to hoop it up with James. But as he explained, this was due to one of the production’s biggest objectives: keeping LeBron James safe during the shoot:
I wish, I wish I had ever been able to just play with him, just to do it, just to have that experience. But you know, I think the headline that everyone was definitely trying to avoid was, ‘LeBron James gets injured on set of Space Jam 2 [laughs] in pick-up game.’ It’s like… No, we weren’t doing that. Even in the movie, when he would go hard, go hard at the basket and dunk, we’d have technocranes around him and extras and standing around and camera equipment, we were all very nervous.
It’s hard to argue with Don Cheadle and the production team on that front, as an injury to LeBron James would’ve been unfortunate on a few levels. In addition to potentially delaying production on Space Jam: A New Legacy, it also could’ve had an impact on James’ main gig with the Los Angeles Lakers. And what likely added to the precautions is that James was already semi-nursing an injury from the 2018-2019 NBA season. Luckily though, everything turned out just fine, as neither James nor his co-stars were hurt while making the movie.
Interestingly enough, off-camera basketball games are kind of a tradition for the Space Jam franchise. In an effort to keep in shape for the upcoming NBA season while working on the 1996 film, Michael Jordan held evening scrimmages with fellow NBA players of the time, who were either starring in the movie or exclusively invited. Hall of famer Reggie Miller even remembers them as “some of the best games” he’d played in. The only downside is that, apparently, none of those games featured Space Jam scene-stealer Bill Murray. The original Space Jam is available to stream on HBO Max, which you can sign up for using this link.
Don Cheadle and LeBron James may not have been able to have experiences like that but, based on what’s been shown from the film, their climactic basketball game is primed to be one for the ages. We’ll see who comes out on top at the Space Jam!
Space Jam: A New Legacy hits theaters and HBO Max on July 16th.