There is certainly no shortage of classic Michael Jordan stories, is there?
As “The Last Dance” is set to premiere, chronicling the career of Michael Jordan against the backdrop of the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls season, even more amazing tales are bound to come up, perhaps ones we’ve never heard before.
Naturally, guys like me have been doing all the Michael Jordan research we can leading into this premiere and I’ve come across so many different things recently, things I’d forgotten about. Stories involving Scottie Pippen or Dennis Rodman are always right there but I truly hadn’t thought about the legendary pickup games that occurred on the set of Space Jam in the summer of 1995. In case you haven’t heard this story before, allow me to paint a little picture for you.
Michael Jordan took the loss to the Orlando Magic in 1995 extremely hard
When the NBA playoffs began in 1995, Michael Jordan hadn’t lost a postseason series five years, his last defeat coming at the hands of the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1990. Jordan had returned to the NBA in March 1995 after an 18-month hiatus from basketball and breathed new life into a Bulls team that at one point was 23-25. Jordan led Chicago to 13 wins in their final 17 games of the regular season and then led the Bulls past the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the postseason.
However, things were different against the top-seeded Orlando Magic. While Michael Jordan averaged 31 points per game in the series, it wouldn’t be enough as the Bulls lost in six games. Jordan’s longtime friend, Ahmad Rashad, later said that he had never seen MJ so disappointed. But Michael Jordan was determined to use that disappointment as fuel during the offseason.
He refused to do ‘Space Jam’ if he couldn’t work out and play basketball on the Warner Bros. lot
Following the loss to the Orlando Magic, Michael Jordan was set to film Space Jam in the summer of 1995 for Warner Bros. However, he told his longtime agent, David Falk, that he would only do the film under one condition: he had to be able to work out and play basketball every single day he was on set.
Warner Bros. began looking for nearby gyms but they couldn’t find anything acceptable. So they came up with a new solution. They would build Michael Jordan his own gym right there on the lot and it was a magnificent structure. It was an air-inflated dome that featured a full-length basketball court, workout equipment that was designed specifically for Jordan, a full locker room with showers, a big-screen TV, a sound system, a putting green, and a card table. The dome cost $10,000 every week in just air conditioning and anyone wanting to get in needed a special pass.
It also became the home of some of the greatest pickup games in history.
Michael Jordan hosted incredible pickup games on the ‘Space Jam’ set
When Michael Jordan wasn’t filming Space Jam, he was playing host to some of the biggest pickup basketball games in history. There were already a number of NBA players on the set of the film at any given time, including former Dream Team teammates Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing. But word soon got out that Jordan was looking for competition every single day to get ready for the 1995-1996 season and his private dome became a hotspot in LA.
Just look at the names that ended up stopping by that summer. Shaquille O’Neal. Larry Johnson. Alonzo Mourning. Grant Hill. Glen Rice. Juwan Howard. Dennis Rodman. Charles Oakley. Steve Smith. Cedric Ceballos. Reggie Miller. Magic Johnson. It was essentially an NBA All-Star Game every single night. Naturally, Michael Jordan was trash-talking just about everyone and that wasn’t limited to just the NBA guys. Actor Keith Gibbs, who was a staple in basketball movies in the 1990s, once told an amazing story about how he got involved in the legendary pickup games.
“I walk in, and it’s Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Alonzo Mourning, Charles Oakley. Grant Hill shows up. Jerry Stackhouse shows up. Now, all of a sudden it’s an NBA All-Star pickup game. Every night. I did that for about a month and a half, two months. Then the UCLA kids came in, and they had just won a national title — Ed O’Bannon and those guys. Just phenomenal. Best pickup games I’ve ever been a part of. It was unreal.
“Yeah, so Jordan … I had to guard Reggie Miller and Michael Jordan in back-to-back games. It was so bad. I was friends with Chris Mills and Tracy Murray — we had been to some camps together. One play, I got switched onto Jordan, because Chris was like, “Keith, you take him.” Jordan hit a 35-footer on me. I mean, it was ridiculous: leg out, tongue out, all that stuff … hit a 35-footer on me and goes, “GET THE F–K OFF THE COURT.”Actor Keith Gibbs on the famous Michael Jordan pickup games on the set of “Space Jam”
Yeah, that certainly sounds like Michael Jordan. Once the filming of Space Jam wrapped, the dome was torn down. I’m not sure how that doesn’t become part of some kind of Warner Bros. tour but I guess that’s just me.
In any event, the workouts and pickup games that Michael Jordan took part in that legendary summer obviously paid off. The Chicago Bulls went 72-10 in 1995-1996 and went on to win the NBA championship, the first of three consecutive titles they’d win from 1996-1998.