While basketball fans love to debate Michael Jordan and LeBron James’ place in the all-time pantheon of greats, both stars have a great deal in common. On the court, His Airness and King James are both pretty unstoppable; off the court, they’re pop culture presences. In many ways, it’s no wonder that LeBron was tapped as MJ’s successor in the Space Jam franchise.
When Space Jam 2 hits theaters, LeBron James will be the star, but he wasn’t His Airness’ initial pick. In 2016, Jordan actually suggested another NBA player could fill the lead role.
Michael Jordan’s stardom made him perfect for ‘Space Jam’
These days, basketball fans look back on Michael Jordan’s career with a mixture of fondness and admiration. During the 1990s, though, His Airness was still making headlines every time he hit the court.
After playing his college ball at the University of North Carolina, Jordan landed with the Chicago Bulls. The guard quickly established himself as a star and, once he got past the Detriot Piston and their Jordan Rules, started winning everything in sight. While his talent made MJ an NBA star, it also helped him transcend the boundaries of the basketball court.
Thanks to his star status, Jordan became a massive commercial presence. He launched his own eponymous line of sneakers and endorsed everything from cars to underwear. One of his famous commercials, which included a basketball-playing Bugs Bunny, set the stage for His Airness’ biggest foray into pop culture: Space Jam.
To a certain extent, the movie could have only worked with MJ in the starring role. Not only did he have the sheer presence to carry Space Jam, but he was good enough at basketball to back it up; if the Looney Tunes needed to pick one ringer to help them defeat the Monstars, it’s hard to imagine them knowing about, let alone relying on, anyone except Jordan.
LeBron James is the natural heir to the crown
After Space Jam’s success, a sequel seemed like the natural progression. While Joe Pytka told Complex an early version of Space Jam 2 featured Tiger Woods, LeBron James was eventually tapped as the star. In many ways, he seemed like the natural heir to Michael Jordan, at least on screen.
In terms of on-court ability, James is a pretty close stand-in for Jordan. Even if you don’t think LeBron can live up to His Airness’ historical standard, it’s hard to criticize his career. Ever since high school, the forward has been a star; while his game has changed a bit over time, he’s still going strong after 17 seasons in the NBA.
James has also evolved into a commercial juggernaut, building up a massive net worth thanks to some smart investments and big endorsement deals. While the basketball landscape is a bit different—it’s unlikely that one athlete will ever become as monolithic as Jordan—LeBron definitely a logical candidate to star in Space Jam 2.
Michael Jordan tapped someone other the LeBron James to star in ‘Space Jam 2’
When Space Jam 2 hits theaters next summer, LeBron James will be filling the Michael Jordan role. The Lakers star, however, doesn’t seem to be His Airness’ initial pick to star in the movie.
In 2016, an attendee at Jordan’s basketball camp asked the legend who he thought should take his place in a potential Space Jam sequel. According to an Instagram video shared by House of Highlights, MJ suggested Blake Griffin. While it’s always worth taking these sorts of comments with a grain of salt—public question and answer sessions are generally treated with kid gloves—Jordan didn’t mention LeBron at the time.
While the suggestion did seem logical—Griffin is a freakish athlete and possesses some solid comedy and acting chops—LeBron’s probably the right choice. If you’re looking for a modern replacement for Michael Jordan, it’s tough to pick anyone besides King James.