Space Jam and All Star-Weekend

I just watched Space Jam. Calling it one of my favorite childhood movies would be an understatement. I once watched it so many times my brother told me I was starting to talk like Daffy Duck — which caused me to self-consciously exaggerate every s for the next two weeks out of genuine fear.

How could it be as good as I remembered? I checked Rotten Tomatoes before it started, and it had a 35% rating. 35%?! Children’s movies always have inflated Rotten Tomatoes scores. Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 3 are rated 100%, 100%, and 99%, respectively. The Graduate, meanwhile, has a score of 88%. Space Jam couldn’t be that awful, could it? Granted, I told people I, Robot was my favorite movie until I was 10, but could my judgment have been that off?

Nope. It’s amazing. The acting is hilariously awkward, and the whole thing feels like one long advertisement for Michael Jordan — but that’s exactly what Space Jam is supposed to be. In sports, we talk about how important it is for teams to know their identity. This movie knows its identity.

Michael Jordan’s not an actor, but he’s definitely an entertainer. In 90 minutes, Jordan crams in around a thousand dunks. Fellow NBA players Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Shawn Bradley, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bogues all make fools of themselves every time they step in front of the camera, and they embrace every second of it in such a good-natured way you can’t help but smile. And just when you think about checking your phone, B-Real, Coolio, Method Man, LL Cool J and Busta Ryhmes team up to deliver “Hit ‘Em High (The Monstars’ Anthem)”, and suck you back in.

Now, you might be asking why I just devoted 300 words to a half-animated, half-not children’s movie that came out in 1996. Or maybe you just assumed I had no idea what I was doing, which would have been very astute. But I do have a point here. Watching Space Jam, I realized something. This is what All-Star Weekend is supposed to be.

Dunks, stars, and downright absurdity coming at you from all angles until you just shake your head and try to take in as much in as you can. Athletes that don’t care about looking stupid and are willing to have fun. Bugs Bunny and his posse. And more dunks.

Athletes are so heavily scrutinized these days, so carefully managed, so focused on maintaining their brand, that the idea of them just relaxing and putting on a show seems almost naïve. No one wants to slip up, make a mistake, and be on SportsCenter nonstop. Just look at Marcus Smart (who, by the way, is a week younger than I am).

Take Lebron. Every year he declines to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest. Apparently, he’s worried about protecting his image. (I’m still trying to figure out the link between starring in a beloved event and damaging your image).

This stuff has prevented All-Star Weekend from being the spectacle it could be the past few years, and absolutely nothing has changed. And yet, despite this, I’ve irrationally decided that this year, we’re going to get one hell of a show.

For starters, we’ve got the Celebrity Game. Kevin Hart is going for his third straight MVP. His third straight. The only other basketball players to ever get three straight MVPs? Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird. And none of those guys was 5 feet 4 and terrible at basketball.

(Of interest to no one but myself — Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose coaching the Celebrity Game. These are two of my favorite people in sports media. I see Simmons getting overly competitive and steaming as he watches Kevin Hart try to dunk — while struggling to play it off like he’s having a good time).

Then there are the Slam Dunk Contest and Three-Point Contest, the Conference Championships of All-Star Weekend. In the Slam Dunk Contest we’ve got Paul George, John Wall, Damian Lillard, and three other guys. It’s not Lebron, but still. George is an MVP candidate, Wall is arguably the quickest, most athletic player in the NBA, and Lillard has that little-kid look that makes everything he does seem ten times as impressive.

Stephen Curry and Bradley Beal are part of the field in the Three-Point Contest, which is enough for me. With Curry, there’s the chance he does not miss a single shot, causing my friend Lewis (a Georgetown fan) to have flashbacks to the 2008 Georgetown-Davidson NCAA Tournament Game. “Wait, you guys were the two seed? And you lost in the second round?”

And Beal plays for my Wizards, so I can get way too invested and be legitimately upset when he loses to Curry by 15 shots. (Then again, it’s always someone random that wins this event. Why not Beal? I may or may not have already put money on this).

I’m still not totally sure what “Skills Challenge” and “Shooting Stars” are, so I’ll skip those. And the Rising Stars Challenge is not good. So that just leaves the weekend’s headlining event, the All-Star Game.

Look, nothing’s going to top Michael Jordan’s buzzer-beating dunk from half court to lead the Tune Squad over the Monstars. You just don’t get players with the ability to stretch their arms 15 feet with two aliens simultaneously tackling them anymore. But if this game, and this weekend, can capture an ounce of that atmosphere — the cartoonish plays, the star power, and the sheer sense of fun — well, I’ll take it.

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