Michael Jordan had a lot of time on his hands in from late-1994 to early-1995. That period coincided with Jordan’s decision to try his hand at playing baseball, but after his first year in the minors, Major League Baseball experienced a gigantic work stoppage. When the time came for the league to attempt to bring in replacement players, Jordan was steadfast that he would not cross the picket line, and as such, the most fierce competitor in sports had no outlet.
He was, however, in Chicago while the Bulls were going through their season, and as one former Bull tells it, they met up with Jordan and eventually convinced him to come to the practice facility after grabbing a bite to eat.
“One day, he called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m in town, what’re you doing?’” B.J. Armstrong recalled. “I was like, ‘I’m about to go to practice, you know the routine.’ He was like, ‘Let’s meet at Baker Square,’ so I was like, ‘alright.’” After breakfast, we eat, eat our little pancakes and I was like, ‘Well, I gotta go to practice.’ I was like, ‘Why don’t you just come over, say hello, everybody would like to see you.’”
Armstrong’s efforts to get Jordan to visit paid off, and as a result, the retired superstar returned to the gym. At that point, as Armstrong tells it, a sequence of events that sounds a whole lot like Space Jam played out.
“So he comes over to practice and I started telling him, ‘You old, you out of the game, you can’t play no more, I’ll kick your ass right now,’ more or less,” Armstrong said. “First, it was a joke, and then before I knew it, we were playing a full 1-on-1.”
“I just could feel something different was going on that day,” Jud Buechler said. “I mean, it just had a different feeling in that locker room. And I remember asking [Ron Harper], ‘Harp, what’s going on?’ And Harp just turned to me and said, ‘The man is here.’”
Now obviously, Space Jam played out a little differently, but as we all know, the film ends with a collection of NBA players — Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Muggsy Bogues, Patrick Ewing, and Larry Johnson — prodding Jordan into a game of pick-up by telling him that he’s a baseball player who can’t play basketball anymore. This led to a sequence of events that culminated in Jordan’s return to the NBA. A similar situation played out in real life, and while we cannot say definitively whether that inspired any aspect of Space Jam, it sure seems like they followed pretty similar paths.