By Pete Forester, Esquire
When it released in 1996, Space Jam was a blockbuster. Not just because it featured the greatest basketball player of a generation (ever?). Not just because Michael Jordan was supported by Bill Murray, Wayne Knight, and Bugs Bunny. Not just because it launched one of the most iconic Air Jordan sneakers.
It was a hit because the story—of optimism and openness overcoming cynicism and oppression—was one that needed telling.
This year marks Space Jam‘s 20th anniversary, and in celebration Air Jordan is bringing back a full collection of sneakers and apparel inspired by the film and the story. But 20 years later the story might be even more important now that it was in the mid ’90s.
When Space Jam first premiered it was geared towards a young audience, mostly men and boys who represented the overlap between Saturday Morning Cartoons and March Madness. The target audience for the movie remains the same, but its first fans are now 20 years older. That raises a unique challenge for a brand that’s trying to tell the story again: Michael Jordan means something different today than he meant two decades ago. He’s not playing in the NBA anymore and instead represents a massive brand that has kids lining up for sneakers every week. So Jordan Brand is doing what it can to bridge that divide.
The campaign to celebrate the new Space Jam collection introduces a new team of Monstars, the villainous team from the original film, and a new generation of players (led by Blake Griffin) to defy them. It offers a fresh context for fans today to relate to the shoes, and bring them back to watching the movie—which is now the first part of an ongoing story.
“It allows us to set a bar to defy expectations for a new generation,” says David Creech, VP of Design at Jordan Brand. “Most kids today have never seen [Jordan] play. It allows the kid today to see MJ at the top and then the product and stories that went with that time period. Then we forge it to the future.”
That future is evident inside the collection, which includes a pair of Space Jam-themed Jordan 31s, the game shoe that was introduced this year. The 31—rendered in black, white, and icy blue—features some of the most advanced technologies in athletic footwear, as well as the patent leather that made the Jordan 11 famous. There’s also a Jordan 1 Ultra High and a Trainer 1, both with the same colors and materials.
These shoes weren’t a part of the original story, but through updates and common design language they’re all tied together. “We’re always trying to forge to the future any time we can,” says Creech. “We’re trying to honor our heritage but then script that style and soul through the future of footwear.”
The most famous pair of sneakers to come out of the movie was the Air Jordan 11 Retro “Space Jam”, which will see a release next week on December 10. They were released initially with the movie and came back in 2009, with some slight modifications. Shoe designs develop and change over time. A line on the shoe moves a millimeter here for one release, a stitch follows a new cut a millimeter over there for another release, and over 20 years that shoe can end up looking very different.
When the team at Jordan sat down to start working on the newest incarnation of the Space Jams, they checked with the original pairs and realized that the design had shifted more than they had realized. “The guys were really obsessing [over] the details of the film. So when you talk about the lines of the 11, the designers decided to go back and look at that,” says Creech. “We were surprised by how much through time it’s changed.”
They wanted to really tell the story, so they went back to the original. You’ll notice the patent leather on the 2016 Space Jams is higher than all recent Jordan 11 releases, and that’s because the originals 11s were that high. They started from the beginning and worked worked forward to tell the authentic story.
At the end of the day it’s all about that story of the movie—the story of Michael Jordan helping the Tune Squad win back their freedom in the face of an oppressive, blustery, suited moneyman whose troupe of goons employ brute force to wrest joy from players who are just trying to have a good time. “He’s taken a band of misfits and he’s leading them to greatness, and I think no matter what generation you’re in that’s a story for everyone,” says Creech.
Air Jordan 11 Retro “Space Jam” : VILLA | FootLocker | EBAY | EastBay
Air Jordan 1 Retro Ultra High “Space Jam” : Sneakersnstuff | EBay | VILLA
Air Jordan XXX1 “Space Jam”: FootLocker | EastBay | EBay