SPACE JAM WEEK: The Unofficial Oral History of Danny Ainge Attempting The Worst Shot Of All Time

The following is a series of fictional accounts that describe how Danny Ainge, a former NBA player, attempted the worst shot any of us have ever seen while filming Space Jam. Most of this is not true. Some of it is. Trust me, the world is a lot more fun if you just pretend all of this really happened.

***

MILT DANIELS, Warner Bros Executive: I had this great idea that the guys we cast as the Monstars could just round up some friends and teammates and they could be our extras.

JOE PYTKA, director: It was a great idea. I just didn’t realize Charles would call Danny (expletive) Ainge.

DANNY AINGE: So Chuck calls me and says, “Hey man, we’re filming this movie at Madison Square Garden and we needs guys to play my teammates. You want in?” I was flattered, but I told him. “Chuck, I didn’t even play last season. I retired. I’m 36 years old.”

CHARLES BARKLEY: That was true. He hadn’t played and was old as (expletive), but the studio guys said we needed a white guy people would recognize. I called Dan Majerle first, but he was too busy lifting weights and trying to make his skin look like a hot dog. Majerle wasn’t even on Phoenix that year either. I just didn’t remember any of the other dudes’ names.

AINGE: So I said to Chuck, “How in shape do I have to be?” and he said, “Not at all.”

BARKLEY: I didn’t really care what Danny did in the movie or on the court. I just wanted him there for our late night poker sessions. He’s terrrrrbull at poker. It’s almost like he tries to just get pairs instead of straights or flushes. It’s almost like how he’s assembled the Celtics actually. Just middle of the road nothings.

AINGE: I don’t know what Chuck is talking about. I won a big poker tournament a few years ago. That means I’m good at poker and always will be. It had nothing to do with luck or coincidence.

DANIELS: So Charles calls us and says he got a team and it included a white dude. Frankly, the white dude could have been Jerry West. We really didn’t care.

barkley-ewing

Ainge was in. Barkley rounded up the rest of the team, while Ewing worked on the Knicks. Production inched closer and closer.

AINGE: I sort of forgot that I agreed to do it. I mean, I was busy helping to manage the national chain of hat stores that I co-owned, which is a totally real thing that happened and you can read about on the internet. Plus, I figured I was still in good shape. I mean, I’m a natural athlete. Heck, I’m the youngest guy to hit a home run in Blue Jays history, which is also a totally true fact you can Google for yourself.

PATRICK EWING: I mean, I know I was training, but it wasn’t for the movie. I was still an active NBA player.

CHARLES OAKLEY: Yeah, Pat called me to be in the movie. I had to take some time off from my underground fight club. I was undefeated that summer, so I was in pretty good shape. Wrestling full grown hippos for a few weeks in late June helped too. Anything to keep the body right and still have the competitive edge.

BARKLEY: I was in the middle of what I thought was an intense training program that summer. Karl Malone convinced me that Raisenetes were a superfood. I was eating 15 boxes every day. I tried to workout with Kevin Johnson and AC Green the week before the movie shoot and I threw up about 25 times. I called John Stockton and asked him if I should trust Malone’s diet advice. He yelled “Go Jazz!” and hung up the phone. Since then, I’ve only eaten two boxes of Raisenets every day. You know, a normal amount.

playersj
via Buzzfeed

The stage was set and every player involved flew to New York, ready to shoot. Filming a basketball scene in a movie is no easy feat, with so many moving parts.

HERB DAVIS, Space Jam’s sports and gameplay coordinator: Hoops is always tough. Boxing is easy since there’s only two guys. Baseball is basically one on one. Football, at least, most of the movement is in unison or to one spot on the field. Basketball is always tricky, and I’m the best there is. When they wanted to make a movie that was not only about basketball, but also starred a dog, guess who got the call? That’s right. It was me. You think Air Bud wore shoes to be cute? No, that was my idea. It restricted his movement and made it easier to shoot those scenes. I won a Scorey for that. Those are like the Oscars for sports movie coordination. I’ve got a whole mantle full of them.

DANIELS: Yeah, Herb is the best. So many of the scenes in Space Jam are perfectly constructed. You’ve got Ewing tossing the ball at the popcorn guy. Couple Jordan dunks. Muggsy dribbling. All classics.

DAVIS: And the basketball in Space Jam would have been perfect if it weren’t for that little (expletive) Danny Ainge.

BARKLEY: I told Herb that Danny was out of shape, and never really that good to begin with. He still insisted that we set up a scene where Danny gets a shot. There were a couple issues though.

DAVIS: First off, Charles couldn’t stop vomiting.

BARKLEY: Karl Malone and his damn Raisenettes.

DAVIS: And second, Patrick Ewing was next to impossible to film with. What, with all the sweating and whatnot.

RICK GERVIN, camera operator: I’m trying to get a good shot of Ewing and every time he moves, I’m getting a good pint or two of sweat on me and my equipment. This is sensitive stuff. We’re using high tech cameras to get the real life players and the cartoons. We had to change out the camera about 14 times.

PYTKA: We only had access to MSG for two days, so we were always rushing things.

AINGE: There was a lot of standing around. When the second day was almost over, we were all relieved.

DANIELS: I remember Joe shouting “I think we got it!” right after the 12th take of the popcorn guy getting drilled by Ewing. We were ecstatic.  We only had about 20 minutes left before we had to clear out of the arena.

PYTKA: I was so pleased, but then Herb comes running over to me, demanding we needed more B-roll. He was adamant that we get a shot of Ainge putting up a jumper. I didn’t think we had time, but then he showed me how much B-roll footage we had and it really wasn’t enough. He was right. We needed more shots of Chuck without his talent. Herb is the best.

DAVIS: I was not leaving that arena until Danny Ainge got a shot off. We needed it.

PYTKA: Usually, it takes so long to block and set a scene. We needed cameras and players in the perfect spot. But we didn’t have that kind of time. I told Herb, get what you can, but we need to be out of here in 7 minutes. He got to work.

EWING: So the old guy (Herb Davis) comes up to us and says, “Alright, guys. We need some more footage of you guys playing hoops, but don’t have much time. Here’s what’s going to happen. Phoenix has the ball, swing it Danny. Danny, catch and shoot. You’re all pros. Make it look natural.” We said we could do it, but Danny looked a little shaky.

AINGE: I did not feel well. I kept trying to hydrate with Gatorade but that seemed to make it worse.

BARKLEY: I don’t know how many people know this, but I spiked the Gatorade with vodka that day. Making movies is boring and Gatorade is boring. Vodka is fun.

PYTKA: Yeah, I knew Chuck spiked the Gatorade. I’m directing non-actors here. They are athletes. Anything that’s going to loosen them up is going to help. I did not remember that Danny Ainge was a Mormon, which means he’d never had alcohol before. Needless to say, it got to him. But we really needed that footage.

AINGE: So I feel terrible, but I know I can make a shot. Or at least miss and look good.

DAVIS: I’ve got this whole scene set. It’s going to be the Citizen Kane of basketball footage. I can feel the Scorey nomination already.

BARKLEY: I’m supposed to be out of it in that scene, but that was less acting and more the vodka in my system.

PYTKA: So the Suns bring the ball down, it swings to Danny Ainge. All is well.

AINGE: I was basically blacked out, from the flu, I guess. And all I remembered was hearing “catch and shoot,” so that’s what I did. I caught it and I shot it.

ainge

DAVIS: He threw my Scorey away like he threw that shot away. It was atrocious. And here I am, my ass on the line, with one take. And that’s what we get. As soon as Joe yells “Cut” they start packing up the cameras. I was in tears.

OAKLEY: I’ve never cried in my life, so I wasn’t totally sure what that dude was doing.

The Ainge shot was in the can, and like the rest of the footage from Madison Square Garden, it headed to the editing room.

DAVIS: Once you’re footage is in the can, in my position, it’s out of your hands. You sculpt the footage as best you can, but once it hits the editor, it’s on him to make you look good.

BRIAN SCUTTERELLI, editor: Now, this was the mid-90s and I was being asked to watch and edit cartoon footage for hours on end. After months and months of this, it wore on me. My solution was simple. I began drinking NyQuill very heavily, all day long. Every day.

PYTKA: In his defense, that was the only shot of Barkley being a little dazed without his talents, but yeah that dude was super doped up on NyQuill for most of the time we were editing. Parts of the movie are a mess because of it. The movie, in total, is less than an hour and a half. There was an entire subplot about Larry Bird trying to get the US government to do something to save the players. Brian removed the entire thing one morning in a haze. He was probably right, but that was a rash decision.

SCUTTERELLI: Did I leave the terrible Ainge shot in the final cut of the movie? I don’t know. Sure. Who knows?

The movie premiered to adoring fans and indifferent critics, but had the basketball world buzzing. Some of that buzzing was about Danny Ainge and the worst shot of all-time.

AINGE: I don’t regret doing the movie. I got paid and it’s on my IMDB page. Do I wish things worked out differently? No. Everything I’ve done since the summer of 1996 has been to make it so no one remembers me as The Bad Shot Guy. I started coaching. I moved into the front office. Still got the hat stores. And that Blue Jays record. Go on my Wikipedia. I dare you to remember me for that shot. I dare you.

Danny don’t roll like that.

*

None of these quotes are real. Don’t be the person who thinks they are real.

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to palestraback@gmail.com.

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