SPACE JAM WEEK: The Monstars, 2015 Edition

There’s something odd about the five NBA players that Warner Brothers chose to cast in Space Jam. Back in 1996, the league was in one of its greatest talent booms. Members of The Dream Team still spotted the landscape, while exciting new talent budded across the nation. And somehow, despite all of those exciting players, Muggsy Bouges, Larry Johnson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Shawn Bradley were chosen to represent the terrifying force that was the Monstars.

I assume the conversation that followed their casting looked something like this:

Casting Director: Well, we’ve got our five and they are going to be great!

Producer: Awesome! I am a huge hoops fan. Love the NBA. This is so cool. Can’t wait to hear who we’ve got lined up.

Casting Director: Oh, you’re a big fan? You should try to guess who we went with!

Producer: OK, OK. So did we go with the five positions or….?

Casting Director: Nope, I have no idea what those are.

Producer: Not a great start. Well, I’m thinking you had to go with Barkley.

Casting Director: Wow! You got it!

Producer: Oh, cool. He’ll be great. Second one, I think you need big names, from big markets. Patrick Ewing?

Casting Director: Woah! Two for two!

Producer: OK. Who else? You could have gone anywhere really.

Casting Director: Remember, we’re looking for marketable guys.

Producer: Oh, Penny Hardaway! I love those commercials with Lil Penny.

Casting Director: No, we went with a different commercial star….Larry Johnson!

Producer: Oh…OK. He’s pretty good. He was an All-Star last year. And, I don’t know, I guess people like him.

Casting Director: Oh come on, man! I thought that one was killer! We even paired him with one of his teammates!

Producer: Oh, good hint! Um, let’s think…Glen Rice? Why did you cast Glen Rice?

Casting Director: No….

Producer: I’m drawing a blank then, man. I can’t even think of another Hornet we’d chose. They only won like, 40 games.

Casting Director: …Muggsy Bogues!

Producer: That one I really don’t get. He missed almost all of last season with an injury. And aren’t these guys supposed to be badass aliens who growl and dunk?

Casting Director: Someone’s got to pass them the ball!

Producer: Yeah, but then go with John Stockton or Mark Jackson or Jason Kidd or Tim Hardaway or literally like, 15 other guys.

Casting Director: No, the kids will love Muggsy!

Producer: Ok, so the last one, I have no idea. I guess if you have Muggsy, you’ll also want a really big guy.

Casting Director (smiling): You know it….

Producer: YES! YOU GOT SHAQ! YES!

Casting Director: ….no…

Producer: That’s crazy. Shaq is awesome. He could probably headline a movie on his own. He’d be great in this. Alright, so if not Shaq…David Robinson? The Admiral?

Casting Director: …no, keep guessing….

Producer: I mean, I’m kinda shocked. Let me just rattle some names off an you stop me when I got it. Hakeem…Karl Malone….Alonzo Mourning….Shawn Kemp, I mean I can see you’re shaking your head, but Sean Kemp should be in this movie….uh, Dikembe Mutombo….Dennis Rodman….Juwan Howard…I really have no idea. I think I named the entire All-NBA team. You said it was a big guy?

Casting Director: Think BIGGER.

Producer: If you cast Gheorghe Muresan, he’s fired and so are you.

Casting Director: No, Shawn Bradley!

Producer: Sonnofabitch.

With that in mind, and with whispers about the chance of a sequel, I want to think about who would be cast in the 2015 version of Space Jam. 

I’m going to assume the same general criteria the producers did in 1996, which means

  • Popularity, or just familiarity, is king. People need to recognize these guys.
  • But you do have to be a good player. Kind of. (see: Bradely, Shawn)
  • Dunking is important. They dunk so much.
  • Physical characteristics are highly valued. Every member of the original Monstars has some distinguishing trait (height for Bradely and Bogues, weight for Barkley, body for Johnson, and the flat top hair for Ewing).
  • Acting and personality are key in the real life scenes. Scoff if you must, but some of the best scenes in the original are the five NBA guys making jokes and being funny.

Considered, But Not Quite Right

Not Dwight Howard

dwigt
via Russ Isabella of USA TODAY Sports

I did consider Howard ever so briefly, before regretting it and wishing I never had. He is the epitome of fake-athlete funny. Very few athletes are actually funny. Very many athletes fashion themselves as comedians and jokesters. None features a wider gap between their perceived comedic prowess and actual humor output that Dwight Howard.

Rudy Gobert, Tyson Chandler, Paul George, The Lopez Twins, Matthew Dellevedova, Nerlens Noel, Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Farried, DeMarcus Cousins, Mario Hezonja/Montrezl Harrell/Joel Embiid (just wait for Space Jam 2025…)

All missed for different reasons. Most aren’t recognizable. Others don’t have the personality to pull-it off.

Just Missed The Cut

The Gasol Brothers

As insanely comical as this might be, neither Gasol is a particularly terrifying figure. Plus, I wouldn’t want to clog two spots with essentially one personality. We’re losing the potential of a weirdo European comedy team, but it’s worth it.

James Harden

via Joe Camporeale of USA TODAY Sports
via Joe Camporeale of USA TODAY Sports

The beard is potentially the most recognizable physical feature in today’s NBA. His game doesn’t fit the style we’re looking for and his personality doesn’t feel right either.

Draymond Green

Really, really close. Two or three years from now, maybe he gets in. I just don’t think he’s enough of a household name yet. I may be wrong and I’d like to be, because a Draymond Monstar would be awesome.

Joakim Noah

via Mike DiNovo of USA TODAY Sports
via Mike DiNovo of USA TODAY Sports

Distinct look. Vibrant personality. Just…something not right. I’m not sure if it’s the cartoon version or Noah himself I feel off about, though that probably speaks to why he’s not getting the call. Very strong candidate, but just missed.

The Five

Blake Griffin

via americascomedy.com
via americascomedy.com

Some may gripe with this pick, citing that Blake is merely “fake-athlete funny”. I disagree. I think Blake is one of the athletes who’s comedy prowess transcends his athleticism and he’s actually funny.  His commercials, his few acting appearances, and most of his public interactions are very clever and often downright witty.

Backing me up is Griffin’s good friend, stand-up comedian, and co-creator of Chappelle’s Show, Neal Brennan. He’s said on multiple occasions (this interview with Grantland in particular) that he reaches out to Blake for comedy advice and ideas, as he would his comedian friends AND that Blake’s jokes often rival those of professional funny people. Considering the actual gap between funny regular guys and professional comedians, that’s high praise. (His tweets during the D’Andre Saga were evidence of his prowess).

Blake even read the Michael Jordan role in a live reading of the Space Jam script, holding his own amongst comedy heavy hitters like Nick Kroll and Paul Scheer (pictured above).

Moving on to the other criteria, we can’t forget that Blake is one of the NBA’s best dunkers, and probably the best power dunker in the game. Perfect.

Add in on-camera experience and his look, he’s the easiest choice.

Anthony Davis

via Don Ryan, AP
via Don Ryan, AP

Earlier I called James Harden’s beard potentially the most recognizable physical feature in basketball. Were Anthony Davis to read that, he’d raise an eyebrow, the only one he has. I mean, The Brow has become his full-fledged nickname. He has made the defiant decision to never shave it. Cartoonifizing his face would be a sight to behold.

His personality might leave something to be desired, but I’m willing to give him a shot. Worst case scenario, he plays it a little dopey and we make him the butt of all of Blake’s jokes.

And again, basketball skills need to be considered. Wingspan to drool over and above the rim play make him another certain pick.

Giannis Antet0kuonmpo 

via Benny Sieu, USA TODAY Sports
via Benny Sieu, USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of wingspan: GREEK FREAK! The moment when they transform into their giant scary forms and his arms shoot out to what seems like eternity will be certain to win a special effects Oscar.

Love it. The goofy attitude (smoothie tweet), the unintentional comedy of a naive European guy. His real name. His nickname. All rolled into a perfect Monstarr.

Russell Westbrook

via SUE OGROCKI, ASSOCIATED PRESS
via SUE OGROCKI, ASSOCIATED PRESS

We need at least one guard and I refuse to go with the “Comically Small Guy” route. So no to Chris Paul or Isaiah Thomas or whoever you thought might take the Muggsy slot.

No, I want a Russell Monstarr that dresses weird and tries desperately to rip the rim off the backboard.

Zach Randolph

via Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
via Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Barkley filled the chubby quota in Space Jam and I think we need to honor that. No, Zach Randolph is not fat or even chunky, but neither was Barkely really. They are both menacing power forwards with lovable personalities. Randolph had a rocky start to his career and was labelled as a questionable character guy in his early days with the Jailblazers. Since arriving in Memphis however, he’s thrived and become a major part of the community. Look at this quote from the Grantland profile on Randolph:

“Two winters ago, he turned on the electricity for dozens of less-fortunate Memphis residents. He and teammate Tony Allen spent Valentine’s Day pampering poverty-stricken mothers with manicures and pedicures. He bought turkey after turkey for families in need on Thanksgiving. He rescues pit bulls for a local shelter.” 

Not fully Monstar-esque. Then you search “zach randolph” on YouTube and the first suggested search is not highlights, but “fight”. And there’s at least 8 different fight videos. That’ll work.

Z-BO BABY!

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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