8 Life Lessons From The Movie Space Jam

Ever since I was six years old, one movie has remained (and will remain) my number one, favorite film of all time: Space Jam. My mom tells me there were periods where my VHS copy of it never left the VCR, as I’d watch it damn near every day after school. I’d copy the moves from the movie in my backyard on a shortened court (so I could dunk, of course) and I’d spend hours trying to do the spider dribble like Muggsy or the awesome dunks the Monstars did (Zach LaVine knows what’s up).

But despite its horrible rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and overall shortcomings as a piece of film, why do I love it so, so much? Six year old me would say, “Basketball and the Looney Tunes. What else do you need?” But from the eyes of 23 year old me, it’s become clear that there are many hidden life lessons within this movie, and this article is here to bring them out to light (as well as give me another reason to watch the movie again).

  1. The Monstars provided my first experience with bullies and taught me how to handle them.

During the first encounter between Jordan and the Monstars, they surround him, and heap him with pretty heavy verbal abuse for a children’s movie. One Monstar even goes so far as to crumple MJ into the form of a basketball (yes, I’m serious) and the rest of them pass him around, culminating in a backboard shattering dunk. Now the key to this scene is that MJ stands his ground, doesn’t lash out, doesn’t become overly emotional (except slightly when one Monstar calls him “baldy”). He stares them down, purely confident and accepting of the challenge to best the Monstars in the appropriate venue, the basketball court. Now this isn’t always possible in situations involving bullying, but they always say that “success is the best revenge” (see “How Bout Now” by Drake).

  1. Don’t let negative influences control your life.

Mr. Swackhammer is probably one of the nastiest individuals I’ve ever come across on screen. (Right under Sid from Toy Story and the Prospector in Toy Story 2, and come to think of it, Lotso in Toy Story 3. Wow, Disney). He controls Moron Mountain and has the Nerdlucks completely at his beck and call. Even during the game, he is constantly being attended to, despite assaulting them both physically and verbally. It isn’t until the end of the movie that the Nerdlucks realize that they don’t really need him, opting to get rid of him via spaceship. When you’ve really started growing up, you learn that not everyone deserves a place in your life, and it’s important to make the decision to cut the ones who hold you back.

  1. Never call a girl “doll”, or underestimate her overall value.

When Lola Bunny shows up to the first team practice, the love-struck Bugs asks her if she “wants to play a little one-on-one, doll?” In his head, this is a cute little nickname for her cause dolls are cute, right? To Lola, this is a degrading word, like Bugs is treating her as if she lacks skill since she’s female. She responds by showing off her signature handles, tying Bugs up worse than when I had to learn to tie my own shoes. With a quick flurry of movies and a solid finish, Lola proceeded to then give seven year-old me a lot of confused feelings about female cartoon bunnies. In those 10 seconds, she wowed MJ himself and secured her spot on the team (as well as unintentionally the heart of Bugs). And the point was clear: treat women with respect, always.

  1. Contributions can come from the most unlikely places; don’t be afraid to learn from those sources.

Now Stan Podalak is no athlete. In his own words, he’s “slow” (but in his head, that’s a good thing). In Daffy and Sylvester’s words, he’s also “large and a dork”. Even Larry Bird calls him “pathetic” and Bill Murray is convinced MJ rigged the golf hole spectacle to get away from him. But Stan’s biggest contribution is on one of the final plays of the game, where he catches the ball and is immediately pancaked by the entire Monstars team. The ball shoots out from under the pile and scores two to bring the Tune Squad within one point. His pancaking also reveals the physics of the Looney Tunes’ Universe to MJ, who then uses it to stretch from half court for the game winner. In life, we can’t ignore the random lessons that come from people we don’t expect. Whether it’s the random lady on the street whose wheelchair I pushed as she read me her poetry that she was so passionate about; or my 5th grade teacher’s husband who got me to love writing during one random visit to the class; or even the random waiter who taught me how to use chopsticks correctly while I was in high school. There’s a reason for everyone that enters our lives, we just need to be open to what it is.

  1. A pure will to succeed is what separates true greatness.

There will never be more of an iconic image of the “will to win” than MJ’s stretch dunk from half-court. We hear that term thrown around the sports world too many times, and nothing embodies that idea more than that reach, even with all of the Monstars hanging on to his legs and the pressure of the deal he made for his own captivity with Swackhammer. This is what makes athletes like MJ and Kobe so celebrated; their absolute obsession with victory no matter what obstacles stand in their way is what keeps them one level above most other athletes (Lebron now excluded after that 2015 Finals performance. Sheesh, talk about watching Space Jam 2). Despite everything that happens in our lives, the one thing that largely separates those who accomplish their dreams and those who don’t is desire; the desire to win, the desire to succeed, the desire to make a lot of money, the desire to help people, the desire to retire on a boat full of strippers and drugs like Dan Bilzerian (not me, but other people…).

  1. Find your own version of “Michael’s Secret Stuff”, the thing that locks you into your “zone”.

During halftime, in an iconic display of cleverness, Bugs uses the placebo effect on his teammates with a bottle of water marked “Michael’s Secret Stuff”. This belief in some kind of MJ-sponsored elixir drives them to new heights as a team, sparking the offensive surge that leads to their comeback. In our own lives, it’s important to have the one thing (or many) that can spark you and fuel your drive to success. For me, a good (mainly loud) hip hop song sets me up before workouts at the gym. A quick prayer before a job interview calms me down. A chocolate chip cookie before an important test wakes my brain up, as does the first shot of liquor to start a great night off after a long week. It’s great to have those “kickstarters” that help put you psychologically in the right mindset for success (or raging, of course).

  1. Without the thing that makes you feel complete, without a passion, life just tends to lose meaning.

One of the biggest lessons of the movie comes with Mr. Charles Barkley and his lonely moping around town after losing his talent (and that “Basketball Jones” song is so perfect). He’s shown up horribly on the playground courts. You can see the emptiness and dejection in his face without the sport that made him who he was. The game of basketball suddenly became a stranger to him without his talent/skill. Upon losing that, his life became one big unknown. Like Chuck, without the passion, the thing that makes you feel complete, life loses its meaning. I remember a quote that says “we can’t have been born to just pay bills and die.” Which is why it becomes more important to find the thing that you truly love to do, the thing that makes you feel alive, and dedicate your life to it.

  1. You’ll never forget where you belong once you’ve found it.

And on that note, once you find that passion, you’ll know and you’ll never forget it. Just like MJ returning to the hardwood in the final scene, you’ll never forget when you figure out the thing that gives you a reason to work so hard. For me it was working with lots of different patients over the years and building relationships with them as I helped them to get better, and from that point I knew where I belonged, which is in the healthcare field. Space Jam became one big narrative of MJ making a big decision and leaving his main zone, only to be reminded of where he truly belongs after one basketball themed rescue mission with the Looney Tunes. And in that sense, this applies to all of us, where life is a long set of decisions, failures and successes until we hopefully find the place we were supposed to be all along.

Bonus Lesson: Bugs Bunny is the realest bunny alive.

#RelationshipGoals. Nuff said.