When LeBorn James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018, speculation abounded that it was less about beating the Golden State Warriors and more about “King James” expanding his media empire and preparing for life after basketball.
Considering that the 2018-19 Lakers were a garbage fire that missed the playoffs and shut down James entirely late in the season, and that every so-called big-name signing from Kawhi Leonard to Anthony Davis has zero credible evidence that they want to play alongside LeBron, it’s not like James’ star power is powering an LA renaissance.
Even James’ media ambitions seem to have crashed on the rocks of NBA reality, as James not only can’t get high-profile stars to join him on the Lakers, he can’t even get them to agree to be in his nostalgia trip of a sequel, “Space Jam 2.”
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst went on “The Jump” with Rachel Nichols Thursday and informed the show’s hostess of James’ difficulties in recruiting talent for the film.
“In all honesty, he’s been recruiting players to come and try to be in ‘Space Jam’ with him this summer,” Windhorst said, “and he hasn’t been able to close some of those deals. Some of the top guys he wants to come and be with him in the movie … (they’re saying), ‘You put me in the movie where you’re the star, I’m gonna be the one you’re dunking on.'”
Former NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady also added his theory to why James was struggling “to close some of those deals.”
“They see the writing on the wall,” McGrady added. “‘You put me in the movie, now I got pressure for me to come and play with you.'”
The premise of the original film was that a group of aliens come to Earth and challenge Bugs Bunny and his cohort of “Looney Tunes” characters to a game of basketball, and if the “Tune Squad” loses, they’ll be enslaved and forced to work in a space amusement park.
In order to bolster their chances of victory, the aliens magically steal the basketball talent of NBA stars, which in the original 1996 film meant Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Shawn Bradley, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bogues, and evolve from puny little bug-like creatures to giant basketball “Monstars.”
Bugs sends Yosemite Sam to lasso Michael Jordan and convince His Airness to save the beloved cartoon characters from their fate, the Tune Squad pulls out a come-from-behind victory.
The idea of playing the foil and getting dunked on may, according to Windhorst, be today’s stars’ alleged reason for avoiding the film. After all, Barkley got hilariously teased by his “Inside the NBA” cohorts for his “legendary” performance when he had his talent stolen…
Despite the movie having aged rather poorly and not garnering the highest critical scores, the movie still seems to be remembered fondly within basketball circles.
You’d think current NBA stars would be jumping at the chance to relive a bit of their childhood and create something for the next generation of NBA players to say they enjoyed watching growing up.
The bigger issue seems to be LeBron’s problem with trying to get anyone to subsume their own ego to suit his ambitions.
When LeBron was in Cleveland the first time, the Cavaliers couldn’t put a good team around him—the closest they came was a roster whose best player apart from James was Larry Hughes, and they got swept in the 2007 Finals by the Spurs—and James decamped to Miami.
In Miami, James wasn’t the recruiter—that was Dwyane Wade, who brought James and Chris Bosh to join him for four trips to the Finals and two titles.
And when James was back in Cleveland? Kyrie Irving was homegrown talent; the best James could do to improve his squad was to snooker the Minnesota Timberwolves into taking Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins in exchange for Kevin Love.
Initially, you could claim that LeBron or no LeBron, NBA stars probably don’t want to live in Cleveland. It’s a relatively small market with cold weather. It’s also a rather poorly-run franchise without a history of winning.
But Los Angeles? Tinseltown, 16 championships, Magic, Kareem, Kobe, sunny southern California Los Angeles?
When you can’t get players to join one of the most storied franchises in NBA history, at some point you have to wonder if you’ve got a reputation as a bad teammate.
NBA players decided somewhere along the way that if they want to chase championships, they’ll play for the Warriors, where even though that team is absolutely loaded with star power from Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant on down, there isn’t the same team-culture perception that the rest of the guys on the floor are just there to carry Curry or Durant’s jockstrap.
DeMarcus Cousins even took the midlevel exception—all $5,337,000 of it for a guy who made over $60 million over the four years of his previous contract—just to be part of the Warriors’ team culture.
Saturday Night Live famously lampooned the Cavaliers for the perception that they were all just coattail riders, and the league’s stars no doubt noticed.
That’s why nobody wants to play for the Lakers… and nobody wants to be in a movie just to be tasked with the role of making LeBron James look good.
At this point, it’s only a matter of time before Bugs Bunny pulls out of the project too.
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