Why Did Bill Murray Star In Space Jam? loaded Investigates…

20 years on from the Michael Jordan classic, some questions remain unanswered.

Bill Murray and Michael Jordan in Space Jam.
Bill Murray and Michael Jordan Together at last in Space Jam Image Warner Bros.

Bill Murray can be a difficult guy.

A funny yet temperamental performer, Dan Aykroyd once nicknamed his Ghostbusters co-star “The Murricane” due to his volatile mood swings.

Not that it mattered much to fans, with Murray enjoying almost unparalleled critical and commercial success over the past 30 years.

Notoriously selective about the projects he chooses, films like Rushmore and Lost In Translation helped Murray show a different side to his repertoire away from his more familiar comedic fare.

But for all the care Murray has taken when it comes to choosing his next big movie project, one film standouts as something of an anomaly on his CV – Space Jam.

Essentially a vehicle for NBA phenomenon and basketball icon Michael Jordan, the film sees Murray team up with the Chicago Bulls legend in an appearance that seems to go against everything Murray, the actor, seemed so intent on striving towards.

So, why the hell was Bill Murray in Space Jam to begin with? Well, there are a few reasons actually.


 Connections

One widely-held view is that Murray’s appearance was down to the presence of Ivan Reitman as producer. Rumour has it that the Ghostbusters director, who also worked with Murray on Stripes, convinced the actor to make an appearance in Space Jam.

It’s even referenced in the film when Daffy Duck asks Murray how he got here, to which Bill replies: “the producer is a friend of mine”.

Star Struck

An avid sports fan, the Illinois born Murray supports all three of Chicago’s big sports teams in baseball, American football and basketball.

At the time of Space Jam’s release, back in 1996, the Chicago Bulls were in the midst of a dominant spell in the NBA, helped in no small part by the presence of Jordan. Murray would have therefore jumped at the chance to work with one of his idols.

Commercials

Another possible explanation lies in a series of strange, offbeat commercials starring Murray, as himself, in which the actor embarks on a quest to try and make it as a basketball player in the NBA.

Though it’s unclear who Murray was endorsing – the NBA itself perhaps? – this early pre-cursor to guerrilla marketing paved the way for his performance in the movie, establishing his character in the process. It’s probably also worth remembering that the entire plot of the film itself was inspired by a Michael Jordan Nike advert in itself.

Regrets

With no agent or business manager to help him along the way, Murray is famous for picking and choosing his own projects, occasionally with mixed results.

There was the time he signed up for Garfield, thinking it was being written by the Coen Brothers only to realise he had got the wrong Coens. He cites the decision to pass on the role Steve Carell landed in Little Miss Sunshine as his biggest regret.

Another that arguably stands out is Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Considered for the role of Eddie Valiant, which eventually went to Bob Hoskins, the critical and commercial success of the film would surely have been a bitter pill for Murray to swallow.

So he he got word of another live-action/animation movie cross-over focused on one of his most favourite sports and sportsmen, it was probably an easy decision for Murray.

20 years on though and you have to wonder whether the mere thought of Space Jam has “The Murricane” in a spin all over again.

The 20th Anniversary Edition of Space Jam is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.

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Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.