By Derek Lawrence
July 17, 2021 at 01:59 PM EDT
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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Hopefully Michael Jordan doesn't take this personally.

Space Jam: A New Legacy premiered Friday in theaters and on HBO Max, but if you don't want to hear the story behind that meta-cameo and the epic post-credits scene that we didn't get, then travel back here later.

Okay, for those who didn't blow the whistle on continuing, let's talk MJ! Or, should we say, MBJ? The big question going into New Legacy was, will original Space Jam star Michael Jordan make an appearance? For a moment during the film, it looked like the answer was going to be yes. And technically, it did end up being yes. With the Tune Squad and LeBron James getting destroyed by the Goon Squad, the Tune locker room was understandably pretty down at halftime, until Sylvester walked in with someone he found in the crowd. The shadow, the music, the build-up, the introduction, all want you to be prepared for Jordan to be that someone. Instead, in a fun twist, this figure is revealed to be Michael B. Jordan.

"In the midst of shooting, Mike was either working on the lot or something and he came by set a couple times and was hanging out with LeBron, and then somebody threw out the suggestion," director Malcolm D. Lee shares with EW. "I was like, 'That's a good idea, and if he's willing to do it, let's try it.' Mind you, the locker room scene was long and I didn't know if we were going to be able to sustain all this. Because there's a little bit more interaction between him and LeBron, which we cut out. But it's one of the greatest jokes that I've ever put in one of my movies — and it's super unique to Space Jam. There's no other movie where you could play this joke. Warner Bros. wanted really badly to use it in marketing, and I was like, you cannot do that, because this joke is too good to sacrifice."

SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY
'Space Jam: A New Legacy' star LeBron James and director Malcolm D. Lee on set.
| Credit: Justin Lubin/Warner Bros.

As if the cameo from the Black Panther star, who is a frequent collaborator of New Legacy producer Ryan Coogler, wasn't already a slam dunk, Jordan attempts to rally the Tune Squad by chanting, "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose." For those unfamiliar (shame on you!), that is the popular mantra from the beloved football drama Friday Night Lights, on which Jordan starred in his pre-movie star days.

"I have never seen the television show, but I was a big fan of the movie," he says. "There were a number of great jokes that we tried, but we were like, let's make it short and sweet, because there was no way you were going to top his appearance. After that it's got to be, okay, let's get him out of here as soon as possible."

While the Jordan cameo is a standout moment in the film, it's existence is due to the absence of MJ, who always seemed unlikely to show up in New Legacy, considering he previously turned down his own Space Jam sequel, his standing as owner of the Charlotte Hornets, and his infamous competitive streak. Despite the long odds, Lee had come up with a genius idea based on one of Jordan's most memorable lines from last year's buzzy docuseries about his six-championship run in the '90s.

"We were holding out hope, but also knew that the likelihood was going to be very remote," admits Lee. "Especially after The Last Dance came out, I was like, we've got to be able to do something, even like a tag at the very end after the credits with Bugs showing him the movie and saying, 'What do you think, Doc?' And just Jordan going, 'I took that very personal.' I wanted to do it! It would have been fantastic, but our movie is our movie and Space Jam is Space Jam."

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