By Derek Lawrence
March 17, 2021 at 10:30 AM EDT

For director Joe Pytka, there was no natural ending for Space Jam.

Having already helmed the "Hare Jordan" commercials that would inspire the Michael Jordan and Looney Tunes big screen team up, Pytka was a late addition to the film's production, but that didn't stop him from attempting to make his mark on the project. The filmmaker has previously revealed many Space Jam secrets to EW between his unsuccessful attempts to recruit Spike Lee, Chevy Chase, and Michael J. Fox to how they created the climactic basketball game (a much-needed assist went to Bill Murray). Now, ahead of LeBron James' Space Jam: A New Legacy, which is currently on the cover of EW, Pytka is sharing his ending to the original film that was left on the cutting room floor.

Space Jam pulls from Jordan's own life, with the version of himself in the film also leaving basketball to pursue a career in baseball. The plot positions Jordan as struggling with his adjustment to the new sport, striking out in an early scene, then returning home where he and his son see broadcaster Jim Rome ridiculing MJ's performance on the diamond. Pytka says he added that to the script with a plan to pay it off when Jordan, fresh off his victory over the Monstars, gets a standing ovation upon returning just in time for his minor league baseball teams' game. The final version of the sequence ends there, before the film wraps up with Jordan visiting the NBA players whose talents were stolen and then unretiring from basketball and suiting up again for the Chicago Bulls.

"When Michael comes back, I wrote a scene and actually ripped off The Natural," Pytka says, referencing the iconic ending of the Robert Redford-led baseball movie classic. "It's a tight game, the stands are full, and Michael looks up and his son gives him a sign to widen his stance, a call back to something he said at the beginning. Then Michael hits a home run and trots around the bases like Robert Redford, with all these flashes popping. Instead of everything falling from the broken lights like in The Natural, I had this special effect with everyone taking pictures with those little cheap cameras you could buy for a dollar."

Credit: Everett Collection

Pykta says they shot the scene, which also included Bugs Bunny, and he's still unclear why it wasn't used. "There was an urgency for him to come back for the game but then he comes back and there's no game," he points out. "it always pissed me off that they didn't put that in there. The ending should have been him hitting the home run. Maybe it was running too long or it was too expensive to do [the effect]. Ivan Reitman, the producer, admitted to me they never knew how to end the film. It kind of meandered. Going back to Chicago to play basketball was bulls---. I don't want to trash the film because it was such a success but it would have added a slight dimension to the film. Maybe people thought it was too corny."

To read more on Space Jam: A New Legacyorder the April issue of Entertainment Weekly or find it on newsstands beginning Friday. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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