How the Monstars Could Have Won in Space Jam

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In 1993, the basketball landscape was dramatically changed when Michael Jordan retired from the game. Compounding the shock of his departure was the fact the he eventually got sucked through a golf hole and transported to an animated alternate dimension where he inspired a squad of Warner Bros.-licensed cartoon characters to victory over a team of aliens (the Nerdlucks) who had stolen the talents of five earthbound basketball stars. By beating the Monstars 78-77, Michael Jordan and the Tune Squad won their freedom, as they were playing for the right to not be held prisoner in an intergalactic theme park. These events are shown in the critically acclaimed 1996 documentary Space Jam.

With rumors floating around of a Space Jam sequel starring LeBron James, the Monstars would be well served to approach this second opportunity with smarter planning. Naturally, they should look at that original defeat, as history tends to repeat itself.

Considering they were leading 66-18 at half, one can’t help but think the Monstars let this crucial game slip away. What could they have done to prevent such a meltdown? The most effective fix would have to have been implemented before the game even started: they should’ve stolen the talent of better NBA players.

Of all the basketball players in the universe, the Nerdlucks stole the talents of Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues, and Shawn Bradley. Beyond not establishing a bench, the aliens eschewed a standard lineup for one with two slow, plodding centers and no wings. Even more inexplicable was that, of the two centers chosen, one was Shawn Bradley, “The Stormin’ Mormon,” who averaged a paltry 8.1 points per game during his less than stellar NBA career. Considering this was the most important game of the Monstars' lives, their preparation and scouting were unbelievably lackadaisical. In a one-point game, this was the difference.

Were they to start over, they likely wouldn’t have chosen any of those players, and here’s why.

Monstars Were Statistically Unimpressive

Who the Monstars went to for interior defense. // Getty Images

According to the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective, who compiled stats for the Space Jam game, two Monstars combined to score 71 of their 77 points: Pound (the alien with Charles Barkley’s talent) and Bupkus (the alien with Patrick Ewing’s). In case you were wondering, the Nerdluck who had stolen Shawn Bradley’s talent tallied 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, and 0 blocks (despite being nearly 10 feet tall).

Assuming the events took place after 1993 but before 1995, the ’94-’95 NBA season is our best indicator of player performance at the time of the Tune Squad-Monstars game. According to Basketball-Reference.com’s advance stats, the Nerdlucks didn’t steal the talent of a single player in the top five when it came to VORP ("Value Over Replacement Player"), PER (“Player Efficiency Rating”), or Win Shares Per 48 Minutes.

Factoring all those advanced metrics, the best starting five the Monstars could have chosen would likely have been:

C: David Robinson (8.1 VORP, .273 WS/48, 29.1 PER)
PF: Karl Malone (6.1 VORP, .212 WS/48, 25.1 PER)
SF: Scottie Pippen (7.4 VORP, .188 WS/48, 22.6 PER)
SG: Clyde Drexler (5.9 VORP, .206 WS/48, 22.4 PER)
PG: John Stockton (5.4 VORP, .233 WS/48, 23.3 PER)

(You can argue for Hakeem Olajuwon over Robinson—it's hard not to.)

By using those Win Shares per 48 minutes (the "average number of wins produced by a player per 48 minutes"—check this out for a more in-depth analysis), we can extrapolate that team's performance if they played all 82 games of an NBA regular season without missing a single minute and figure out total wins produced. 

What about fatigue, you ask? These are alien monsters, so that argument is absurd. You are being absurd.

By taking their WS/48 and multiplying it by 3936 (the total number of minutes an NBA team will play in a season), the above team would have won 90 games out of a possible 82. Pretty good.

The actual Monstars line-up of Ewing (.157 WS/48), Barkley (.214 WS/48), Johnson (.126 WS/48), Bogues (.157 WS/48), and Bradley (.071 WS/48) would have won 60 games in that same NBA season. They wouldn't have even had the best record in the league in '94-'95, as the San Antonio Spurs (who had no alien monsters) won 62 games. Why wouldn't the Monstars go with a team that would win eight more games than was even possible?

Given that this was the mid-‘90s, advanced metrics were little-used or understood, even for a species of aliens like the Nerdlucks who had mastered inter-dimensional and inter-planetary travel. Even so, the superior team I selected more than passes the eye test, so they have no excuse.

The Jordan Problem

Getty Images

As the best player in history, Michael Jordan was always going to pose a problem for the Monstars. In Space Jam, he went 22-22, scoring 44 points (including the game-winning three-point dunk at the buzzer). No one is stopping Jordan, but you could definitely do a better job slowing him down. Here are some options.

Scottie Pippen

Pippen is making the Monstars based on overall stats alone, but as one of the best wing defenders of all time, he is a no-brainer when it comes to guarding Jordan. Even more importantly, however, is his intimate knowledge of Jordan's game. It's always said that no one guarded MJ better than Pippen did during Bulls practices, and beside his innate athleticism and skill set, Scottie knew all his teammate's tendencies. The only issue is falling into the trope of a brainwashed friend being reminded of his true allegiances at the most inopportune moment. Scottie, it's me, Michael. You remember, don't you? We won all those championships together, buddy. I know you're in there. I just know it!

Big risk.

Gary Payton

Stockton is the statistical choice for the Monstars point guard, but if they wanted to muck Jordan's game up, they should have considered Seattle Supersonics PG Gary Payton. Although his famous finals matchup with Jordan didn't happen until after the events of Space Jam, The Glove had already shown himself to be a ferocious defender. (In that finals against the Bulls, Payton helped hold Jordan to under 30 points in five of the six games the teams played, the best-ever defense of Jordan in any finals series. Unlike against the Monstars, Michael Jordan did not post a perfect field goal percentage.)

Mitch Richmond

If you can't stop Jordan from scoring, you might as well make him work on the defensive end. Michael Jordan surprisingly listed Richmond as the most difficult shooting guard he had to defend during his career. Whether this was just a case of the notoriously prickly Jordan refusing to give more heralded opponents credit is up in the air, but either way, Richmond surely would've been a better selection for the Monstars than Shawn Bradley.

A Stronger Players' Union

Making a mockery of the game. // Warner Bros.

Besides choosing better players, the Monstars could have benefited from a CBA that took into account and prevented the types of shenanigans the Tune Squad would try to pull. As the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective points out, the only missed field goal came from the Monstar with Patrick Ewing's talent (naturally), and it occurred after Wile E. Coyote (up until that point, an ineffective bench player) rigged the hoop with explosives. Banning or regulating such ACME devices should have been a non-negotiable part of the union's collective bargaining strategy, and they messed up big time by letting it slide. Without it, the Tune Squad would have lost 79-78. That's all, folks.

This Innovative Cutting Board Takes the Mess Out of Meal Prep

There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
TidyBoard, Kickstarter

Transferring food from the cutting board to the bowl—or scraps to the compost bin—can get a little messy, especially if you’re dealing with something that has a tendency to roll off the board, spill juice everywhere, or both (looking at you, cherry tomatoes).

The TidyBoard, available on Kickstarter, is a cutting board with attached containers that you can sweep your ingredients right into, taking the mess out of meal prep and saving you some counter space in the process. The board itself is 15 inches by 20 inches, and the container that fits in its empty slot is 14 inches long, 5.75 inches wide, and more than 4 inches deep. Two smaller containers fit inside the large one, making it easy to separate your ingredients.

Though the 4-pound board hangs off the edge of your counter, good old-fashioned physics will keep it from tipping off—as long as whatever you’re piling into the containers doesn’t exceed 9 pounds. It also comes with a second set of containers that work as strainers, so you can position the TidyBoard over the edge of your sink and drain excess water or juice from your ingredients as you go.

You can store food in the smaller containers, which have matching lids; and since they’re all made of BPA-free silicone, feel free to pop them in the microwave. (Remove the small stopper on top of the lid first for a built-in steaming hole.)

tidyboard storage containers
They also come in gray, if teal isn't your thing.
TidyBoard

Not only does the bamboo-made TidyBoard repel bacteria, it also won’t dull your knives or let strong odors seep into it. In short, it’s an opportunity to make cutting, cleaning, storing, and eating all easier, neater, and more efficient. Prices start at $79, and it’s expected to ship by October 2020—you can find out more details and order yours on Kickstarter.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Born In the U.S.A.: How Bruce Springsteen's Anti-Vietnam Anthem Got Lost In Translation

Bruce Springsteen performs on stage.
Bruce Springsteen performs on stage.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Maybe it’s Max Weinberg’s fault. In the opening seconds of Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 single “Born in the U.S.A.,” Weinberg, the drummer for Springsteen’s E Street Band, laid down some ferocious snare hits, invoking cannon blasts and fireworks and all the national pride associated with those sounds. The track explodes before Springsteen even utters a single word, casting red, white, and blue filters on a set of lyrics imbued with many more colors and layers.

Casual radio listeners in 1984 were bound to hear “Born in the U.S.A.” as an ode to patriotism, and the perfect soundtrack for President Reagan’s “Morning In America” campaign. Reagan himself invoked Springsteen’s name during an August 1984 campaign stop in New Jersey. “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts,” Reagan said. “It rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.”

From a distance, Springsteen looked the part of the jingoistic flag-waver. The scruffy, sinewy rocker pictured on the cover of 1975’s star-making Born to Run album had evolved into a musclebound, headband-wearing, stadium-wrecking legend-in-the-making. When he sang, “I was born in the U.S.A.,” it sounded like a declaration of pride and faith.

But “Born in the U.S.A.,” the title track off Springsteen’s blockbuster seventh album, wasn't the nationalistic singalong many people thought it was. In his 2016 memoir Born to Run, Springsteen rightfully called it “a protest song," and the angry tone ought to be clear from the opening line: “Born down in a dead man’s town / The first kick I took was when I hit the ground.”

The song's lyrics tell of a local loser who’s railroaded into military service during the Vietnam War, scarred by his experiences in Southeast Asia, and completely forgotten about by his country when he returns home. Springsteen's protagonist can’t find work or shake the image of the brother he lost in Khe Sanh. Ten years after the war, he’s got nothing left except a claim to his birthplace. And he’s not sure what that’s worth.

 

Springsteen wrote “Born in the U.S.A.” after reading Born on the Fourth of July, Vietnam veteran and antiwar activist Ron Kovic's memoir (which Oliver Stone later adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Tom Cruise). Springsteen purchased the book at a gas station in Arizona in 1978 and was moved by Kovic’s story of a young man who enlists in the Marines and returns from Vietnam in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.

Not long after Springsteen read the book, he happened to meet Kovic by the pool at Hollywood’s Sunset Marquis hotel. They struck up a friendship, and Springsteen wound up staging an August 1981 benefit concert for the fledgling Vietnam Veterans of America.

Bruce Springsteen performs on stage
Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

In writing “Born in the U.S.A.,” Springsteen was also motivated by survivor’s guilt—or perhaps more correctly, avoider’s guilt. By his own admission, Springsteen was a “stone-cold draft dodger.” When he was called up by his local draft board in the ‘60s, Springsteen used all the tricks in the book to avoid being selected. According to Rolling Stone, Springsteen's "efforts to convince a Newark, New Jersey, selective service board of his abject unsuitability for combat in Vietnam apparently extended to claiming he was both gay and tripping on LSD, but none of it was necessary." In the end, Springsteen was dismissed not for any of those made-up reasons, but because a concussion he had suffered in a motorcycle accident resulted in him failing his physical. He was classified 4F, or unfit for service.

“As I grew older, I sometimes wondered who went in my place,” Springsteen wrote in Born to Run. “Somebody did.” In fact, Springsteen knew some people who lost their lives in Vietnam, including Bart Haynes, the drummer in his first band. During concerts in the ‘80s, Springsteen would often share the memory of Haynes coming to his house and telling him he’d enlisted, and that he was going to Vietnam, a country he couldn’t find on the map.

 

Springsteen began writing what would become “Born In the U.S.A.” while compiling material for 1982’s stark acoustic album Nebraska. The original title was “Vietnam,” and an early version of the lyrics have the protagonist’s girlfriend ditching him for a rock singer. At some point in the process, Springsteen picked up a screenplay that Paul Schrader, the writer behind Taxi Driver, had sent him. It was called Born in the U.S.A., and while it was about a Cleveland bar band, not the plight of Vietnam vets, Springsteen recognized the power of the title.

Another influence was the 1979 book Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. As Brian Hiatt reveals in his 2019 book Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs, one draft of “Born In the U.S.A.” advocates rough justice for Nixon, suggesting we should “cut off his balls.” That line didn’t survive the editing process, but Springsteen’s anger certainly did.

Bruce Springsteen performs on stage
Michael Putland/Getty Images

There are conflicting stories about how “Born In the U.S.A.” became such a colossal-sounding song in the studio. E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan credits himself with latching onto a six-note melody Springsteen sang when sharing the song with the band for the first time. Those six notes became the central riff of the song. Having listened to Springsteen’s lyrics, Bittan aimed for a “Southeast Asian sort of synthesized, strange sound” on his Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer. It sounded even more impactful once Weinberg began slapping that snare behind it.

In Weinberg’s version of events, the floor-shaking final version of “Born In the U.S.A.” grew out of a sparser “country trio” arrangement. When Springsteen switched up and began strumming his guitar in a style reminiscent of The Rolling Stones’s "Street Fighting Man," Weinberg drummed along, and soon the whole band followed.

 

Regardless of how it transpired, Springsteen was definitely down with “Born In the U.S.A.” being a rager. In the studio, engineer Toby Scott ran Weinberg’s drums through a broken reverb plate, putting a custom spin on the “gated reverb“ sound popularized by Phil Collins earlier in the ‘80s. Weinberg is well-deserving of his nickname, “Mighty Max,” but technology helped to give his thunderous playing that extra oomph it needed.

The version heard on the album is an early live take, with some additional jamming removed to keep the runtime under five minutes. Springsteen has subsequently done more somber acoustic versions of “Born In the U.S.A,” but they lack the juxtapositions that make the studio version so compelling—and confusing for some listeners.

“On the album, ‘Born In the U.S.A.’ was in its most powerful presentation,” Springsteen wrote in Born to Run. “If I’d tried to undercut or change the music, I believe I would’ve had a record that would’ve been more easily understood but not as satisfying.”

“Born In the U.S.A.” ultimately is a patriotic song—just not the kind President Reagan was looking for. Springsteen’s traumatized, unemployed protagonist wants to believe that being American means something. Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten once said that he didn’t write the incendiary 1977 punk single “God Save the Queen” because he hates the English—but rather because he loves them and thinks they deserve better. “Born In the U.S.A.” is the same type of song, even if some people will never understand it.

“Records are often auditory Rorschach tests,” Springsteen wrote in his memoir. “We hear what we want to hear.”