July 11, 2021
Nneka Ogwumike, WNBA create a new legacy in the Space Jam world
The inclusion of WNBA players in the latest movie is a watershed moment
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When the original Space Jam movie was first released on Nov. 15, 1996, the WNBA had yet to play its first game. A few months prior to the release, the NBA’s Board of Governors had announced plans to move forward with the WNBA, and the first game wouldn’t be played until Jun. 21, 1997.
The professional basketball players who starred in the original movie were all NBA players. But this summer, with the upcoming release of Space Jam: A New Legacy starring the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, some of the players who appear alongside him will look quite familiar to WNBA fans, despite their digitized appearances.
The Los Angeles Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike and the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi play prominent roles as antagonists seeking to thwart James’ attempt to save the real world from a rogue computer algorithm through basketball.
Speaking to reporters after a private screening of the movie on Friday evening, Ogwumike reflected on the inclusion of WNBA players at a time when the popularity of the league and women’s basketball in general is growing.
“We’re experiencing a time in which women’s basketball is catching fire; it’s really igniting,” Ogwumike said. “For that representation to be in there, it’s a testament to the time that we’re in, it’s a testament to a new legacy, it’s a testament to LeBron and Warner Bros’ awareness on what’s important.”
The private screening was shown to children from the Brotherhood Crusade, one of the Sparks’ community partners and a grassroots organization based in South Central Los Angeles dedicated to serving local underrepresented communities.
Following the movie, Ogwumike spoke with the youth and participated in a Q&A session as well as a group picture. With the central theme of the movie being the creation of a new legacy and urging children to follow their interests wherever they take them, Ogwumike felt it was important for them to see that through her.
“It’s amazing to be in the movie … not just for the kids to be able to watch it and meet and interact with them, but also in the world that we’re in, I feel like that was a great experience,” Ogwumike said. “That kind of signifies what we want to get back to and hopefully jump-start their interest in basketball, sports and women’s sports.”
When the first movie came out, Ogwumike recalls watching it as a child along with her younger sisters. The soundtrack was what really stood out to them at the time, but as she got older, Ogwumike realized the true impact the movie had on her and how she wanted to make that same impact on today’s youth.
“It was one of those movies that as a kid you were watching and you didn’t realize the impact it was having on you, especially what it meant for the time,” Ogwumike said. “I think Space Jam: A New Legacy is coming out at the same opportune time as the first one did and it represents the time that we’re in. I kind of draw those two parallels when I think about watching it with my sisters growing up.”
And ultimately, Ogwumike is trying to provide representation and help youth see themselves in her—not only on the basketball court, but off the court as well throughout media spaces.
“I speak from experience growing up and seeing people on the screen, seeing people on the court that look like you. And while being in it, meeting other players, other coaches, other GMs that you can resonate with, it matters,” Ogwumike said. “When people think about representation in sport, they think about what it means immediately, what we see on the court. No, it’s about GMs, president[s], media, everyone, whether it’s advocacy or allyship. I felt that doing this movie, watching this movie, and I hope the young kids feel it, too.”
Written by David Yapkowitz
David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.