1996’s “Space Jam” has, despite its mixed reception by animation fans, gone on to become the most prominent animated (mixed with live-action) production centering around basketball. It’s prominent enough that Warner Bros. even plans to produce a sequel.
But what other cartoons referencing basketball have been made? Here’s a list of some noteworthy references to basketball in cartoons besides “Space Jam.”
“Garfield and Friends”
The 1989 second season episode “Basket Brawl” features a basketball-like game played in the Arbuckle household’s living room, using picnic food as balls and a picnic basket as a basket. Basically, Jon wants to go on a picnic, but Garfield as usual keeps devouring all the food before they can leave the house. The “game” even has various mice in the “stands” (an easy chair) and two mice anchoring the game as if it were on TV.
There’s also a mouse parody of Jack Nicholson (in real life, a Los Angeles Lakers fan and frequent game attendee) and goofy play-by-play—one of the sports anchor mice was voiced by the late longtime Lakers announcer Chick Hearn. Of course, during "Garfield and Friends"'s day, the Lakers were one of the NBA’s top teams.
A hilarious episode, despite that even Garfield himself thought this episode’s premise was ludicrous. After a clean sweep “victory,” Garfield tells the mice anchors interviewing him “…I’d also like to say this is probably the dumbest episode we’ve done all season.”
The episode’s available on the show’s volume 2 DVD set. It should also be available through Boomerang‘s streaming service.
The Harlem Globetrotters
I’ve previously written about the Globetrotters’ animated versions.
I’ve previously written about “ProStars,” a pre-“Space Jam” animated outing involving Michael Jordan.
The 1946 Goofy animated short “Double Dribble” is one of the various Goofy shorts offering a wacky take on a popular sport. Similar to the other Goofy classic “Hockey Homicide,” this one involves a game between two teams of Goofy-like athletes that quickly goes south.
“Double Dribble” is available on several DVD releases, including “The Complete Goofy” collection.
The episode “Hoop Squad” sees Virgil and Richie win a trip to Los Angeles to watch a basketball game. However, once there, they end up suiting up as Static and Gear to investigate an attack by nanites. Working alongside our heroes are several basketball players who, via superpower-granting suits, form the “Hoop Squad” team. Members of the Hoop Squad included Karl Malone (as “Pulverizer”), Tracy McGrady (as “Spin Drive”), Yao Ming (as “Center Force”), and Steve Nash (as “Point Man”).
IMDB reports only Malone voiced his animated counterpart for this episode, despite using the NBA players’ likenesses.
Another episode, “Static Shaq,” features a cameo by Shaquille O’Neal (voiced by the athlete himself). Shaq teams up with Static to take down a superpowered gang in Dakota.
The entire series has finally been released to DVD.
“The Fairly OddParents”
The third season episode “Odd Ball” sees Timmy join the cellar-dwelling, egotistical, and extremely unpopular Dimmsdale Ballhogs basketball team as a water boy. Timmy does this to earn money for a replacement video game system he can’t wish to replace. It’s not long before Timmy learns the team’s threatened by a move to Alaska if they don’t improve. Thus, Timmy wishes he was a “freakishly tall” and talented basketball player, and proceeds to help teach the Ballhogs players how to win. (“Da Rules” forbid Timmy from winning directly using magic.)
The episode features a parody of the Harlem Globetrotters (the “Pittsburgh Earthtrotters”; in real life, Pittsburgh doesn’t have an NBA team) and their famous “Sweet Georgia Brown” theme music. The Ballhogs also play against the “45ers,” a play on the Philadelphia 76ers.
Ironically, during the 2015-2016 season, the 76ers were the worst team in the league, ending the season with an abysmal 10-72 record. That was bad enough to land the 76ers on ESPN’s “worst NBA team seasons of all time” list.
“Odd Ball” is available on “The Fairly OddParents”‘s third season DVD set.
Image from "The Harlem Globetrotters." (Warner Bros.)