Why Warner Bros. Hasn't Found LeBron James' 'Space Jam' Team Yet

LeBron Space Jam Comp - Getty - H 2019
iStock; Courtesy of Photofest; Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

A few of the NBA's top stars may be on the sidelines for the sequel due to a rich sneaker contract rivalry.

For the first time since 2005, LeBron James won't be heading to the NBA playoffs — and even off the court the L.A. Lakers star's bid for Hollywood domination appears to be hitting a small roadblock.

On April 5, CBS yanked his competition TV series Million Dollar Mile from its prime Wednesday slot after just two episodes and mediocre ratings at 3.6 million average viewers. And a day earlier, ESPN reported that basketball's biggest draw was having trouble recruiting fellow NBA stars for his Space Jam 2.

It's more complicated than it seems. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that fellow All-Stars Stephen Curry, James Harden and Kevin Durant likely won't join James on the celluloid court. But that has more to do with sneaker contracts and the film's script — the latest version is being penned by Black Panther's Ryan Coogler and Searching's Sev Ohanian — and less to do with James' ability to enlist high-profile ballers. In fact, Warner Bros. is responsible for roping in talent, not James.

As to why shoes matter, Nike is essential to the Space Jam franchise. The 1996 first film was based on the "Hare Jordan" commercial directed by Joe Pytka, who also helmed the feature. That makes the involvement of Curry (Under Armour contract through 2024) and Harden (Adidas) nearly impossible, sources say. Durant, though a key member of Team Nike, is pursuing his own Hollywood efforts, including an Apple series, Swagger, based on his life.

Those familiar with the script say Space Jam 2 will rely less heavily on a Dream Team of hoops luminaries than the Michael Jordan-led film, which saw more than a dozen real-life NBA stars cameo and grossed $231 million worldwide, not adjusted for inflation. Instead, LeBron's family arc is key, with a yet-to-be-cast teen character named Dom as the second lead, sources say. 

Star Trek: Discovery's Sonequa Martin-Green already has been cast as LeBron's wife. (A best friend character named Malik, modeled after Maverick Carter, LeBron's childhood buddy and producing partner in SpringHill, also will play a significant role.) And Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young (Arrival) has signed on, signaling the film's quality mandate.

Meanwhile, Million Dollar Mile may still find a fan base, even though it has been jettisoned to a less-than-ideal Saturday night slot. And a Warners source says Space Jam 2 will continue on schedule with a July start date for director Terence Nance, just weeks after the NBA Finals end, leaving the door open for a champ to suit up.

This story also appears in the April 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.