Bugs versus Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote versus Road Runner, Tweety versus Sylvester, Daffy Duck versus the world — for more than 80 years, the Warner Bros. toons have fought each other to a comic standstill, without anyone ever claiming a long-term victory. Clearly, if anyone in the Looney Tunes world is going to definitively win the day over anyone else, they need clear, specific, objective victory conditions, like the ones they face on the basketball court in Space Jam and Space Jam: A New Legacy.
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Thinking along those lines made us realize: In both Space Jam movies, the court rivalry between the Looney Tunes and the villains is played for big sports drama, but in both games, it’s a foregone conclusion. “Who Would Win: Your Favorite Cartoon Characters Plus an International Sports Star, or Some Scrubs We Just Made Up for This Movie?” isn’t even that interesting a question. But what if both teams were made up of beloved characters? Who would win if the Looney Tunes Space Jammed themselves? We had to find out.
For the purpose of the conflict, though, we needed two team managers to draft up a couple of hopefully balanced Looney Tunes teams. Curation editor Pete Volk and Film/streaming editor Tasha Robinson volunteered as tribute, and Pete won the coin flip, so he’s taking first pick at the draft. Any Looney Tunes character is on the table. Once we’ve got teams drafted, we’ve asked our basketball-aficionado friends at SB Nation to make the call on who wins.
The Looney Tunes draft
Round 1: Bugs Bunny vs. Lola Bunny
Pete: There’s only one logical choice for the first pick: the rabbit, the myth, the legend, Bugs Bunny. Bugs’ basketball skills impress, for sure — he’s an all-around player who has the speed, the skills, and the strength to deliver on the court — but he gets picked first here for two reasons: leadership and gumption. The rabbit is a problem solver.
Tasha: There’s only one Tune who could oppose Bugs on the court, and it isn’t any of his traditional rivals, who all end up flattened or blasted whenever they face him. It’s the Looney Tunes’ only laser-focused all-arounder who’s displayed solo court skills, respect for teamwork, and enough grace and poise to not crack under pressure. She’s equally quick with a pass, an inspirational speech, and a quip. I’m taking Lola Bunny as my team captain.
Round 2: Foghorn Leghorn vs. Road Runner
Tasha: I’m up next by snake draft rules, and I gotta go for speed. The Looney Tunes have plenty of zip, but one player outpaces them all with a proven knack for evading or ignoring every trap and barrier placed in his way. I’ve got Road Runner as my second pick.
Pete: Since you stole Lola, you’ve unquestionably taken the most talented basketball player on the Looney Tunes roster. So what’s the answer to talent in basketball? Pure height. Now, I have been doing my research (i.e. frantically googling “tallest Looney Tunes”), and I say, I do say, I will pair Bugs Bunny with Foghorn Leghorn. An imposing presence in the post at an estimated 6’4” (not including his comb, some chicken terminology I learned today), Foghorn will block any shots put up the near basket, wagging his finger at his opponent while taunting “Now I say I say, not in my coop!”
Round 3: Wile E. Coyote vs. Yakko Warner
Pete: Cards on the table: I was hoping to counter a potential Wile E. Coyote pick by your team with a Road Runner pick of my own, so I may very well be undoing my own cause. But this is Looney Tunes basketball, so we need tricks and complex contraptions even more than skill and size. I’m concerned that Wile E. will be distracted or even taken out of the game by that dastardly Road Runner, but if he can make up for it with some well-placed dynamite or a brilliantly painted fake basket that tricks the other team or a Rube Goldberg device that scores 20 three-pointers in a row, it’ll all be worth it.
Tasha: I want to note that while Foghorn Leghorn is tall, it’s notable how often both Space Jam movies go for “fried chicken” jokes by blowing or burning him up. And with Wile E. on your team, you’re sure to be dealing with a lot of friendly-fire incidents.
Rewatching these films, it also becomes obvious that most of the Tunes have logged at least a little court time, but they’re all consistently bad at fundamentals. Taz has speed but not control, and he tends to eat the balls. Tweety lays out some sweet kung-fu moves against his opponents, but gets flattened whenever he tries to play defense. Daffy, Porky, Sylvester, Elmer, you name it, they’re all short and slow. So for my next pick, I’m going to reach outside the familiar roster and try out a rookie: Yakko Warner.
Round 4: Tasmanian Devil vs. Dot Warner
Tasha: And for my next pick, I’m taking Dot Warner. The Warners aren’t classic Looney Tunes, but they’re unquestionably in the same world and certainly looney and tuney. And when it comes to winning out over their opponents, they have a much stronger track record than the classic Tunes crew. They’re crafty and quick, they’re just as good at Mr. Coyote at producing explosives out of nowhere for a gag, they rely on teamwork, and they have that Tune-esque ability to just appear suddenly wherever they want to be. If Dot needs to shut down an opponent, she’s got a killer “But I’m too cute to oppose” move, or I can have Yakko distract your entire team with an enlightening song about geography. And since we haven’t seen them on the court yet, you’ll have a harder time anticipating their weak spots.
Pete: I will agree with you that Daffy Duck is selfish, unskilled, and a waste of space on a basketball court. What I need right now is a tenacious defender, so I’m taking Tasmanian Devil. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in grit. The little rascal is such a committed defender that he is willing to go so far as to eat the ball rather than let his opponent score. (Metta Sandiford-Artest only wishes he had that level of commitment.) I’m also betting that, if he put his mind to it, he could do his little tornado thing to get enough verticality to actually get close to the hoop on occasion. But mainly he’s here to play lockdown defense and occasionally cause a stoppage of play when the ball … goes missing.
Round 5: Gossamer vs. Sam Sheepdog
Pete: On the height side, once again my fearless strategy pays off. We’re going even bigger, even redder (or orange-r, I guess): it’s Gossamer. At an estimated 8-feet tall, Gossamer would tie for the title of tallest player in professional basketball history (with former Libyan pro Suleiman Ali Nashnush). Now, he hasn’t been the most effective player in previous Space Jam iterations, showing both a lack of mobility and a susceptibility to fire, but I blame the coaching. I think Gossamer has the tools to be a valuable player in any Looney Tunes basketball squad, on account of literally being an 8-foot-tall monster.
Tasha: I want to note that Gossamer is completely ineffectual on the court in Space Jam: A New Legacy. They shrink him down and chill him out! He does nothing useful in the entire game except absorb a water-based opponent with his fur!
I’ll wrap my frontline team draft with an equally deep cut: Sam Sheepdog. Now here’s a guy who handles responsibility well. Over the course of seven classic shorts in the 1950s and 1960s, we’ve seen him defend his flock of sheep from Ralph Wolf using brawn, brains, implacability, and that weird Tunes ability to teleport to wherever the action is. Ralph hasn’t been able to sneak a single sheep by him. Who better to have on defense? Besides, he’s got the height to challenge your “tall Tunes only” strategy.
Round 6: Babbit vs. Hugo the Abominable Snowman
Tasha: Any Tunes team coach must consider the bench given how often injuries occur. So I’ll take Hugo the Abominable Snowman. I can’t believe you overlooked him in your height-obsessed Googling. Judging from the images and his ability to palm Bugs Bunny like a handball, dude must be 30 feet tall. Not the brightest player, but likely to claim your defensive line as his beloved pets and cuddle them into ineffectuality.
Pete: As you correctly deduced, Hugo was next up in my list of tall Tunes. But I have a back-up plan: Babbit. And you know what that means…
Round 7: Catstello vs. Pepe le Pew
Pete: I’m picking up Catstello, too. Yes, the Tune duo based on Abbott and Castello. What they lack in basketball skills, they make up for in chemistry as a duo and the ability to distract opponents with good gags. Also, Babbit seems pretty tall. Catstello … well, we can rely on him for moral support.
Tasha: Speaking of gagging, I’ll grab Pepe le Pew, who notably isn’t fast but always wherever the action is, and great at paralyzing opponents with his stink attack. (Yes, he was sidelined for several seasons due to all the sexual-harassment claims, but we’re trying to rehabilitate his image. This intramural Looney Tunes expo can double as an apology tour for him.)
Round 8: Elmer Fudd vs. Wakko Warner
Tasha: And what the hell, I’ll pull in Wakko Warner as well. He’ll feel left out if he has to stay on the sidelines, and the sibs work best as a team. Also, we all know he’d turn up on the court anyway. He’s a chaos agent. Might as well make it legit.
Pete: On top of my height research, I found myself trawling through the full list of characters on the Looney Tunes Wiki. And I’m going to pat myself on the back for being the bigger person and not picking Looney Tunes Jason Voorhees. But in Round 8 I’m going back to the main roster for Elmer Fudd, mainly so that my esteemed opponent does not ask him to assassinate my captain. Elmer also had a surprisingly major role on the court in the Tunes’ victory in Space Jam 2.
Round 9: Marvin the Martian vs. Dainty Dora Standpipe
Pete: My other pick here will be Marvin the Martian, for two reasons: (1) ray gun and (2) he’s freaking adorable.
Tasha: At least with Wile E. on your team, you don’t have to worry about Marvin being distracted by a lack of Earth-shattering kabooms.
For my penultimate pick I am going back to 1942 for some ancient Looney Tunes history: Dainty Dora Standpipe, from the Looney Tunes’ Dover Boys short. As we see in “The Rivals of Roquefort Hall,” she’s ridiculously fast — she floats like she doesn’t even have feet — and she’s a hell of a scrapper, more than capable of holding her own on the court. She’s even surprisingly tall. (You can see the Dover Boys make a prominent appearance in the audience in the first Space Jam — someone else also clearly also enjoyed this classic Chuck Jones oddity.)
Round 10: Porky Pig vs. Daffy Duck
Tasha: And finally, we just can’t do this without Daffy Duck. Everything you said about him as a bad team player and a selfish glory hog is true … but it just wouldn’t be a Looney game without him. I’d miss his voice and his manic energy at every single moment of this game.
Pete: My last pick is a team player and a genuine sweetheart. He may not be good at basketball, but Porky Pig allows me to end this wonderful experiment on this note: That’s all, folks!
Introducing the dueling Toon Squads
Pete’s Toon Squad
Starting 5: Bugs Bunny (Captain), Wile E. Coyote, Tasmanian Devil, Foghorn Leghorn, Gossamer
Bench 5: Babbit and Catstello, Elmer Fudd, Marvin the Martian, Porky Pig
Tasha’s Toon Squad
Starting 5: Lola Bunny (Captain), Road Runner, Yakko and Dot Warner, Sam Sheepdog
Bench 5: Hugo the Abominable Snowman, Pepe le Pew, Wakko Warner, Dainty Dora Standpipe, Daffy Duck
The judges panel
Harrison Faigen, EIC of SB Nation’s Lakers community, Silver Screen and Roll
Pete loses some serious points for reaching with his No. 1 pick and not going with Lola, who even he admits is shown in both movies to be by far the most talented basketball player among the Tunes, and the only one who is able to give both Michael Jordan and LeBron’s teams a capable co-star.
To channel my inner Cousin Greg, I’m not familiar with half of the IP that is joining Lola’s squad, but usually basketball games — and especially exhibition games like this — come down to who has the best player for crunch time, and given that building around a star has been the formula for victory in both Space Jam films, I have to go with Team Tasha and Lola here.
Hector Diaz, SB Nation social media manager
General managers of basketball teams are bound by a major question when it comes to roster construction: Should you have added star power in your lineup at the expense of a weaker bench, or should you have similarly talented players from the No. 1 option to the last player off the bench? These two teams present each scenario here.
Pete’s starting lineup is mighty, with frontcourt duo of Foghorn Leghorn and Gossamer taking center stage. The defense and work in the post could make the David Robinson-Tim Duncan Spurs proud. But once they sit, Babbit and Catstello could undo any of the hard work their starters provided. Babbit is tall, but he doesn’t have the frame of a Gossamer or a Leghorn. And while the duo has impeccable timing and chemistry, just one wrong move can throw the whole team awry (and let’s face it, it’s going to be Catstello’s fault).
Tasha’s team is all about versatility. Lola Bunny and Road Runner will literally run circles around everyone. The trio of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are a welcomed addition of chaos during third-quarter runs when the starters are taking a breather. That’s not even mentioning that they’re siblings, making their chemistry second to none. This is a brilliant draft move on Tasha’s part that merits consideration for Executive of the Year.
If these teams were drafted to play out a lengthy season, Pete’s team would tumble in the standings because of Babbit and Catstello. Marvin the Martian and Wile E. Coyote could prevent that for a while but they would only be delaying the inevitability. Meanwhile, Team Tasha would have a cozy spot in the playoffs with their unmatched cardio.
But since this is for one game, Pete can play his starters for 40-45 minutes for a close victory. Tasha’s team can speed by the guards, but they won’t be able to score with the brick wall of a frontcourt that Pete has assembled.
Sabreena Merchant, EIC of SB Nation’s women’s basketball community, Swish Appeal
I can’t get over Pete willingly skipping the best player on the board to get Bugs Bunny’s intangibles at the top of the draft. If we’ve learned anything from two Space Jam movies, it’s that no Toon holds a candle to Lola Bunny’s skills. We’ve seen her ball-handling, facilitating, and scoring all show up at the highest levels. It’s worth wondering how Lola will function as the number one option without MJ or LeBron on her team, but I trust Lola’s ability to take over far more than any other player in this draft, so Tasha has a huge lead after the first pick.
I’m intrigued by Pete’s strategy of going with size, but I’m not sure that’s the right idea in a Looney Tunes game when the Tunes’ best skill is their pace and disruption. This game isn’t going to be played in the halfcourt if players like Taz, Road Runner, and Wile E. Coyote have anything to say about it, so is it really that advantageous to build a big frontcourt? Pete’s team is probably better served if he lets Bugs, Marvin, Road Runner, Daffy, and the Coyote get out in the open court and run some trick plays. There’s a track record for success when the Toons get Looney.
My question mark with Tasha’s team is all of the unproven talent. The Warner siblings, Sam, Hugo, and Dainty Dora are all unknown quantities. That could work to Tasha’s advantage if there’s no scouting report, but I do worry about their ability to get on the same page right away, especially if this is single elimination.
Ultimately, in a win-or-go-home situation, the team with the best player usually comes out on top, and there’s no doubt that Lola is that player. If she can get even a little bit of help from the Animaniacs, Tasha’s got this.
Winner: Tasha’s Toon Squad (please clap)