In January of 1999, the NBA confronted the start of an existential disaster. On the finish of a six-month labor dispute that minimize the season to 50 video games, Michael Jordan, its most marketable and standard star, introduced his (second) retirement. Over the subsequent couple of years the NBA’s average attendance dipped annually, television ratings dropped steadily, and, by 2001, just 15 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds had a rooting interest in the league. Rising abilities like Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Garnett have been solely simply beginning to entice loyal followers, and the NBA knew it wanted to pivot from its linear leisure mannequin to captivate its youthful demographic.

Across the similar time, Shad “Bow Wow” Moss (then “Lil Bow Wow”) had shortly turn out to be the largest child performer—one of many largest musicians, interval, truly—within the nation. As hip-hop saturated the mainstream and have become the top-selling music style, the 11-year-old, who was initially found by Snoop Dogg within the early 90’s, burst onto the scene together with his first album, “Watch out for Canine,” which bought $2.7 million information and went platinum in 2001. Along with promoting out his first headlined, 50-date tour that year, the rap celebrity had additionally begun to enterprise into Hollywood, making cameos in small films and tv exhibits that took benefit of his outsized character and attraction.

So, in 2002, when the producers of a kid-oriented basketball fantasy known as Like Mike approached the league about lending their rising hotshots to a basketball fantasy starring Moss, it appeared like a slam dunk. The film, a couple of 13-year-old who positive aspects Michael Jordan’s court docket expertise by carrying a pair of the all-star’s magically-enhanced sneakers, promised to be the NBA’s gateway to a brand new viewers of teenagers. Within the movie, the suddenly-soaring orphan named Calvin Cambridge (Moss), joins a struggling (made-up) NBA staff, the Los Angeles Knights, and brings them into competition. Now, due to the league’s all-in participation, Calvin’s fictional street to the title would pit him in opposition to such actual, then-budding superstars as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Allen Iverson, in addition to well-established gamers like Alonzo Mourning and Jason Kidd.

It was, to say the least, a fruitful partnership for each the film {and professional} basketball. Launched twenty years in the past this week, Like Mike grossed $52 million, and its recognition amongst younger millennials additional blew up throughout its immensely worthwhile DVD afterlife; the movie is now a nostalgia staple for individuals who grew up watching it on repeat. However its bigger legacy is the way in which it embodied the soon-to-be mainstream convergence of basketball and hip-hop tradition, forecasted the NBA’s immense rise in popularity among young adults, and signaled the rising symbiotic bond between Hollywood {and professional} sports activities. “This positively gave me a wave of vitality that I do not suppose I may have gotten simply by being a rapper,” says Moss. “The NBA was turning a brand new leaf—it was the right marriage.”

When author Michael Elliott first introduced producer Peter Heller together with his draft for Like Mike, Heller knew he had one thing particular. “I used to be like, ‘It is The Purple Footwear and basketball, it is good,’” he remembers. “I have never had this type of certainty greater than two or thrice.” It didn’t take lengthy for Elliott to seek out its star: He remembered a moment he’d witnessed two years earlier on the set of MTV’s made-for-TV-movie, Carmen: A Hip Hopera, when a cameo-ing Moss schooled his music producer Jermaine Dupri on the court docket. “I would at all times been large into sports activities as a child watching Michael Jordan,” Moss says. “After I turned well-known, I used to be nonetheless enjoying in tournaments by means of Ohio and Indiana and the midwest.”

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