The Story Behind the Tune Squad and Goon Squad Jerseys Featured in 'Space Jam: A New Legacy'

An interview with Melissa Bruning, the costume designer responsible for the Goon Squad & LeBron James’ Tune Squad jerseys in ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy.’

Space Jam: A New Legacy 1
Warner Bros.

Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Space Jam: A New Legacy 1

A week before shooting began for Space Jam: A New Legacy, the sequel to the cult classic 1996 film starring Michael Jordan, the film’s head costume designer Melissa Bruning had to make a major tweak to LeBron James’ Tune Squad uniform. LeBron was initially slated to wear No. 23 in the film, but when cast member Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers in real life in June 2019 (his number at the time was 23), and she got a call from SpringHill production company saying that LeBron wanted to wear a 6 instead, she sprang into action. All of LeBron’s No. 23 Tune Squad jerseys had to be scrapped and remade in a very small window of time.

“There’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also collaborative art. It’s not just me. It’s not just what I want. It’s not just what LeBron loves. It’s not just what Warner Bros. wants. It’s not just what the director wants,” Bruning tells Complex. “We’re all working together to make it the best thing for this particular film.”

Bruning says altogether it took her and and her team 14 weeks to perfect the Tune Squad and Goon Squad jerseys that are featured in the film. If you remember the first Space Jam, Michael Jordan and his animated squad wore white jerseys with blue trim and a red Tune Squad logo at the center of the chest. But she says from the start, director Malcolm D. Lee wanted a complete overhaul.

“The director [Malcolm D. Lee] would start with an idea and say, ‘Can you riff on this?’ The first direction I was given was, ‘I don’t wanna do the original. I don’t want it white. And I want it to incorporate the symbol that evokes old Looney Tunes,’” Bruning tells Complex. 

Tune Squad Jersey Sketch

For the new Tune Squad jerseys, Bruning decided to go for a teal base, which was partially out of necessity. It was one of the few shades that didn’t blend in with any of the Looney Tunes’ fur. Lola Bunny’s peachy color in particular eliminated the possibility of any orange-based looks. Instead, the trim and massive Looney Tunes portal that covers the left half of the each jersey was colored orange. For the foes, the Goon Squad, Bruning and her team opted for a darker look—purple and black with a faint circuit board print. Each new concept for the uniform was run by Lee, the studio, animation, and visual effects team. All in all, it took about five prototypes that showcased minor differences like logo sizing, placement, and color palettes until they reached the final concepts.

Bruning has been a costume designer in Hollywood since 1997, but she knew this is what she wanted to do since she was 8 years old living in Omaha, Nebraska, the daughter of two artists. “Being an artist was expected,” Bruning tells Complex. “Now if I had said I wanted to be a lawyer, they probably would have been concerned because that’s sort of not the family way.”

She used to make her own costumes as a baton twirler in high school and helped with the costumes and sets of her high school plays, too. She eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in technical theater and master’s in costume design from NYU Tisch. Her Hollywood résumé includes costume design credits on cult classic comedies like Super Troopers, blockbusters such as Rampage and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and television series like Showtime’s Black Monday. Before that, she was doing costumes for various commercials. She says working on the Space Jam sequel is a bit of a full circle moment for her. She worked on various ad campaigns back in the day with Joe Pytka, the director of the original Space Jam film released in 1996. 

Space Jam: A New Legacy 3

Bruning’s past work also may have partially influenced casting decisions for Space Jam: A New Legacy. She recalls reading the parts for the film’s main antagonist Al-G Rhythm, and immediately thinking of Don Cheadle, who she worked with on Black Monday.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, they need Don for this,’ because I know his versatility. I know he’s got the chops to bring to a movie like this. And when you have a sports star who’s a beginner actor and you have a child actor, CJ, who played Dom, you really need somebody to come in that has the chops,” says Bruning. “In my interview for the job, I pitched Don as Al-G. I showed pictures of him. I’m thinking of this character and I’m showing you images of what I can do with this character, this is who it is in my mind. I texted Don and was like, ‘If they call you for Space Jam 2, don’t ignore it. It’s actually really good.”

Cheadle, who wears outfits like chrome suiting and purple sequined tracksuits throughout the film, ended up landing the role. 

Bruning says she was also so drawn to Space Jam: A New Legacy because she loves working on cult classic films and the challenges that come with pleasing the passionate audiences that come with them.

“If I’m going to be in the film world, I want to be on a project that influences a massive number of people. I want to be part of the vision that sets in people’s minds. Like every time they think of Space Jam 2, they will think of these uniforms or they will think of this iconic look,” says Bruning. “It’s not always the easiest film to do because the pressure is there. But it’s a challenge I like.”

In addition to crafting each team’s jerseys, Bruning was tasked with re-creating all of the costumes for classic Warner Bros. properties that LeBron wears during a montage that occurs midway through the movie. LeBron transports across various worlds such as Mad Max, The Matrix, and Casablanca with Bugs Bunny to recruit his teammates. Bruning was responsible for creating a costume to match each setting. To do that, she and her design team would use visual references from each film to craft custom outfits that could fit LeBron’s larger frame. Customs also had to be made to fit LeBron’s stunt doubles and stand-ins. She says one of his favorites was the Mad Max look that transformed him into a member of the film’s post-apocalyptic wasteland speeding down Fury Road, complete with a red mohawk, leather vest, and metal shoulder pads. The other was the Matrix ensemble that had LeBron dressed in a stealthy black trench coat and shades like Neo.

LeBron James Neo Matrix Sketch

“We had to rescale everything to LeBron’s size. He wears size 15 shoes. So, you know, we had to build Matrix boots, there was a lot of things that we had to re-create. To me, those were some of the most fun things. Everything took a long time to get cleared,” says Bruning. “So even though everybody thinks Warner Bros. is self promoting, each of these individual entities have creators attached to them that have to say yes or no. So a lot of times we were waiting for permission to say [LeBron] could go to this world or that world.”

According to Bruning there were a few properties or character scenes that didn’t make the film. Pokémon fell through, Daffy Duck was supposed to be Porky Pig’s trainer, and Lola Bunny was initially going to be recruited in the world of Akira.

While some might think LeBron came on set to deliver his lines and then leave to play with the Lakers, Bruning says he was hands-on throughout filming. For instance, he suggested that they shoot scenes in his “Orange Box” Nike LeBron 15s to match the uniforms. He was able to provide his own two pairs for shooting, but Bruning says the crew had to scour platforms like StockX and Flight Club to acquire the rest of the “Orange Box” 15s for his stand-ins to wear. A special LeBron 19 colorway was later made by Nike to commemorate the film. Due to the timeline of production, it had to be digitally added to the scenes featuring the 15s after they were already shot.

“[LeBron] was definitely involved. Because he was playing, I was only able to fit him three or four times before we started shooting. And he had a lot of clothes. So, we would have these massive costume fittings that would start at 9 a.m. and go to 12 p.m., and then I’d see him two weeks later,” says Bruning. A video of LeBron thanking the cast and crew for his last day on set has been circulating, and Bruning says she experienced that generosity firsthand. “He personally thanked me and my team. He was gracious to work with. He was a team player. He deserves a place in the film world, whether it’s as a producer or as a storyteller or as an actor. I would walk through fire for him. There’s a few actors that I just adore. I adore him.”

Space Jam: A New Legacy 2

With LeBron being a lifetime Nike athlete, of course the sportswear brand was attached to the film as well, mostly through LeBron’s footwear. Nike also provided shoes for the crew to use during motion capture sessions and they created Space Jam: A New Legacymerchandise including various T-shirts and shorts featuring illustrations of the protagonists, and retail versions of Bruning’s Tune Squad and Goon Squad uniforms after the film’s release. 

“It’s exciting. I’m not gonna lie. There’s the Pantone that I gave to the marketing department. And there’s the design that we worked on. There’s the Tune Squad fabric. Now I’m seeing it everywhere. I have family all over that just sends me pictures of like, ‘Oh, I was in the grocery store and they’re selling this box of breakfast cereal with LeBron on it from Tune Squad. It’s great. It feels really good,” says Bruning about seeing her designs out in the world. “I love being part of something that is in the now. People don’t necessarily know my name, but [the Tune Squad jersey] has become iconic. Whether you like it or not, you know that’s from Space Jam 2.”

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