Michael Jordan Drafted UCLA's Kris Johnson 1st in Every Space Jam Pickup Game

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2020

UCLA's Kris Johnson reacts to scoring in first half action against California Saturday Jan. 13, 1996 in Los Angeles. Johnson scored a career-high 36 points to help his team gain sole possession of first place in the Pac-10 with a 93-73 win over Cal. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
MARK J TERRILL/Associated Press

Kris Johnson's exploits on the hardwood are largely unknown to most basketball fans, but the former UCLA Bruin apparently had a fan in Michael Jordan

Slam Online's Alex Squadron wrote an oral history of the pickup games Jordan helped organize while filming Space Jam. At the time, Johnson was basking in the glory of UCLA's 1995 national championship.

"Mike's first pick every day was Kris Johnson from UCLA because Kris came in there and was a workaholic and Mike respected people that played hard," former NBA forward Tracy Murray said. "Kris worked his tail off and you saw that kid's game go from one level to the next."

Johnson's father is five-time NBA All-Star Marques Johnson, which helped him get on Jordan's good side. Nate Bellamy, a technical advisor for the movie, said the Hall of Famer "[admired] Marques Johnson when he was coming up," so he naturally gravitated toward Marques' son.

Perhaps partially due to his experiences on the Space Jam set, Johnson took a big leap in his sophomore season. After averaging 2.6 points and 1.7 in 1994-95, his numbers improved to 12.5 and 4.4, respectively, in 1995-96 as he became a key player for the Bruins.

Playing pickup games against the greatest basketball player of all time would have served as a great experience.