Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, and Wayne Gretzky Were Part of a Crazy Saturday Morning Cartoon

In the 1980s and 1990s, it seemed like everything had its own cartoon. Chuck Norris, Rambo, and a vast array of movies that came out were recreated for a kid-friendly Saturday morning cartoon. Some of these were hits, but others were downright bizarre. In ProStars, creators posited what would happen if sports greats Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Bo Jackson joined forces to fight crime and promote good sportsmanship. It didn’t last long, but in hindsight, it is a fascinating look at the early 1990s. 

Michael Jackson smiling on a basketball court
Michael Jackson | Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

What was ProStars?

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At the time, a cartoon pitting the most famous athletes on the planet was a no-brainer. Jordan was just entering the most dominant era of his career, Gretzky was still in his prime, and Jackson was among the most successful two-sport athletes in history. With a premise covering the country’s love of cartoons and its love of sports, a new cartoon was born.

The cartoon featured barely-recognizable versions of its three athletes as they tried to guide their way through a typical cartoon landscape. It was a truly bizarre undertaking, as none of the athletes were heavily involved past the live-action appearances in the title and at the end, and the premise barely featured what they were known for. Nonetheless, it had enough name-recognition to potentially work. 

The show’s live-action director, Ben Kreisberg, sees it as a product of the world around it. “It seems so much weirder right now than when I was in the moment back then,” Brad Kreisberg said, according to Vice. “But from the ’70s on, if you were a big, huge star, you probably had a cartoon attached to you.”

What was it about?

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Each episode of ProStars, which aired in 1991, had a classic cartoon setup. Somebody or something was stolen, the word got out to the show’s protagonists, and they eventually saved the day and taught the children lessons in the process, according to the LA Times. The show involved the sports that the men were involved in, but did so in ways more befitting of Inspector Gadget that’s an NBA, NHL, NFL, or MLB game, as reported by The Point After Show.

Many of the show’s villains appeared to be robots. Robots of dead basketball players and robotic octopi wreaked havoc upon the cartoon’s universe and forced the three superstars into action. It was, in many ways, a combination of every 80s cartoon, James Bond, and the three leading stars. Each star had his own quirks, however. Gretzky, for instance, was seen as a bumbling glutton whose non-stop hunger was the comic relief. Jordan was the brains of the operation while Jackson was the brawn. 

In a different world, this might have been a mega-successful series, but like so many others it fell into wayside and was canceled after only 13 episodes. 

The show’s lasting legacy

This combination of child’s entertainment and sports might not have lasted in its form, but it doesn’t mean that it did not resonate. Years after, sports and child’s entertainment came together in a way that is still felt to this day. Jordan’s turn in Space Jam, video games aimed at children, and LeBron James’ own cartoon series might all lend some thanks to ProStars

As for the show itself, it has developed a cult following. The bizarreness of the premise combined with the lingering legacies of all three athletes that it featured makes it a time capsule of what a sports celebrity was before the age of the internet. Now after almost 30 years off the air, the absurd-sounding premise has dated a standard cartoon. 

ProStars might have gone down as a flop, but thanks to an internet world that runs on nostalgia, it still lives on through uploaded episode, long-gone memories, and the ripple effect it helped provide on the bridge between sports and children.