Air Bud

Way back in January, I was building towards releasing this blog by writing three to five paragraph mini posts. I covered topics like Taylor Swift, Hercules, and Superman; but one of my best received posts of that period was about Air Bud. It was a quick little piece siding with the boys of Fernfield School that since there is no rule saying a dog can’t play basketball, clearly Buddy was allowed to play. At that time I ignored a lot of the movie flaws in favor of just addressing the central argument, but there are definitely flaws. For example, the protagonist definitely steals Buddy. The dog ran away from his owner and lived with Josh, and that’s fine. But when the actual owner showed up, they kept the dog! “But Dan, the former owner was on his way to the pound with the dog!” Did he get there? Did he give Bud up? Nope. Dude still owns that dog. In fact, there are countless moments of absurdity throughout the movie all leading up to a court case to determine ownership of Bud where a judge agrees to let the dog decide who his owner should be. Or when they make the shy kid who doesn’t talk since his father died try out a brand new instrument in front of his entire class? What I’m saying is that this is a bad movie even before you get to the climactic moment where Bud joins the team.

When I thought about revisiting this topic, I realized I wanted to do something different. Obviously this is a flawed movie, but just detailing how bad it is seems too easy. This movie doesn’t really have a lot of direction, because it knows that it wants to be a movie about a dog playing basketball, but that gimmick only goes so far. So they throw in three different antagonists and tropes, the mean dog owner, the school bully, and the mean coach. So taking this movie down in my traditional fashion just seemed like playing tee ball. But there’s some real meat to the moment where Bud gets to play on the team. When the coach throws down the rule book and says “I’ll bet you there’s nothing in this book that says a dog can’t play basketball,” that’s a big moment. Initially I was on the coach’s side, because he does have a point. There is nothing in the rulebook explicitly says a dog can’t play. But then my friend Andrew asked some important questions about academic eligibility, and it all spun off from there. I had to dive back in. So here goes, gang: It’s a full investigation into the athletic eligibility of Air Bud as a member of Fernfield School’s basketball team.

First I would like to explain all of the reasons Buddy could potentially be allowed to play. First and foremost, as already mentioned, there really is no rule saying a dog can’t play basketball. I dug a little deeper though, to make sure that there wasn’t any unknown element that might derail the argument. The movie takes place in the fictional town of Fernfield, Washington, but was actually filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia. I hear pretty great things about Vancouver, and it’s certainly a beautiful place. The fictional Fernfield School is filmed at Lord Kitchener Elementary, so I chose to research the rules based off of the actual school in question. Looking at the school website, there are lots of inclusive educational terms including “we welcome learners of all types” and that they “value the development of the cognitive, academic, creative, emotional, and physical competencies needed in order to succeed as citizens of the global community.” At no point on their website, including in the code of conduct, the school plan, or any part of the student activities section does it specify that a student must be human. This includes the section on basketball, for the record.

Another thing that I learned in my research is that Canadian schools do not have mandatory standardized testing. Over the past few decades, Vancouver has done some standardized testing, but never for placement or academic eligibility. The testing was done to determine federal funding for school districts, but had no bearing on students. In fact, at times students have been able to opt out of the testing, so there don’t appear to be any federal reasons Buddy couldn’t play. In addition to the academics, I would like to point out that Buddy had a uniform and proper footwear. This may seem like a small detail, but there are always uniform regulations for play, and coach Arthur Cheney made sure Buddy couldn’t be disqualified due to concerns with his gear. Smart move, Cheney, smart move.

So clearly there are some points in favor of Buddy playing basketball. But no, no there aren’t. Get that shit out of here. Obviously a dog can’t play basketball. You know why there’s no rule that says a dog can’t play basketball? Because there doesn’t have to be. Let’s break this down as simply as possible: Buddy’s age disqualifies him immediately. Buddy the dog was born in 1988, and Air Bud came out in 1997. So whether you cite human years or dog years, Buddy is ineligible for play. In human years at time of filming, Buddy was between 7 and 8, in dog years between 49 and 56 years old. This point is explicitly stated during the dog custody court case (that’s a phrase I never expected to use), when Arthur Cheney says Buddy is “ 3 or 4, which makes him an adult in human years.” If you know this dog is an adult, why are you letting him play basketball with your middle schoolers? That’s as bad as when Chris Kirkpatrick joined NSync. Also, I’m getting really tired of Hollywood trying to convince us that old people are young adults.

The next disqualifying factor stopping Buddy from playing basketball on the middle school team is that he isn’t a student. Sure, there’s nothing on the school website stating that a student has to be human, but a player still does have to be a student. It’s a common trope in pop culture that a student athlete can get kicked off of a team for not making grades. When I was in school, I remember one of the requirements of eligibility was not just making grades, but also keeping up attendance both in long term and short term. What I mean is that not only did students need to keep up an overall attendance average, they also had specific requirements. Students were ineligible to play if they didn’t attend class at least half of the last school day prior to the game. So even if the coach somehow suddenly got Buddy registered as a student, he has not met academic or attendance eligibility to play in this game.

The last thing that really needs to be addressed is tournament eligibility. This was the last six minutes of the state championship game. This means the team had already made the playoff tournament and advanced all the way to the end. At no point has Bud been anything other than the team mascot and the star of exactly one halftime show. There is no way Buddy was registered as a player for this team during the regular season, which makes him ineligible for playoff games. You don’t get to randomly add a player to your roster in the last half of the last quarter of a game. And before you try to cite other pop culture examples like Space Jam or Mighty Ducks 3, those are clearly different situations. In both Space Jame and D3, they are playing exhibition matches. The JV Ducks are playing the Varsity Warriors in an annual exhibition game. The Tune Squad and the Monstars are playing a one off game as part of a wager. The Fernfield Timberwolves are in the championship game of the state tournament, a series of games with rules and regulations. You can’t just jump in at the last second even during a regular season game, much less the finals.

This week a few people asked why I don’t watch “movies for grown ups instead of kids movies from the 90s.” I do watch movies for grown ups, I watched Titanic two weeks ago (ugh). But so few recent movies have hit the icon status that films from my childhood have. When I talk about a dog playing basketball, everyone knows immediately what I’m talking about and most people my age have some kind of emotional response. We might all know about the Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence space movie, but there’s no connection. So I’ll keep writing about what I know and my audience responds to, and you guys keep doing what you’re doing. Love and kisses!

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