During the 1996 movie Space Jam , Mr Swackhammer, the villainous owner of Moron Mountain, an intergalactic amusement park, compiles a basketball team by stealing the talent of five well known NBA players. They take on the Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan, losing in thrilling fashion by one point. Word is Space Jam 2 is filming starring LeBron James, but I wonder if the story of Mr Swackhammer, voiced brilliantly by Danny DeVito in the original, and his makeshift team of superstars might need an update for the modern era? Chances are this time around Swackhammer will have a tough time getting five NBA stars to put on one jersey. I bet his shooting guard will be looking for a max-level contract that will force Swackhammer to trade another to free up sufficient cap space, while his power forward wants out of his recently signed contract via a trade to go play with a friend on another team. Meanwhile, his centre will be waiting for a free agency decision concerning another star before committing to Swackhammer’s team in hopes of inking a better contract. Known as the Monstars, a team led and controlled by people like Swackhammer is no more. The dawn of the players’ age across multiple leagues has descended upon us like an all-consuming spacecraft, ushering in a new era of professional athletics. Kawhi Leonard’s NBA off-season, in which trips to Home Depot became news, has shown us where the power lies: within the hands of marquee talent who have become brands in and of themselves, clad with entourages, personal logos, fashion lines, marketing strategies and more social media followers than a boatload of Instagram models. Gone are the days where tyrannical owners could wield power over players, and basketball is just the start: the soccer world’s billionaire club runners have encountered similar issues. Neymar does not like playing in Messi’s shadow, so he demands a trade to PSG. Neymar does not like playing for PSG, so demands a trade back to Barcelona. Antoine Griezmann finds he has outgrown the halls of Atletico Madrid, so he gets Barcelona to pay his € 120 million buyout clause so he can go feed passes to Messi. Russell Westbrook, recently abandoned by Paul George, got traded lickety-split to go play with buddy James Harden in Houston, all because George wanted to play with Leonard, who, at the pinnacle of his basketball worth and fresh off a championship and MVP trophy with the Toronto Raptors, wanted to carve out a new story on a new team closer to his hometown and family. Colin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback who has not taken a snap in the league since 2016, recently got Nike, a company that has annual revenue in excess of US$24 billion, to pull a pair of trainers because he didn’t like them, or what they stood for. Lionel Messi, the world’s richest athlete, has a net worth of US$127 million when both his salary and endorsement deals are taken into play. This means Messi, as one person, makes US$347,945 a day. And we must now factor in intangibles like the fact that the Argentinian football star has 125 million followers on Instagram while his club FC Barcelona has a measly 74 million. If we’re talking social currency in the digital age, stars are the creamy centre of the sporting universe while teams are merely temporary chrysalis. Somewhere along the line, savvy professional athletes realised it was them putting bums on seats in arenas and stadiums across the world, not teams and surely not owners. It was their jerseys, adorned with their numbers flying off the shelves, and their names on trainers and cereal boxes. This paradigm shift is a massive sea change for it moves the power balance from organisations to individuals in a landscape once dominated by ruthless trickle down capitalism. Personal power, now in the hands of many instead of a few, have left leagues and commissioners like the NBA’s Adam Silver holding the tattered ruins of their deeply laid infrastructure plans like wet papier-mâché. Players like LeBron James, who has his own gravitational pull, regularly gets coaches and executives booted if they don’t jive with his chi. At the end of Space Jam the Monstars, having morphed from cartoonish dwarfs into behemoth basketball players, realise Swackhammer is no longer bigger than them. They then proceed to shove him into a rocket and fire him off to the moon, using his overpriced cigar as a fuse. Here on earth, the Swackhammers of the world are already encountering a similar fate: the players’ era has arrived, and it’s the millionaires calling the shots now, not the billionaires.