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Super-Heroes From the Sports Pages

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite all of Michael Jordan’s basketball success-championships on the NBA and NCAA level, an Olympic gold medal, five consecutive NBA scoring titles and most valuable player awards in two of the past four seasons-the Chicago Bulls guard seems genuinely awestruck by his most recent accomplishment: a cartoon series bearing his likeness.

“Who could ever think growing up that you’d be doing a cartoon and kids would be watching you Saturdays?” Jordan asked. “I used to watch them and still watch them on Saturday. I’m glad to have this opportunity.”

Jordan will be joined on NBC’s “ProStars” by Kings center Wayne Gretzky and Chicago White Sox outfielder and Raiders running back Bo Jackson. The athletes will appear in live-action segments at the beginning and end of the episodes, delivering tips on topics including safety, health, nutrition and exercise.

“It’s always going to be a positive message, like staying in school, staying away from drugs and the other things that are bothering our youth today,” said Jordan, who said his favorite cartoon series as a youth was “Underdog.” “That was the purpose of all three athletes getting involved, to get something positive from cartoons on Saturday.”

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Gretzky, Jordan and Jackson will work out of Mom’s Gym, run by Mom, described in a news release as “a diminutive fire ball of a woman I the theoretical genius behind the ‘Sports Gadgets,’ ” and her teen-age niece, Denise, “a mechanical whiz who makes the sports-themed gadgets work.”

In an updated touch from “Mission Impossible,” each of the 13 episodes begins with a hand inserting a tape into a VCR.

“The premise of the show is that the pro stars help kids in need,” explained Andy Heyward, “ProStars” executive producer and president of DIC Enterprises Inc., the Burbank company that produces the series.

One episode has the pro stars searching for an archeologist whose family has not heard from him after he began a dig on the River of No Return.

“The ProStars go into their sports laboratory where they have all kinds of incredible sports gadgets-a basketball that becomes a communications satellite, a hockey stick that becomes a laser homing device, a baseball bat that shoots out a grappling hook, all kinds of things from the world of sports that are transformable items, that combined with skills, physical prowess and their humanity they go out on a mission to help the kid in trouble,” Heyward said. The “ProStars” adventures will be worldwide.

“Up in the highlands of Scotland, Bo will know jousting,” Heyward said. “On other days they’ll be going down the Amazon River, or in the Arctic tundra.” The genesis for the series came from DIC’s desire to do a sports-oriented project.

“Many of our shows are built around heroes,” Heyward said. “Sometimes they are super heroes, sometimes heroes from he world of music. But they are characters that have larger than life credibility to them. We felt these were three biggest sports stars in the country.

“In a Nickelodeon kids survey of recognizable characters, Jordan was No. 1, ahead of President Bush and everybody. Apart from breaking every record on the ice, Gretzky, like Michael and Bo, is a very positive image person. He’s done a lot of things for the public good and is very charity-minded. We felt it was important we have personalities that are positive role models for kids. We felt Bo rounded out the group, with all the notice he’s gotten from playing two pro sports and his commercials.”

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“ProStars” could become a financial bonanza for DIC. Already 25 products have been licensed, including those staples of the cartoon-viewing set: lunch boxes, party goods and school supplies. Trading cards with the series logo will be available in General Mills cereal boxes. Perhaps not coincidentally, Gretzky endorsed a General Mills cereal in Canada called ProStars well before the series made its debut.

Some other sports figures also will be appearing on “ProStars.” Marv Albert and Mike Fratello, NBC’s NBA announcers, will be on hand when those duties are needed. Angels pitcher Mark Langston and Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino also will guest star.

But in a touch of Milli Vanillism, Gretzky, Jackson and Jordan won’t be supplying the voices for their animated alter egos. Dorian Harewood, a regular on CBS’ “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill,” will supply Jordan’s voice, with Dave Fennoy providing Jackson’s and Townsend Coleman doing Gretzky’s.

“It’s impossible to access their schedules in a timetable with the recordings that we need to do,” Heyward said. “We took tracks from them and provided them to the actors so we could get their voices duplicated as close as possible.”

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“ProStars” debuts Sept. 14 at 8:30 a.m. on NBC.


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