The original film was financially successful, despite being defeated by Air Force One for the #1 spot on its opening weekend, grossing US$4 million in its opening weekend and totaling US$24 million for its final run, against an estimated $3 million budget.
The plot revolves around a 12-year-old boy named Josh Framm. After his father's death in the crash of a test flight due to a fuel shortage on his plane, he moves with his family to Fernfield, Washington and is too shy to try out for his middle school's basketball team and make any friends. He meets Buddy, a Golden Retriever who had escaped from his abusive owner, an alcoholic clown named Norman Snively. Norman had locked him in his kennel after he caused trouble at a birthday party and was taking him to the pound when the kennel fell out of his truck. Josh soon discovers that Buddy has the uncanny ability to play basketball. Josh's mother, Jackie Framm, initially only agrees to let him keep Buddy until Christmas and plans to send him to the pound if his rightful owner does not claim him. However, she sees how much Josh and Buddy love one another. When Josh wakes up on Christmas Day and Buddy is not in his room, he goes downstairs and sees him with a bow on his head. Jackie gives him to Josh as a Christmas present.
Josh wants to join the basketball team but chickens out at the last minute and becomes the water boy. After two slots are opened up and learning of Buddy's talent, he tries out (despite Coach Joe Barker's reluctance) and makes the team. At his first game Buddy shows up, disrupts the game, and causes mayhem, but the audience loves him, even after he scores a basket. After the game, Buddy finds Coach Barker abusing Tom, one of Josh's teammates and friend who gave him a lucky orange peel he got at a Seattle SuperSonics game, by trying to make him catch better by pelting him with basketballs.
Coach Barker is fired and replaced by the school's engineer, Arthur Chaney, whom Josh discovers is a former player of the New York Knicks. Buddy becomes the team's mascot and begins appearing in their halftime shows. But just before the championship game, Norman (after seeing him on TV), tricks Jackie and steals him from Josh, who then infiltrates Norman's backyard where Buddy is chained up.
Norman initially does not notice Josh in the yard due to a stack of beer cans on his windowsill until it falls and Josh is caught. Josh gets the chain off of Buddy and they escape, causing Norman to chase them in his dilapidated clown truck. The chase rages on to a parking lot near a lake, during which the truck begins to fall apart, causing it and Norman to splash into the water, but he survives. A few minutes after the chase, Josh then decides to set Buddy free to find someone else. Initially, the team is losing at the championship until he shows up. When it is discovered that there is no rule that dogs can't play basketball, he joins the roster to lead the team to a come from behind championship victory.
Norman sues the Framm family for custody of Buddy. Fortunately, at the suggestion of Coach Chaney, whom Judge Cranfield is a fan of, it is decided that Buddy will choose who will be his rightful owner. During the calling, Norman takes out his rolled up newspaper, which he often used to beat Buddy, and snaps at him, causing him to attack Norman, tearing up the weapon of abuse and run towards Josh. Judge Cranfield grants custody of Buddy to Josh while Norman, who runs at them in a last-ditched effort to get Buddy back, is dragged away by the police and arrested for animal cruelty, while Josh and the rest of the citizens rejoice for Buddy's new home.
- Air Bud as Himself
- Kevin Zegers as Josh Framm
- Michael Jeter as Norman Snively
- Wendy Makkena as Jackie Framm
- Bill Cobbs as Coach Arthur Chaney
- Eric Christmas as Judge Cranfield
- Jonas Fredrico as Julius Aster
- Nicola Cavendish as Principal Pepper
- Brendan Fletcher as Larry Willingham
- Norman Browning as Buck Willingham
- James Manley as Professor Plum
- Joeseph Lester as Father Cunningham
- Stephen E. Miller as Coach Joe Barker
- Shayn Solberg as Tom Stewart
- Jesebel Mather and Kati Mather as Andrea Framm
- Snazin Smith as Nurse (uncredited)
Home video release
The film was released to VHS on December 23, 1997 and to DVD on February 4, 1998. It was released again on March 3, 2009 in a Special Edition DVD set, featuring commentary from B-Dawg, Budderball, RoseBud, Buddha, MudBud, Molly, and Buddy himself.
Sequels and spin-offs
- Main article: Air Bud (series)
The film generated one theater-released sequel and many direct-to-video sequels and a spin-off film series. In each film, Buddy learns to play a different sport.