Champions (2023) Movie Ending Explained: Woody Harrelson’s recent sports comedy-drama – ‘Champions’ tries to narrate a feel-good story. The film is directed by Bobby Farrelly, who is more commonly known for his unabashedly silly comedies from the Dumb and Dumber film series. The same idiocy is occasionally visible in the new film.
However, he tries to balance this style of humor with sensitivity, since the narrative mainly revolves around intellectually challenged sportspersons. It follows the journey of minor-league basketball coach Marcus who is told to teach them as a punishment for his misdemeanor. While following the team’s journey toward victory, the story simultaneously follows Marcus’ journey toward being a mature and sensible human being.
Champions (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis
Marcus (Woody Harrelson) wakes up in bed after spending the night with Alex (Kaitlin Olson) in his hotel room. He tries to be nice by saying that he had a great night and calls her, darling. She calls out his misogyny for how he believes that she needs hand-holding. His ego gets hurt by it and then they part ways. He goes on to being a coach for Iowa Stallions, a minor-league basketball team.
Throughout the match, Marcus constantly and arrogantly tries to override coach Phil Perretti’s (Ernie Hudson) judgement. Due to their failure to score anything, Marcus gets increasingly angry. During their intermission, he advises a technique and belittles Phil. So finally, Phil speaks up and says that Marcus is only assisting him in this game and pushes him out of the stadium. While Marcus pushes him back, Phil maintains the decorum and stays with the team.
Marcus gets drunk while listening to television anchors shit-talk about their stadium drama. He gets so upset by this embarrassment that he ends up hitting another car. So, he gets arrested for drunk driving. Phil bails him out. That’s when he tells Marcus that while his judgement was not wrong, he was not aware of the player’s personal life. That player’s grandmother was in a hospital. So, letting him play could have put their team at a greater risk.
Marcus says that he was not aware of it. Phil lectures him to look at his players as human beings. Still, Marcus continues to be a prick and distances himself from Phil. Later at his court hearing, he ignores his lawyer’s warnings and stands up to speak for himself. He continues to be remorseless and learns that it would lead him to jail time. He sees community service as a better option and chooses it. As a result, he gets an offer to coach adults with intellectual disabilities at The Friends Association in Capitol East for 90 days.
Even then, Marcus uses the R-word for them and learns his lesson right there. Eventually, he meets the students but fails to accept them or connect with them. Initially, he cannot handle their enthusiasm and how they defy his perception of them. They do not expect his pity and have great social lives. More than anything, they are just happy that someone finally came to coach them since their previous coach bailed on them.
While the rest of the team attempts to impress Marcus, Darius (Joshua Felder), their team’s best player, according to Marcus, walks out due to his own issues with the new coach. Later in the film, we learn that it is because of Marcus’ drunk driving. Nonetheless, Marcus is stuck with teaching them for at least three months. The manager of this rec center, Julio (Cheech Marin) cannot be happier about it. Marcus is evidently, not so much. He complains about these students being interested in anything but the sport.
Disappointed, Marcus starts walking back to his place since he cannot drive as per the court instructions. He soon gets an offer for a ride from his student Johnny (Kevin Iannucci). Marcus gets in to find Alex in the driver’s seat, who is Johnny’s sister. So, he ends up revealing all that he ended up doing after their night at the hotel.
On the other hand, Sonny (Matt Cook), Marcus’ assistant coach, is happy that they now get to spend time together. Marcus decides to use Sonny’s eagerness to his advantage. So he asks Sonny to talk to his uncle, one of the most respected GMs in basketball, to get any kind of coaching opportunity in the NBA. In exchange, Sonny asks him to spend time with him. Marcus halfheartedly agrees.
Back at the center, Marcus continues to struggle in coaching his players. They behave erratically, which he cannot handle too well. One of the players, Showtime (Bradley Edens) flaunts his skill of a backward throw. But Marcus never sees him ever scoring such a goal. He soon learns that he has never even hit the rim in the five years he has played. He complains about the state of the team to Julio.
Unlike him, Julio looks at their lives far more empathetically. He knows their struggles and how they still try to be independent. Julio tells about Benny (James Day Keith), who drives a scooter back and forth between his work, centre, and home with no history of an accident. He wakes up early to go work as a dishwasher at a restaurant. While one of them does gardening, another one does doorstep delivery. But they earn their living with dignity.
Later, at the time of Marcus’ first match as their coach, Benny does not show up since his boss kept him late at the restaurant. Other players enter the game and lose. But it is not because of Benny’s absence as it is because of Marcus’ lack of enthusiasm to push them harder. The opponent team’s coach diligently coaches them to the win, while Marcus sits down, playing around on his phone, halfheartedly giving them suggestions. Later, a reporter approaches him to ask about his new coaching assignment. He feels embarrassed to talk about this experience and refuses to comment.
Back at the centre, Marcus tries to bond better with the players. He speaks to his boss to help Benny at the restaurant. Later, he helps get rid of a rat from their washroom. Because of that, he gets an in with their team. He sees it as his first success at winning them over. Later, he needs to travel with the entire team. Benny can’t show up yet again and Cosentino (Madison Tevlin) is his replacement. She introduces them with a swag and intimidates Marcus just with her presence.
The team travels by a public bus, where the players create a nuisance for other passengers. Johnny sings loudly while listening to a song. Marlon (Casey Metcalfe) hits the driver with fruit since he does not converse with him. The driver gets angry and tells Marcus to keep them under control. However, Marlon ends up throwing up at an angry passenger. So they get thrown out off the bus.
Alex comes to their aid and transports them in her RV. She thanks him for telling Johnny to take a shower more often. The players are happy that Marcus stuck with them despite the issues. Later at the game, he passionately guides them, and the team ends up winning the game. Benny gets happy hearing about it but cannot express it because of his manager. Meanwhile, this win inspires other players and they decide to compete in other matches. They convince Alex to drive them to these matches.
Later at night, after sending all the players to their places, Alex gets back in the car with Marcus. She reveals her duties to her family, and about earning for them while fulfilling her passion for acting by teaching Shakespeare at a local school. Alex expresses that she wants Marcus to manage his expectations if they want to keep hooking up. She won’t try to cater to his ego every time they meet. He accepts that and they continue to have sex. Meanwhile, she keeps driving them to other matches on the weekends.
Alex joins the team and becomes Marcus’ companion to motivate the players. With their combined efforts, the team continues with their winning streak. Later at the centre, they cannot play due to some issue. So, Marcus takes the players out for playing and gives someone else a lesson to not call them by the R-word. He spots Darius nearby and asks him to join them. While Darius’ performance remains impressive, he refuses to be a part of Marcus’ team.
Meanwhile, Marcus gets an offer to work for a big-league team, thanks to Sonny. However, he soon realises that Sonny faked it and questions him about it. Sonny mentions it so that they could hang out together. He felt pity for Marcus for not having any friends. Hearing that makes Marcus self-evaluate how rarely he manages to connect with anyone. Later, he offers Sonny a chance to coach his team along with him, instead of helping the players with their exercise rituals. Sonny accepts the offer.
Meanwhile, Alex and Johnny invite Marcus for a dinner at their place. During the meal, Marcus talks about Johnny’s desire to move out to live with his friends. Alex does not want Johnny to leave and refuses to let Marcus have a say in this. Marcus gets angry for being excluded from Alex’s close circle. She follows him on his way out and accepts her overprotectiveness toward Johnny since their father left them after he was born.
She also does not want to reveal their relationship to Johnny since their break-up may hurt him in the future. Marcus asks her if she is hiding behind Johnny, to be honest about her feelings. It makes matters even worse, and she tells him that they should stop seeing each other. Johnny learns about their break-up and refuses to play for the team under Marcus’ guidance. He also refuses to leave the team since he does not want to abandon them as his father did.
Marcus finds out on the news that a video of him coaching his new players has gone viral. He goes back to coaching the team for their new match. Benny, who follows his suggestion to speak back to his manager, ends up getting fired. While he joins the team, Johnny refuses to play due to his beef with Marcus related to Alex. Cosentino takes charge of the upset players and takes them in for a pep talk herself. She does not let Marcus or Sonny enter the room and they respect her decision.
The players get so fired up by Cosentino’s talk that they forget their grudges, get out to play, and end up winning the match. After, Darius shows up and tells that he wants to give Marcus another chance. So, he agrees to be part of the team, which makes Marcus cry happy tears. Before their next practice, Marcus gets a call telling him about an opportunity to coach an NBA team in Seattle as the third assistant. He goes in to pump up the team’s spirit for their final win. But he lets them down by telling them about leaving them. They see it as yet another coach leaving them high and dry.
While Marcus is excited about his ‘big deal’ news of the Seattle gig, he gets a cold shoulder from The Friends. Alex does not reciprocate his excitement either. She feels bad for getting emotionally involved with him. At the next practice, Marcus realises their next challenge – the city and also the state refused to pay for their tickets to Canada for their next match. They all get upset by this systemic failure in which they have no say.
Marcus feels bad that they cannot even get a chance to realise their dream. So he cooks up a plan to get Alex on board and get the funding from Benny’s ex-manager. The two enter his restaurant as feds and terrify him for firing Benny. He agrees to do anything to evade any charges. So, he ends up paying for the stay and travel tickets for the entire team.
Before their big match, Marcus suddenly gets approached by a reporter who puts him in a tough spot. He asks whether Marcus believes he is exploiting the team into getting an NBA deal. He answers it diplomatically and once the interview gets over, calls out the integrity of that reporter.
Champions (2023) Movie Ending Explained
Do The Friends win their final match?
At the match, The Friends get confronted by The Beasts, who look just as big and intimidating as their names. They benefit from their heights and sizes and give a tough time to Marcus’ team. During the intermission, Marcus gives a pep talk to his team saying how they are already Champions for simply fighting their daily battles of living as intellectually challenged people. He lifts their spirits and believes that he made them excited to win.
The Friends start rising up the scorecard and give a tough fight to their opponents. They even get a few slam dunks while they are at it. However, during their final shot to break the tie, Marcus decides on a strategy with Sonny. He instructs them according to their strengths hoping for an obvious win. However, the players suddenly decide to give a chance to Showtime for a reverse dunk. Unfortunately, he misses the hoop, and the team loses.
Still, the team rejoices since Showtime finally managed to touch the rim. Besides, they already see themselves as champions as Marcus described them before. So, the loss does not affect them as it does the coaches. Marcus gets happy with their self-acceptance and joins their celebration despite getting a silver medal.
Does Marcus leave The Friends to go coach his NBA team?
Alex reveals that Johnny is moving out to a support house with his friends and says that she is okay with it. She then asks Marcus about his plan to move to Seattle. He says that he does not want to play for those dicks in NBA and instead decides to stay. While Sonny stays to teach The Friends, Marcus gets back into a relationship with Alex and gets to coach another team due to a favour by Phil Peretti.
Through Marcus’s journey, we get a good old-fashioned change-of-heart narrative that manages to be uplifting. While it tells a fairly predictable narrative, it manages to not acquire its laughs at the expense of their disabilities, at least for the most part. The film works on an emotional front due to a committed performance by Woody Harrelson along with brilliant support by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia-fame Kaitlin Olson.