In Philadelphia, the debate du jour is about how much fan abuse should be expended by 76ers fans upon Ben Simmons this Thursday night because, well, maybe he misses it. The existential question, “Can you boo during a tribute video?” hangs in the air like an anthrax pinata. But across the country in San Francisco, where the Warriors coddle their own even at a time when they are in deep freefall (they had lost nine of 11 games and watched their defensive rating drop from first to 29th before Tuesday’s dominant win over the Clippers), they book Will Ferrell to run pregame drills with Klay Thompson. It is essentially the difference between a soccer match at Millwall and pop-a-shot at Chuck E. Cheese.
Hey, it’s a philosophy. One brings tough love and potential psychological terror-shaming, the other organizes a play day for the kids.
The explanation is of course weird enough: Thompson loved Ferrell in Semi-Pro, Ferrell loves Thompson in general, and Thompson’s comeback from a thousand days of idleness has not broken nearly as well as he or the Warriors had hoped. So Ferrell contacted Steve Kerr, coach/mentor to the middle-aged comedy stars, Kerr arranged for him to attend the game, and more importantly got Ferrell to dress up as Jackie Moon and run warm-up drills with the Wizard-like Warriors.
In his Flint Tropics uniform he kicked passes to Stephen Curry, chased down shots for Thompson, and even closed out on him to pressure a three-pointer. He hit a run-up half-court set shot and an underhand free throw, and in general just did the movie’s greatest hits, as the job required. He played the role he plays best, which is that of Will Ferrell with a field pass. The script is always the same because it plays well even after repeated showings in repeated venues. But that’s the Ferrell M.O.: give ’em what they’re used to getting, and play it deadpan as though there’s a cinematographer on site. Say what you will about the bit, but it’s what apparently got Thompson and the Warriors to release the death grip on their own throats after nearly a month of steadfast sub-mediocrity.
It also speaks to Kerr’s own M.O. as a coach who much prefers the stick-sized carrot to the stick-sized stick. Even in the lost year of 2020 when they had essentially an indifferent Draymond Green and not much else, losing 22 of 25 at one point, Kerr never raised his voice where anyone could hear it, and other than the oft-told tale of how he and Green nearly came to blows at halftime of a game in Oklahoma City in 2016, Kerr has almost always avoided what he would call the Popovich Solution.
Not that Kerr wouldn’t be justified this time. There have been few stretches in his coaching career in which a team was this bad for this long, and the 2020 team was beyond even Ferrell’s capabilities. That team finished 15-50 and merited more Doug Stanhope or Frankie Boyle, but they are football fans and in any event don’t do character work.
No matter how corny and dated, Ferrell won his evening before the Warriors won theirs. The two are a weirdly perfect fit, as Ferrell has been doing barely modified versions of Ferrell for two decades and the Warriors are the oldest souls in basketball from Kerr on down. But if they need a similar boost from here on out to navigate the increasingly tangled thicket that is the Western Conference, Ferrell can’t keep coming out and repeating the old classics, and John C. Reilly seems to have a Lakers thing going. So this poses the question, “Who’s booking Penn and Teller these days?”