‘Champions’ Ending, Explained: Do The Friends Win The Special Olympics?

Based on the 2018 Spanish dramedy “Campeones” by Javier Fessar, Bobby Farrelly’s 2023 movie “Champions” is about a group of intellectually disabled basketball players. The movie stars Woody Harrelson in the role of the alcoholic coach Markus Marakovich with an anger issue who finds himself coaching a group of basketball players with special needs upon being sentenced to community service after a DUI. The movie features Markus and the group’s journey from being a hapless and disorganized group to the fiery breakthrough stars who manage to arrive in the Regionals thanks to their team spirit. Do they manage to win the trophy and become champions? Here’s what happens in this lighthearted, feel-good movie:


Spoilers Ahead

‘Champions’ Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?

When Assistant Basketball Coach Markus Marakovich is fired from his job at the J-League of Iowa Stallions for drunk driving, he’s served a court order to complete 90 days of community service at the local rec center, coaching intellectually disabled players. Although it seems like an uphill challenge in the beginning, Markus slowly learns to appreciate the team of specially-abled players and comes to see them as people instead of players. Markus’s team, The Friends, has an opportunity to play at the Regionals, but will they come out on top?


Who Is Markus Marakovich?

Iowa Stallions’ assistant coach Markus Marakovich heads to work after a snarky fight with a date who had come over to his apartment. On the basketball court, Markus watches as head coach Phil Perretti barks orders at his team, and he too starts offering his thoughts, much to the dismay of Phil. During halftime, Markus begins giving his own input to the team, and Phil dismisses him off the court, so Markus pushes Phil. This very quickly escalates, and Markus finds his career being dissected in the news the same evening. While driving home drunk, Markus is distracted by some rash drivers and police checking some people, and he crashes into a cop car. He’s immediately arrested and spends the night in jail before being bailed out by Phil, who explains to Markus that his problem is that he doesn’t try to understand the players beyond their skills and never sees them as people. He then informs Markus that he’s fired, probably due to his altercation with Phil and his DUI arrest.

Meet The Friends

For his court appearance, Markus is provided with a terrible lawyer who completely fails to represent the disgraced coach. Already displeased with Markus’s behavior, Judge Mary Menendez offers Markus 90 days of community service helping coach basketball for intellectually disabled people, and he immediately chooses that option over having to serve 18 months in prison. When Markus turns up at the community center, he finds eight specially abled Special Olympics athletes, each of whom has something unique about them. The moment Markus introduces himself, Darius—probably the slickest player on the team—immediately refuses to play for him and goes off on his own. The friendliest of the group, called The Friends, is Johnny, who has Down syndrome. He introduces himself, hugs Markus, and also informs Markus that he loves animals, although his musty reek almost makes the coach gag. Johnny introduces Markus to the rest of the group, including Marlon, who possibly has Asperger’s, and Benny, a restaurant worker. He also meets Showtime, who can only take a shot facing backward. Markus quickly realizes it’s extremely difficult to coach a group of intellectually disabled people, and he voices his concerns with the manager, Julio, who tells Markus that the group has him by law for three months now.


The Coach And The Team

Stripped of his right to drive a car until he’s approved by the court, Markus walks towards the center of the snow-covered street when Johnny peeks out of a car from the passenger seat and invites Coach to ride with them. Inside, Markus meets Johnny’s sister, Alex, the same date who had left Markus’s apartment on a sour note in the beginning. Later, Markus asks third-assistant coach Sonny to put in a good word with his uncle in Markus’s favor because his uncle is a big-shot GM in the basketball world. Sonny gladly accepts, and Markus asks him to text him if something comes up. During practice, Markus has trouble keeping peace with the group, and he gets hit in the face with a basketball by one of the guys. He learns from Julio that these intellectually disabled players are a lot more than just victims of autism and that every one of them leads rich and fulfilling lives. At the team’s first game, Benny is unable to join because his boss wouldn’t give him a day off, and two players refuse to wear their team’s colors, so Markus has a hard time trying to get them to follow the rules. The Friends are badly defeated in the first game, and Markus stops trying after he sees how invested and energetic the opposing team’s coach is. While entering his apartment, Markus is stopped by a reporter, who asks for his comments on his new coaching job with The Friends, but he refuses to comment. After practice, Markus learns from Benny that Johnny doesn’t shower because he’s afraid of water, while a few others rush out of the shower because there’s a rat in there. The coach walks in to find a little mouse and asks Johnny to come to help him since he works in an animal adoption center. He uses this as an opportunity for him to take a shower and soap himself. After Johnny washes and helps rescue the mouse from drowning, he asks the coach for a hug, which Markus accepts while the rest cheer. The team has its first bonding experience.

The Friends have their first away game, but the program can’t afford a private bus, so the team has to take the public bus. They also meet the newest member of the team, Cosentino, a girl with Down syndrome. When they take the bus, the group irritates the rest of the passengers, and Markus learns that Johnny will be shifting to the group home where some of the guys live. After they’re thrown out of the bus for annoying others, Johnny calls his sister Alex, who performs Shakespearean plays for middle school children, to take them to the game. Alex thanks Markus for getting Johnny to take a shower because he has had a fear of water ever since he almost drowned in a pool. She educates Markus on mental illnesses and is impressed to learn that he stood up for her brother and the other group members when they were harassed by the driver. At their first-ever away game, The Friends start on a low note, but they quickly pick up the pace, thanks to Markus’s dedicated coaching, and the team finds its fighting spirit, coming together to secure a victory. Meanwhile, Benny is shouted at by his scumbag of a boss for working in view of the customers, who force him to return to the kitchen and say he doesn’t care if his team wins anything.


A Budding Relationship

While driving back to Des Moines, Cosentino tells Markus that they can’t miss the away games because that counts as a loss, which would mean they’d not be selected for the regional championship that’s to be held in Winnipeg, Canada. Thus, Markus and The Friends plead with Alex to drive them to the away games every Saturday when she has a day off, and she accepts. After dropping Johnny off at their home, Alex offers to drive Markus home, and when he gets into her van, she proposes a situation where they continue sleeping together because she liked their first encounter, and the two begin a casual physical relationship. The next day, Markus tries teaching Showtime how to throw the ball in the direction he’s facing, but the moment he’s distracted by Darius, who once again refuses to play for him, Showtime goes back to throwing while facing away and misses. As The Friends continue winning more and more games, Markus asks Alex one day where their relationship is going because he has begun to feel feelings for her. She tells him this is just casual intimacy, and once his 90 days are over, he’ll be leaving Des Moines anyway, so this is very convenient for both of them.

Markus shows up at the rec center, and Julio tells him that the pipes burst and the floor is unusable, so the coach takes the four guys who showed up to the town’s basketball court, where some men are already playing. They’re supposed to go next, but one player refuses to give up the court and uses the R-word in front of Markus, who punches him in the gut before he and The Friends dominate the field. Darius shows up on the court but refuses to play with Markus, so he fakes multiple injuries and encourages Darius to take his place because he’s not his coach right now. Darius begrudgingly joins, and The Friends are unstoppable with multiple slam dunks, but he’ll still not play with Markus. He also gets news from Sonny that his uncle has mentioned there’s traction for the coaching position in Phoenix, and Markus is ecstatic. As the team continues to excel, Markus finally begins giving his interview to the reporter, whom he had initially turned away, and Alex notices the article published about him while Markus shows up at her play to see her act. However, things come to a halt for Markus when he meets Sonny and tells him that he personally found out Sonny’s uncle hates the coach and there’s nothing for him in Phoenix. When Markus demands to know why Sonny lied to him, he tells the coach that he wanted them to be friends because he could use one.


The Conflict 

While hitching a ride with Alex and Johnny, Markus is invited to their place for meatloaf Monday by Johnny, and the coach hesitantly agrees. The coach visits Sonny while he’s leaving the Iowa Stallions ground and offers him a role as his assistant for coaching the Friends, which Sonny immediately accepts. When Markus shows up at Alex’s home, they enjoy a beautiful dinner until he mentions that Johnny will be moving into a group home with some of the guys. This upsets Alex, and the coach realizes the tension and leaves, but Alex catches up with him outside and tells him that the reason she keeps her family and personal life separate is that Johnny becomes attached to whomever she brings home. Markus tells her that she hides behind Johnny to escape responsibilities, and she decides they shouldn’t see each other anymore. When Markus arrives at the center, Sonny is already coaching the group, and Markus has a talk with Johnny, telling him that even though Markus and his sister were involved before, now they’re just friends, but he doesn’t believe it. At a restaurant, Markus suddenly encounters his old boss Phil, who mentions Darius and says he was the best 10-year-old player he had seen when he was coaching at Drake, but he had a terrible car accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury. So, the only way to get Darius to play for Markus would be if Markus talked to the guy himself.

The coach shows up at Darius’s place and tells him that he knows what happened to the young man and why he doesn’t want to play for Markus—his accident was caused by a drunk driver. Markus promises that he’ll never drive drunk again and that it’s up to Darius to believe him or not. The following day, Markus continues coaching the Friends even though his 90 days are over. The team has its regional qualifier, which is attended by Phil and Darius. They’re finally joined by Benny, who told his boss off and was fired for that reason. By halftime, The Friends are a little behind, and Johnny refuses to go on, so Cosentino has a talk with him inside the player’s room, where she explains that he needs to stop obsessing over whom his sister dates. Johnny understands, and he returns with excitement, and The Friends finally secure the win and qualify for the regionals in Winnipeg, Canada. After the game, as Alex and Markus makeup, Darius meets the coach and tells him he’d like to finally start playing for him. Markus gets some rather fantastic news over the phone before he goes in and asks the Friends to imagine a scenario where they’ve won the Special Olympics basketball match and they’re the champions. As the group celebrates, so does Markus, who says he’s heading to Seattle to coach for the NBA because he’s just been hired. However, the guys don’t like the news at all, and neither does Alex when he tells her about it outside. She says it’s rather exploitative that Markus’s journey with The Friends is being used to cover up the hard time Seattle is facing with the press as a feel-good story. When he returns, he hears from Julio that there’s no money for The Friends to go to Canada, and the guys are heartbroken, so Markus comes up with a plan.


The Champions

Markus and Alex go down to Benny’s former restaurant and threaten to destroy the owner, alleging that he fired a special needs worker after behaving in a discriminatory way against him. The owner hurriedly agrees to pay for the tickets and accommodation costs at the Special Olympics for the friends. At Winnipeg, the group has an amazing time, and they enjoy it to the fullest before their big day. As Markus is heading to the court, a reporter from ESPN asks for his thoughts and, while interviewing him, questions if his hiring by Seattle is a way to cover up the PR nightmare they’re facing, and Markus is angered by it. However, The Friends are severely outmatched because their opponents, The Beasts, are freakishly tall and muscular and play like pros. When the match begins, The Friends are dominated, so at halftime, Markus gives them a pep talk about how they’re already champions and reminds each of them of what they’ve achieved in their personal lives. Energized after the talk, the friends go out and put on a tough fight, and it comes down to just a one-point difference. Johnny is about to dunk, but Showtime asks for the ball, and he throws it to him. Showtime once again turns back and throws, but the ball merely hits the rim, and The Friends lose. As Markus is devastated, he watches the group celebrate Showtime because he managed to hit the rim finally. He’s called into the group as The Friends celebrate their second-place finish and remind Coach that they’re already champions, and he gives in to their celebrations. Later, by the pool, Markus tells Alex he won’t be going to Seattle and then jumps into the pool with his team. Back in Des Moines, he’s offered to coach the college league at Drake by Phil while Sonny begins training the Friends, and the movie ends on a feel-good note.

‘Champions’ Ending Explained: Do The Friends Win The Regionals?

The Friends come in second place at the regionals and win silver medals, but they celebrate with every bit of excitement. For them, the word ‘champion’ isn’t reserved for winning gold and securing first place but for giving their best, just like Markus Marakovich had told them. They celebrate Showtime finally being able to hit the rim with his back-turned throw, and congratulating him for this tiny achievement means a lot more to them than winning the trophy. It’s a beautiful thing that “Champions” manages to capture the innocence and simplicity that make up each member of The Friends, who are already champions in the coach’s eyes. They prove every hater and naysayer wrong on a daily basis as they go through life, and on top of that, winning second place in the Special Olympics truly makes them champions in the eyes of the world, but more importantly, they themselves believed it in their hearts, thanks to their coach, Markus. 


Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh has a master's degree in English literature from Calcutta University and a passion for all things in cinema. He loves writing about the finer aspects of cinema, although he is also an equally big fan of webseries and anime. In his free time, Indrayudh loves playing video games and reading classic novels.

Latest articles