HOW DID Blades ofGlory and Talladega Nights star Will Ferrell end up in yet another sportscomedy? Not long ago he was asked by a friend if he had read Loose Balls, TerryPluto's often-riotous oral history of the old American Basketball Association,the league that introduced Dr. J and the red-white-and-blue ball to the worldduring its nine-year run. Ferrell responded, "Yes! I want to make thatmovie! But would I get to grow my hair out?" Before long an ABA-inspiredscript was being written—one that called for the star to grow a 'fro. JokesFerrell, "That's when I was sold."
The film, calledSemi-Pro, is in production and will be released next year. SI recently visitedthe set in L.A. and saw Ferrell letting his hair down—and out, and up—as a '70sR&B one-hit wonder (the song is called Love Me Sexy) named Jackie Moon, whouses his newfound wealth to buy a floundering ABA team, the Tropics, in Flint,Mich., and install himself as coach, starting power forward and occasionalhalftime entertainer.
Semi-Pro is loaded with former NBA players (Pooh Richardson), streetball stars(the Professor from And1) and ABA legends (George Gervin, Artis Gilmore).Outkast rapper André Benjamin plays Clarence (Coffee) Black, a well-traveledshooting guard with a Marbury-sized ego who changes his moniker as often as hechanges teams. (He even swaps squads in the middle of a game.) And WoodyHarrelson plays Ed Monix, an aging former Celtics point guard who was acquiredin a trade for a washing machine. But don't let that fool you. Fifteen yearsafter White Men Can't Jump, Harrelson's moves remain strong. "Woody's stillgot it," says Ferrell. "But he never stops dribbling. Sometimes it'slike, Cooooome on!"
To keep things realistic, rookie director Kent Alterman brought in ABAhistorian Arthur Hundhausen, who helped transform a Los Angeles Fire Departmenttraining center into the Tropics' home arena. Among the authentic ABA touches:retro uniforms for the players and bikinis for the cheerleaders. Alterman alsohired sports coordinator Mark Ellis (The Longest Yard, Coach Carter), who spentfour weeks teaching the cast to play ABA-style run-and-gun ball. (Of thesemi-flabby Ferrell, Ellis says, "He would not thrive in a fast-breakoffense.")
The 50-year-old Alterman, who was a Spurs season-ticket holder before the ABAmerged with the NBA in 1976, added a few personal touches. Says Alterman,"Back then I was 14—a total class clown. Whatever you yelled [at theHemisFair Arena], everyone could hear because it was so empty. So I'd pick aplayer and get under his skin. Nothing I'm too proud of. Now in the movie wehave these nerdy wheelchair kids with megaphones. Those are a little bit ofme."
Alterman insisted that his players look the part of '70s hoopsters from head totoe. That means they have to wear flat-footed lowtops, which meant there wereplenty of aching ankles. "Period shoes—sheesh," says Ellis. "Youhave no idea what kind of trouble that is. These are 35- to 40-year-old guys.We have two trainers icing every day, all day." Among the training-roomregulars is Ferrell, who had to stop playing in his regular pickup game toavoid additional duress. "Some of the guys say they haven't had it thisrough even when they played in a league," Ferrell says. "I'm doingeverything I can just to keep from falling apart."