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The Office Vs. The Warehouse: Behind The Scenes Of The Famous Basketball Game07:28
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Brain Baumgartner, Rainn Wilson and David Denman in 2007. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
Brain Baumgartner, Rainn Wilson and David Denman in 2007. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

It’s been six years since the Emmy award-winning show "The Office" ended its run. But more importantly for sports fans, it’s been 14 years since Michael Scott —  the delusional regional manager of Dunder Mifflin, played by Steve Carell — challenged his warehouse crew to a friendly game of basketball.

Michael Scott: The last time I was down there, I noticed that they put up a couple of hoops. And I play basketball every weekend. So I thought, "This might be kind of fun."

As part of the shows mockumentary style, characters often talk directly to the audience.

Michael Scott [cont]: And so I start messing around. And I’m sinking a few — you know, swish, swish, swish. Nothing but net. And their jaws just drop to the floor — African Americans. You know, it's really just a good friendly game. Reason for everyone to get together. 

It was blue collar versus white collar. And the losing team had to work on Saturday.

But the episode had bigger stakes for the show's main protagonist, Jim Halpert — played by John Krasinski. It was his chance to impress Pam, the office receptionist and the woman of his dreams — played by Jenna Fischer.

Jim Halpert: Basketball was kind of my thing in high school. And, yeah, I’m looking forward to playing. I think I’m going to impress a few people in here. 

One problem: Pam was engaged to warehouse tough guy Roy Anderson — played by actor David Denman.

Michael Scott: Pam, you kind of have your foot in both camps here. Why don’t you do the jump ball?

Roy Anderson: Don’t listen to him Pam. Tip it my way, or you're sleeping in the car. 

Throughout the episode, Jim and Roy go head-to-head on the court.

Jim Halpert: Have a good game, man.

Roy Anderson: Yeah, you too. Should be fun. 

'Basketball'

I got in touch with David Denman, who plays Roy from the warehouse. He says Krasinski would have the edge in a game of one-on-one.

"John, a hundred percent," Denman says. "A hundred percent. His whole family, I mean, they're giants. And they're all a basketball family. I think they coach ball. No, I'm not even going to pretend to play opposite, that I would have a shot."

Denman never considered himself an athlete. Basketball was just something he did for fun as a kid.

"All of my buddies were total jock heads," Denman says. "We would play basketball and break into gyms and go play ball. But, you know, I never really played it that competitively."

“We were excited, because everyone was stuck in the office. All of a sudden, we got to be in the warehouse.”

David Denman

Denman says his earliest memory of the game is a sad one.

"My parents split when I was a kid," Denman says. "And I lived in this apartment complex. And the only place there was to get out of the house was this basketball court. So I would go there by myself and just shoot hoops. Like, until the sun went down. And I did that a lot. For many, many, many, many months."

As Denman got older, he found other avenues of expression. When he got to high school, he developed a passion for acting.

"There was a kid in class who wanted to be an actor and was like, ‘I'm going to go to Juilliard,’ " Denman remembers. "And I was like, ‘What is Juilliard?’ "

'The Office'

Denman graduated from Juilliard in 1997 and began his career in film and TV. He landed roles in movies like "The Replacements" and "Big Fish." In 2004, he got a call from a friend living in New York.

"He said, ‘Oh, you've got to watch this show,’ " Denman says. " ‘ “The Office” is so up your alley — and I hear they’re doing an American version. You’ve got to call your agent and get on that.’

"So I watched it, and I was like, ‘Gee, this is genius.’ And I called my agent. And at the time, he was like, ‘What, really? You want to do that?' I said, ‘Yes!’ And then he was like, ‘They're looking for improv comedians.’ And I'm like, ‘Look dude, I went to Juilliard. Just ‘cause I studied Shakespeare doesn't mean I can't do improv comedy. You know, we had that class as well.’ "

Denman got an audition. You can find it on YouTube.

Denman got the part, and on March 24, 2005, the first episode of "The Office" aired on NBC. By that point, they already filmed Season 1, Episode 5 — creatively titled "Basketball."

I ask Denman how he and his fellow cast members reacted to the idea of playing basketball for an entire episode.

"Well, we were excited, because everyone was stuck in the office," Denman says. "All of a sudden, we got to be in the warehouse. There was already a basketball hoop in the parking lot, I think, that John used to always play on. And Brian [Baumgartner] is, like, ridiculously good at basketball."

Baumgartner plays the office's slow-talking accountant, Kevin Malone.

"That guy can shoot all day long. They were filming him, like, just shooting three after three after three. He did, like, 15 in a row or something crazy."

The Game

Denman says the actors were always encouraged to improvise on set. But for most of the basketball scenes, a stunt coordinator was brought in to choreograph — like when Roy elbows Jim in the face.

Michael Scott: Woah, woah, woah, woah! Foul! Naked aggression! You all right, Jim? Suck it up. 

"The sad part about it is, in reality, he really did get hit in the face," Denman says. "I elbowed him. We worked on the beat of me, you know, faking and turning. But he got a little close, and my elbow went up a little higher. And the adrenaline of the situation, you know, everything ends up oftentimes not working out exactly how you plan it. And it was just way too close.  And I caught him on the lip, busted his lip up. He's bleeding. That's all real blood.

"And they continue filming. And at certain point, John's like, ‘Guys, I'm bleeding. Like, really, can we stop filming and stop this?’ And they were supposed to shoot their first poster of what the show is going to be that next Saturday. And he got his lip busted in half thanks to me. So I don't think John liked me the first couple of years."

After another foul, Steve Carell’s character tries to end the game early.

Michael Scott: Well, let's just say whoever was ahead won.

Darryl Philbin: That was you.

Michael Scott: That was us ... really? I didn’t — I didn't — know … Great. I mean, I guess you guys are working Saturday. Your face.

Roy Anderson: No, no, no. I’m not coming in on Saturday.

Darryl Philbin: Yeah, this isn’t happening.

'Being A Numbskull'

I ask Denman how he approached playing the show's antagonist. 

"I always to try to find the other side of the character, you know?" he says. "Things just didn't quite work out for him the way he had planned. And so I found a little empathy for that."

Later that day, Roy and Pam leave the office. Roy taunts Jim one last time.

Roy Anderson: Look at Larry Bird. Larry Legend. 

Pam Beesly: Yeah. He’s, uh, pretty good, huh? [To Roy] Let’s get you into a tub.

Roy Anderson: Let’s get you into a tub.

The camera stays on Jim. He’s devastated watching the woman of his dreams leave with Roy. As a fan of the show, I felt for him.

Luckily for everyone, Jim and Pam end up together in the end. Except ...

"Everyone forgets the fact that Pam cheated on Roy," Denman says. "Let's not forget who the cheaters are and who the bad people are in this, OK? Everyone always says, you know, ‘Why did you do Jim like that?’ No, he did me like that. I had nothing to do with anything that went down other than being a numbskull.

"People forget. People forget. Pam is the cheater."

In real life, David Denman and John Krasinski are good friends. The pair co-starred in the movie "13 Hours." And just a few weeks ago, they were together at Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final cheering for the Bruins. Against who else but Jenna Fischer’s St. Louis Blues.

This segment aired on June 29, 2019.

Related:

Niko Emack Twitter Assistant Producer, Only A Game
Niko Emack was an assistant producer for NPR’s "Only A Game."

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