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Defining Moments of the NBA Season: Laura Dern Sees Baby Yoda

Remember more innocent times when ‘The Mandalorian’ was all anyone could talk about? We pay homage to one of the strangest moments of the 2019-20 campaign, involving a Hollywood actress and a meme-friendly character.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The NBA is on hold for the foreseeable future. To help fill the void, we’re looking back at the defining moments of the 65-ish games of the 2019-20 season so far.

The most confounding 25 seconds of the NBA season didn’t happen in a basketball arena. They came on December 2, as Laura Dern was on the Gotham Awards’ red carpet, draped in a long-sleeve Fendi dress adorned with silver and black circles that resembled a bourgeois Italian tile you might’ve seen in the Versace Mansion back in the day. The Gotham Awards celebrate independent filmmaking, which explains why Dern was in attendance. She won a Tribute award later that night. Her having a reason to be there is the first and last thing with a satisfactory explanation in this tale. I apologize in advance.

Some background before we begin: Disney’s The Mandalorian had just premiered a few weeks earlier. One of its characters, Baby Yoda, had become an instant internet sensation. He was everywhere, of course, because he was made to be memed: In addition to being baby-sized, which makes one automatically adorable, Baby Yoda’s eyes are giant black orbs, and his skin is wrinkly despite the “baby” epithet. (Much unlike baby Benjamin Button’s wrinkles, this is very cute on Baby Yoda, who is actually 50 years old in the show.) He was all anyone could talk about for months. Which brings us to our protagonist—perhaps antagonist, considering the stress and confusion Dern caused in the coming weeks—on the night in question. A reporter from Variety asked Dern on the red carpet whether she’d seen Baby Yoda.

“Yes, I did,” Dern said.

What did you think about Baby Yoda?

“Today,” Dern interjected, “I saw him. [...] I think he was at a basketball game.”

After hearing this, our poor Variety reporter was lost for words. He raised his eyebrows, clearly trying to understand what the hell Dern was talking about. I’m going to make an assumption here: Our friend was asking whether Dern had watched The Mandalorian, or had seen a Baby Yoda meme online. He was not asking whether Dern had seen Baby Yoda in person or out in the world. He shook his head, dumbfounded. But the mic was still on Dern.

“That’s all I’m going to say,” she added coyly. “I think I saw him at a basketball game.” She shrugs. “It was NBA.”

It seemed nonsensical. Dern starred in Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi in 2017 as Vice Admiral Holdo, and has a teenage daughter who is very much online—of course Dern knew who Baby Yoda was. After watching the clip back in December, I checked to see what games Dern could’ve possibly watched that day to have seen Baby Yoda as she claimed. Considering the time she likely needed for hair and makeup before the awards show, only the first quarter of Jazz-Sixers (7 p.m. ET tipoff) seemed like a possibility, though it wasn’t even on national TV. (Suns-Hornets tipped at 7 p.m. ET and Warriors-Hawks tipped off at 7:30 p.m. ET, but someone with no connection to any of those teams choosing to watch those games is less believable than a fictional green animated baby buying a ticket to a game and waddling into an NBA arena.) And while the league had planned 17 different “Star Wars Nights” for various games throughout December and January, none were held on December 2 or the night before.

I wasn’t sure if the NBA was maybe paying Dern, or if she misheard the Variety reporter’s initial question and decided to run with it, or if she just smokes a lot of weed. Personally I’m cheering for the latter. Regardless, Dern leaned into the bit. The next day, she posted a picture on Instagram of the Clippers’ Paul George warming up before the Blazers game, with Baby Yoda Photoshopped on the sideline.

“Paul George! You know the truth about it all,” Dern wrote in the caption. “Thank God.” Then on December 4, she posted another picture, this time courtside at TD Garden with her Little Women costar Timothée Chalamet. The caption read, “Caught a game to see if I could find him again. #BabyYoda.” A month later, Dern appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. After talking about her appearances in Marriage Story, Little Women, and Big Little Lies, Colbert asked Dern about the Baby Yoda comments. In yet another inexplicable twist, she explained … that the two are very much in love.

“I’m just gonna say this because we’ve been in this business for a long time now and I was raised by actors. There can be a frenzy when people are friends or have some kind of relationship, and people wanna wonder, you know? Project their own opinions. As a baby, he’s a 50-year-old baby. It’s not inappropriate. I said to my friends, the next man I’m going to be with, I want him to be incredibly wise, great sense of humor. I don’t mind being the taller one. I didn’t mention green, but somehow. You never know what you’re gonna get. Oh my God, those eyes. I can’t tell you. When you say, ‘I want you to look into my eyes forever,’ he’s definitely going to be doing that.”

Those were Dern’s final words on the matter. The saga was not brought full circle by this explanation, mostly because it was nonsense. But that’s the enchantment of NBA Twitter, if you can utilize the mute button to shovel past the heaps of yawn-inducing analytics arguments and reheated LeBron vs. Jordan debates, you can have a pretty good time. The wilder the topic, the better the memes. Even if that topic drifts away from basketball, like in Dern’s case, who before a delightfully bizarre 25-second comment, had no connection to the NBA outside of Baron Davis. What I learned from this story was nothing more than the fact that I’d love to live in Laura Dern’s mind for a day, that I want the velvet suit she wore on The Late Show, and that, in this time that we must all spend at home, I, and all of humanity, desperately need her to drop the strain.