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The fame of the veteran player Johnathan E. (James Caan) is a problematic for the hegemonic corporations, because by the virtue of his stellar performance over the years, Jonathan has become the most recognizable Rollerballer in history; everyone recognizes him on sight. After another impressive performance in Houston's victory over the Madrid team, Energy Corporation chairman Mr. Bartholomew announces that the corporation, running out of ways to reward their champion, will feature Jonathan in a "multivision" special devoted to his career.
Mr. Bartholomew later tells Jonathan that they want him to retire. He offers Jonathan a lavish retirement package, including special "privileges," if he announces his retirement on his televised special. Mr. Bartholomew emphasizes the benefits of corporate-run society and the importance of respecting executive decisions, but does not reveal why they want Jonathan to retire. It is revealed that Jonathan was married to Ella (Maud Adams), which ended when she was promised to an executive.
For Jonathan, Rollerball soon degrades into senseless violence as the rules of upcoming games are made more dangerous in order to force Jonathan out one way or another. It is announced that the semi-final game versus the Tokyo team will be played with no penalties and limited player substitutions, yet Jonathan refuses to yield and intends to play in the game. Summoned to the filming of his televised special, he struggles with Daphne and the host. An instructor insists on teaching the Houston team how to counter the Tokyo team's unorthodox martial arts skills, but the team, brimming with confidence, drowns him out with chants of "Houston!" The brutality of the match claims the lives of several players, including Houston's lead biker, Blue, and leaves Jonathan's best friend and teammate Moonpie (John Beck) brain-dead.
The corporations hold an emergency meeting to discuss Jonathan's obstinate refusal to retire, and decide that the championship game against the New York team will be played without penalties, player substitutions, or a time-limit, in the hope that Jonathan, if he decides to participate, will be killed during the course of the game. The executives' meeting reveals why they are demanding Jonathan's retirement: Rollerball was conceived not merely to satisfy man's bloodlust, but to demonstrate the futility of individualism. Jonathan's singular talent and longevity in the sport defeats the intended purpose of Rollerball.
After much personal introspection, and further delving into the true nature of the corporations that run the world, Jonathan decides he is going to play in the game despite the obvious dangers. Naturally, the final game quickly loses all semblance of order as players are incapacitated or killed in short order. The crowd, raucous and energetic at the game's beginning, gradually become more and more subdued as the carnage builds and degrades to a gladiatoral "last man standing" event.
In the end, Jonathan is the last player on the Houston team. Two players remain from New York. After a violent struggle, Jonathan dispatches one of the players, gets the ball and grabs the last, helpless New York player. He looks like he is about to kill the final player as the world watches in complete silence.
With a moment's pause, Jonathan releases his opponent, slowly gets to his feet, and painfully makes his way to the goal, scoring the only point of the game, leaving the final score Houston 1, New York 0.
Immediately following this Jonathan then starts to freely skate around the track in silent victory, and the coaches and fans of both teams start chanting "Jon-a-than!", first in a whisper and then gradually getting louder and louder as Jonathan continues to circle the track.
Seeing his worst fears unfolding, Mr. Bartholomew hurries to exit the arena in blind panic, with the realization that Jonathan has essentially defeated the purpose of the game itself.