Every night, unsuspecting basketball fans at arenas throughout the country are given a shot "“ or shots "“ at the adulation of thousands and promotional prizes ranging from gift certificates to new cars. More often than not, however, the shooting contests that have become staples of the in-game experience result in the athletically challenged contestant lobbing an air ball and being serenaded with boos by the home crowd. (This is especially true when a prize for everyone in attendance "“ say, a large, two-topping pizza "“ is on the line.) Here's a look at four fans who avoided the boos and capitalized on their 30 seconds of fame when the stakes were much, much higher.
2008: The Sawmill Worker
In February 2008, Chevrolet sponsored the Million Dollar Shootout during the first intermission of a regular season game at Vancouver's General Motors Place.
The Contestant: Darwin Head, a 35-year-old sawmill worker from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, who was randomly chosen from 8.6 million online entries.
The Rules: Head had 24 seconds to shoot 20 pucks from the far blue line toward an empty net at the other end of the rink, a distance of 114 feet. To win the $1 million prize, he needed to put at least 15 pucks into the net.
The Result: The hours of practice Head put in on the outdoor rink near his home in the weeks leading up to the contest paid off, as the 15th puck crossed the goal line just before time expired. "I didn't think I was even close to 15," Head said afterward.
The Aftermath: Head has since left his job at Carrier Forest Products Ltd. to spend more time with his wife and three children. According to an article that appeared in December, he has managed to avoid the urge to go on a major spending spree. Some of his bigger purchases include a used truck and a few used slo-pitch bats for his softball team. Head said the best advice he received after winning the contest was, "Don't be stupid."
2005: The Mechanical Engineer
Apparently, if you want to improve your odds of winning $1 million, move to Canada. Wendy's sponsored its first Kick for a Million contest in 2005, selecting one lucky fan to attempt field goals of 20, 30, 40, and 50 yards during halftime of a regular season CFL game in Toronto.
The Contestant: Brian Diesbourg, a 25-year-old mechanical engineer and avid soccer player from Belle River, Ontario, who was randomly chosen from nearly 200,000 entries.
The Rules: Diesbourg was allowed a 30-minute practice session with the Toronto Argonauts kicker before the contest. The prize breakdown was as follows: make the 20-yard field goal, win $1,000; make the 30-yard field goal, win a digital imaging package; make the 40-yard field goal, win a home theater package; make the 50-yard field goal, win $1 million paid out in equal installments over 40 years. Diesbourg wasn't required to make the kicks from the shorter distances to be eligible for the $1 million prize.
The Result: Diesbourg provided some of the best evidence to date that icing the kicker doesn't actually work. With 600,000 television viewers tuned in, Diesbourg missed his attempts from 20, 30, and 40 yards before TSN went to a commercial break. When live coverage resumed, Diesbourg's kick from 50 yards sailed just over the crossbar and he was mobbed by Argonauts players. With the kick, Diesbourg joined an exclusive club of amateur kickers that includes Lance Alstodt and Dennis Crawford, who made $1 million field goals at consecutive Pro Bowls in 1996 and 1997.
The Aftermath: Some fans felt deceived when they learned that Wendy's wouldn't pay the winner in one lump-sum. But Diesbourg didn't particularly care. "I would rather it (be) this way because I can't spend it all already," Diesbourg said. Diesourg bought a 20-foot motor boat and paid off his 2002 Dodge Ram in the first year after the contest, but maintained his job at a firm that makes assembly-line robotics.
2004: The Used Car Lot Owner
As part of Taco Bell's Rapid Fire contest before the 2004 All-Star Game at Houston's Minute Maid Park, one lucky fan stepped to the pitcher's mound for a chance to win free Taco Bell for a year "“ and $1 million.
The Contestant: Tom Gray, a 41-year-old used car lot owner from Houston, who attended the game with his family and was selected only after there was no one in the first randomly selected seat.
The Rules: Throw as many baseballs as possible from the pitcher's mound through a 24-inch-by-24-inch target at home plate. Prizes of increasing value were awarded for each successful toss. One pitch through the target would earn Gray free Taco Bell for a year; five pitches through the target would earn him $1 million.
The Result: Gray channeled Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who stood beside him on the mound and celebrated wildly after Gray heeded the advice of his son Matthew "“ "Point at the target" "“ and coolly tossed five baseballs through the small opening.
The Aftermath: "I have no idea how I did it," Gray said afterward. Neither did Tom Overton, the account manager for the Dallas-based promotions company that proposed the contest to Taco Bell. Overton had put the odds of a random fan winning the grand prize at greater than 100-to-1 and the insurance premium was set at $35,000. "I guess we've got a bunch of rubber-armed employees, because they couldn't do it," Overton told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We had them try it over and over, and we thought it was worth the risk. You just go back to the office and say, "˜Well, we learned on that one. Pay the claim and move forward.' We got that one wrong, but I promise you, we won't next time."
1993: The Office Supply Salesman
During the 1993 season, Lettuce Entertain You restaurants and Coca-Cola sponsored a contest at Chicago Bulls games where a fan was selected to take a shot from the free throw line at the opposite end of the court for the chance to win $1 million.
The Contestant: Don Calhoun, a 23-year-old office supply salesman who was noticed by a team staffer because of his shoes. Calhoun was wearing gold suede hiking boots with rubber soles, which the staffer figured wouldn't scuff the court. Calhoun initially turned down the offer to participate in the contest, but reluctantly obliged after the staffer insisted.
The Rules: Make a 79-foot shot, win $1 million.
The Result: While Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen claimed to have been unable to make the shot in practice, and 17 of the 18 fans to participate in the promotion that season hadn't even managed to hit the rim, Calhoun's quarterback-style heave found the bottom of the net. The 18,000 fans in Chicago Stadium went crazy.
The Aftermath: The company that insured the promotion refused to pay the prize because Calhoun, who played 11 games at Triton Community College near Chicago, did not sign a waiver saying he had not played high school, college, or pro basketball for six years. The Bulls and the contest's sponsors agreed to pay Calhoun with or without the insurance company's support. "The fact is, he made a shot that nobody else could make, and he deserves it," Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf said. As part of his whirlwind tour after making the shot, which was dubbed the Immaculate Connection, Calhoun met President Bill Clinton and flew to New York to recreate the shot for Dateline. (It took him 54 attempts.) Calhoun eventually quit his job and signed a one-year contract with the Harlem Globetrotters. Two years later, he married his high school sweetheart and told a reporter in his hometown of Bloomington, Ind., that he dreamed of starting a production company focusing predominantly on material to motivate young people.