When Jim Drucker became Commissioner of the Continental Basketball Association, he knew that getting the league any sort of publicity would require a mammoth undertaking. To start with, the biggest promotions any team did at that time involved the “Lucky Program” contest, in which a person who had the lucky program (i.e., the one whose number matched a random drawing) often won a sponsor’s prize, which could be anything from the game ball to a case of soft drinks.
Immediately Drucker looked to create any sort of buzz about the league. His initial success involved printing T-shirts featuring the CBA’s teams and logos. These were then advertised in the CBA’s media guides and game programs. By the early 1980’s, the CBA T-shirts became a very collectible item – and a unique fashion statement. Anybody could buy a New York Knicks T-shirt, but who out there would have a shirt with the Anchorage Northern Knights on it?
Through the advertisements, Drucker offered fans the opportunity to purchase other CBA-related items, including the league media guide, game programs from other teams, trading cards, and the CBA’s weekly press releases. It was a start.
By the 1982-83 season, Drucker tried another idea. He wanted to have a special promotion at the league’s All-Star Classic, held that year in Albany, N.Y., in which a lucky fan could win $1,000,000 with a long-distance shot. Granted, such shots had been done in the past, mostly by experienced NBA stars in last-second desperation heaves to the hoop with the clock winding down and the sesaon on the line. But never as part of a promotion in which a fan could win a million dollars.
Drucker contacted over 150 insurance companies, hoping to find one that would underwrite such a miracle shot. Of the 157 companies Drucker contacted, 156 rejected his idea. However, one company did agree to a the policy, and the league worked with the insurance comapny to draft a 15-page agreement regarding payoff of the prize should a random fan complete the shot.
The news of the “Million Dollar Supershot” spread throughout the basketball world. By the time of the All-Star Classic, the promotion had almost as much buzz – if not more – than the actual game itself. The fan who sank the basket would win $1,000,000 – $50,000 a year for the next 20 years. For weeks, newscasters on local television stations tried to hit baskets from 70 feet away, trying to recreate what would be the shot of a lifetime.
At the Washington Avenue Armory, site of the All-Star Classic, a million dollars was couriered to the arena by an amrored car and sixteen armed guards. At halftime, 2,723 fans checked their programs. One lucky fan, a tool booth collector from Glenmont, N.Y. named Mike Pauquette, had the lucky program and won the chance of a lifetime – make a shot from almost 70 feet away and win a million dollars. Pauquette got the ball, took a running start, and hurled it discus-style at the hoop. The million dollar shot missed the rim by ten feet, the money went back to the bank, the CBA’s treasurer breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and Pauquette returned to his seat, enjoying his 15 minutes of fame – as well as a $200 consolation prize and two Albany Patroons season tickets. “I guess I should have practiced,” he joked to the media after the game.
The Supershot was such a success, it inspired several CBA teams to attempt the promotion in their buildings during the 1983-84 season. Although ten teams gave their fans a chance to shoot for a million dollars (or, in Puerto Rico, when the Coquis hosted the event, “El Supertiro CBA Del Million de Dollares”), nobody was able to complete the shot. The Supershot was also attempted at the 1984 CBA All-Star Classic, where ten people were drawn from the stands and were each given a large card. Tom Hamre, holding No. “2” in the picture to the left, received the opportunity of a lifeime – a basket from 69’9″ away from the hoop, essentially from the opposing team’s free throw line. Hamre’s shot missed – but only by three feet.
The 1985 All-Star Classic featured the return of the Supershot, as well as a promotion involving a brand new car. The game program from the 1985 All-Star Classic featured a page that fans could tear out and fold into a paper airplane. At halftime, fans attempted to throw that paper airplane into the sunroof of a car on the arena floor. The lucky fan whose airplane sailed into the sunroof got to drive home with that very car. The league also added a new long distance free throw prmotion, the “Ton of Money Free Throw,” in which a fan would receive 2,000 pounds of cash – okay, it was all in pennies – but hey, that’s $5,000 after you go to the CoinStar machine to cash it all in.
The 1986 All-Star Classic, held that year in Evansville, Indiana, featured the last of the million-dollar promotions, the “Easy Street Shootout.” A fan from each team in the league was flown to Evansville, where they would each get one shot at hitting a basket from anywhere on the floor – a layup, a 3-pointer, wherever. The person who completed a basket, and who took the shot the farthest from the basket, would receive $1,000,000. Well, he received a zero coupon bond that would mature into $1,000,000 in the year 2025.
Eventually the winning basket came from Don Mattingly – not the Yankees first baseman, mind you, but a mild-mannered insurance salesman from Evansville. Mattingly hit a shot from outside 3-point range, and his basket was the farthest completed shot of them all. In fact, check his winning basket out over at the CBA Museum Theater below.