Most people who dream of playing in the NBA will never get the chance to live it out, but having the opportunity to hit a lengthy shot with some money on the line is probably the next best thing. One Bulls fan managed to do exactly that with $1 million up for grabs, and while he almost got screwed out of his winnings, he got a clutch assist from Michael Jordan.
This story unfolded in 1993 while the Bulls were gearing up to cap off the first of the two three-peats they racked up in the 1990s on the back of His Airness. By that point, Jordan had cemented himself as the most electric basketball player on the planet after winning two consecutive regular season and NBA Finals MVP awards, and the Bulls had plenty of incentive to keep their star player happy.
$1 million was kind of a drop in the bucket for M.J. at that point, but the same couldn’t be said for Dan Calhoun, an office supplies salesman making $5 an hour who got the chance to attempt a “Million Dollar Shot” during a break in the action at Chicago Stadium on the evening of April 14th.
Fans in attendance that night got to witness Calhoun pull off what was dubbed the “Immaculate Connection,” but it also sparked the start of a somewhat lengthy saga that required the biggest name in the NBA to plead his case in order to secure the big prize.
How Michael Jordan made sure a fan got $1 million for hitting a shot at a game
Jordan and the Bulls were obviously the primary draw on a night where the superstar scored 34 points to lead Chicago to a 119-92 victory over the Heat, but the game was arguably overshadowed by what unfolded during a timeout.
Calhoun was attending his first Bulls game in three years when he was selected to partake in the promotional shot that gave him the chance to secure a $1 million bag if he could hit a 75-foot attempt that required him to release the basketball from behind the free-throw line on the opposite side.
While Calhoun opted for a football-style throw as opposed to a traditional shot, that strategy paid off. He drilled the attempt, the crowd went wild, and he was swarmed by members of the Bulls (including Jordan) who congratulated him on his unlikely achievement.
April 14, 1993: Don Calhoun attends his first Bulls game in three years and throws in a shot that wins him $1,000,000.
According to SI, he was chosen as the contestant because a Chicago Bulls employee felt his “suede hiking boots wouldn’t scuff the court.”
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— NBA Cobwebs (@NBACobwebs) April 14, 2022
Calhoun’s shot overshadowed the actual game, as he was featured on the front page of The Chicago-Sun Times (a doctored copy of the paper actually appeared in The Fugitive). However, his story was really just beginning.
After making the shot, Calhoun stated “I knew it was in the moment it left my hand,” which could have something to do with the fact he’d played basketball in high school and college in the 1980s.
While he hadn’t played professionally, that development caught the attention of the insurance company the Bulls had teamed up with to hedge their bets, as it asserted the fine print stated it didn’t have to pay out the $1 million because Calhoun had played “organized” basketball within the past five years.
Multiple sponsors and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf told Calhoun they’d pay him regardless, he nonetheless found himself wondering when (or if) the money would actually arrive. After the press caught wind of that development, pressure mounted to the point where the Bulls held a press conference to hand him a $50,000 check (the first of 20 installments paid over two decades).
In time, Calhoun eventually learned he got some help from one of the most recognizable people on the planet.
In addition to the money, Calhoun got to go home with the basketball he’d used to sink the shot, and he was determined to get as many members of the Bulls as possible to autograph it. Jordan was tricky to track down, but he eventually reconnected with the man who embraced him after winning the contest at one of his kid’s basketball games.
Calhoun had trouble convincing Jordan’s security detail to let him approach the superstar (who refused to sign things at events involving his children). However, M.J. agreed to meet with him in the parking lot after the game, which led to the following exchange:
“Did you get your money?” Jordan asked.
Calhoun said yes, and Jordan told him something that caught him off guard. “We made them give it to you. We were upset that they were trying to not pay you.”
I would feel like a failure if I wrote about this without bringing up the Semi-Pro scene Calhoun’s story probably inspired.
What a night for Dukes. What a night for Don Calhoun.