All anyone can ask out of life is a fair shot, right?
Well, Don Calhoun, 23, of Bloomington, Ill., got his on April 14, and he swished it. As part of an ongoing Chicago Bull promotion, Calhoun sank a 79-foot bucket—now referred to as the Immaculate Connection—to win $1 million during a timeout in the third quarter of a Bulls-Miami Heat game.
Calhoun's night to remember began when he and a buddy, with tickets a friend had given them, charged through Chicago Stadium's gate 2. "He was wearing these great-looking gold suede hiking boots," says Carla Morgan, a front-office employee of the Bulls, who was trolling the incoming crowd for a contestant. She tapped Calhoun for the million-dollar attempt in part because his shoes had rubber soles that wouldn't scuff the court.
For half the game, the first he had attended in three years, Calhoun sat there "trying hard to summon all the confidence I had." He would need it. The Bulls' crowd—a tough one—had shown no mercy to the 18 bricklaying stiffs who had attempted this three-quarter-court shot at previous games. Plus, the basketball experience Calhoun was drawing on was hardly all-pro. He had learned to play at the Bloomington YMCA, which is located across the street from the housing project where he lived as a teenager. He still plays at the Y five times a week.
The odds against one randomly chosen person given one shot from the opposite foul line and making it are considered astronomical. Scottie Pippen admitted that after practice one day he and Michael Jordan tried to hit the shot but couldn't. Only one of the other 18 contestants had even hit the rim. That shooter had heaved the ball quarterback-style, and Morgan hinted to Calhoun that he might want to use that technique. He did, and the rest—that remarkable shot zeroing in on the basket like some heat-seeking missile—is history, replayed endlessly on highlight shows.
Calhoun hasn't gotten much sleep since his shot seen round the world. "I just lie in bed," he says, "my heart fluttering and my eyes wide open." But long before the night of April 14, Calhoun had made a name for himself. In 1978 he was the eight-year-old drummer of the Calhoun Family Singers, a Chicago version of the Jackson 5. Don's father, Homer, would rehearse his seven kids throughout the week and then rouse them at 5 a.m. on Sundays to perform on a local radio show.
The act struggled, though, and in 1979 the Calhouns moved two hours south to Bloomington, hoping to find new career opportunities. "But no one was interested in singing black families anymore," says Don's second oldest sister, Martha.
Nevertheless, the Calhouns are a creative force in Bloomington. Martha directs a church choir there, and younger sister Tina is getting local air play as a pop singer. But Don, the second youngest, now prefers writing. His latest play, which he also directed and which was staged by area students at Bloomington High, portrays kids saving themselves from the temptations of the streets. In addition Don has been hired by Project Oz, a United Way charity that trains counselors to work with youths experiencing family problems.
Calhoun knows about family problems. His older brother Clarence was killed in 1988. Clarence was driving home at 3 a.m. from DePaul University, where he was a student, when he pulled off to the side of the road because he was tired. A driver rammed into his car, which burst into flames, killing him.
Calhoun hasn't let his big score change him. Three days after the shot he was back at work at his $5-an-hour job at Reliable Office Supply, logging inventory until midnight, "it's hardly professional to just quit," he says. "Especially after they've been so good to me."
But he has been asked to appear on late-night TV with Jay Leno and David Letterman, and he has been interviewed by press from all over the world. Why is it that Calhoun has captured our collective imaginations so?
Mike Scolaro, a banker who was one of the 18,676 spectators at Chicago Stadium that night, thinks he knows. "Any fan in any stadium is basically a wannabe," Scolaro says. "We all want to play as well as those guys down on the court. For one incredible moment, Don Calhoun did."
Basketball's newest millionaire is a salesman who sank a shot that Jordan and Pippen couldn't.