Food Fights

The March 26, 2012 National Basketball Association game between the Orlando Magic and the Toronto Raptors was pretty normal for a regular-season NBA game — except for the end. With time running out, Raptors power forward Ed Davis hit a clutch, fade-away jumper for the hometown team, and was fouled in the process. The crowd went wild, which didn’t surprise many in the arena. But there was one person who was very much surprised — Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. Normally, when the home team goes crazy like that, it’s because their team just took the lead. But Van Gundy’s Magic was safety ahead, 117 to 100, and there were only 2.1 seconds left in the game. Why would the crowd be cheering for a meaningless basket in a blowout loss?

Then someone told him: everyone just got some pizza.

The Raptors weren’t having a very good season — the loss to the Magic that evening was their 34th of the season in only 50 games. Fans typically aren’t too excited to see a team which loses two games for every one win, so the marketing team started a special promotion. If the Raptors scored 100 or more points in a game — win or lose — ticket-holding fans were entitled to a free slice of pizza apiece. Davis’ jump shot pushed the Raptors over the threshold, which is why the crowd got so excited. (If you want to watch a low-quality, taped-off-TV clip of the shot, here you go.)

The absurdity of the situation — cheering fans during a no-doubter loss — wasn’t lost on the media, players, or management. The Raptors changed the rules of the promotion (as now outlined on their website) to require that the team win the game in order for the fans to get the free pizza. But even that caused problems, as fans now began to boo the team when they didn’t score 100 points, even if they won. This led other fans to petition the team to stop the giveaways — fans were, literally, asking the team to stop giving them free pizza.

These types of promotions go back at least a couple of decades, with the New York Knicks offering free pizza if the away team scored fewer than 85 points, and are often marked with such problems. As unintended consequences go, the Raptors’ one was pretty tame. The problem: players tend to react to the score, doing things which would otherwise be considered unsportsmanlike. For example, in November of 2012, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah took a shot at the end of long-decided game, all in hopes of earning Big Macs for the crowd. His own coach admonished him for the decision, as the prudent, sporting play would have been to run out the clock. (The fans weren’t happy either; Noah missed.)

And in 2001, things got crazy to the point of violence. The Dallas Mavericks blew out the Cleveland Cavaliers, sporting a 98-77 lead with just over a minute and a half to play. Typically, the home team Mavericks would run the clock down, not taking many (if any) shots, all while their fans in the seat cheered. But the fans were promised coupons for a free 99-cent Taco Bell Chalupa if the Mavericks scored 100 or more points, resulting in boos and chants of “Chalupa! Chalupla!” from the expectant crowd. With three seconds left, forward Gary Trent gave in to the fans’ pleas, much to the chagrin of the Cavs. Punches were thrown, and, as the New York Post reported, a brawl was narrowly averted. The Mavericks’ owner, Mark Cuban, ran onto the court, not one to be left out. He was suspended for two games and fined $10,000, and ended up emailing the Cavaliers’ coach to apologize.

The fans, however, got their chalupa coupons, as the Mavs won, 102-81.

Bonus Fact: Mark Cuban has been fined many times by the NBA over the years for various reasons; for example, in 2013, he was fined $50,000 for some comments he made via Twitter. In 2002, the league fined him $500,000 (yes, half a million dollars) for insulting the head of league officiating, with Cuban saying that he wouldn’t hire the man “to manage a Dairy Queen.” Not only did it upset the NBA, it also upset Dairy Queen, who challenged Cuban to manage a DQ for a day. To Cuban’s credit, he took them up on the offer.

From the ArchivesLand of the Rising Gorilla: Where the NBA’s most unlikely mascot comes from.

RelatedA DQ playset.