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Randy Hollis: In Utah there's a sucker born every minute

Published: Sunday, Dec. 13 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Let's see, your company is going to put on a charity softball tournament, and you're in charge of getting some advance publicity for the event.

How about starting a well-publicized, yet totally bogus rumor that Cal Ripken Jr. or John Elway are going to come play in it? Or you're planning on hosting an invitational golf tournament, and you're looking for some corporate sponsors with deep pockets.

Well, why not tell them that you've invited Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus to make an appearance — and possibly even play in the highest-paying sponsor's own foursome? Heck, you'd probably have people lining up with checkbook and pen in hand. And shoot, selling tickets to spectators would be as easy as Tiger Woods' mistress. (Or many, many mistresses).

Even though, in your heart, you know dang well that retired, big-name sports stars like Cal, John, Arnie and Jack are never going to show up and play in your little tournament.

Sound familiar? It should. Welcome to the deceitful world of Utah Flash owner Brand Andersen, whose shrewd, shameful scam sucked in several thousand gullible basketball fans last week.

It all started when Michael Jordan made his antagonistic acceptance speech at the Basketball Hall of Fame in September. MJ, the greatest player and most intense competitor the game has ever seen, took some biting verbal shots at a lot of folks who he felt had slighted, disrespected, challenged or simply looked cross-eyed at him during his career, including former Utah Jazz player Bryon Russell.

Of course, Jazz fans will painfully recall that it was Russell who was guarding Jordan when the Bulls' superstar faked/shoved Russell out of the way and hit the game-winning shot in the decisive Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.

Upon hearing Jordan's pithy comments, Russell issued a challenge that he would gladly take on Jordan in a game of one-on-one, with proceeds being donated to charity.

Enter Andersen, who invited Jordan to accept Russell's challenge at the NBA Development League team's home-opener last Monday night at the McKay Event Center in Orem, with $100,000 being donated to the winner's chosen charity.

To what should be the surprise of no one — come on now, people, get serious — Jordan didn't show up.

But that didn't prevent more than 7,500 fans from buying tickets to the game, many of them paying $25 for what would customarily be an $8 seat, for the chance to watch the anticipated Jordan-Russell revenge matchup.

That attendance figure was no doubt boosted considerably after Andersen hired a Jordan lookalike to be seen around town that day, including a YouTube video of him eating at a Utah County restaurant, complete with personal bodyguards surrounding his table.

When the hoax was exposed at Monday night's game — with Russell and the Jordan lookalike coming out at halftime for a highly awkward won't-be-a-Kodak moment — many furious fans quickly stormed out of the arena and demanded a refund.

And they rightfully deserve one. Andersen offered to oblige them with either tickets to another Flash game, or their money back, and apologized for the lame-promotion-gone-wrong scheme.

And while he should indeed be ashamed of himself for perpetuating such a fraudulent fiasco, it must be pointed out that more than 6,000 fans showed up for the Flash's next home game on Friday.

Hey, maybe there was a rumor that Donnie Osmond would be in attendance and was going to dance the tango with Julianne Hough at halftime.

It'll be interesting to see whether Andersen's slick scam, which alienated many fans so much that they vowed to never return, will hurt attendance in the future.

If nothing else, he certainly hurt his franchise's credibility, and the fine print on any future promotions will likely be scrutinized with a magnifying glass.

In the meantime, I'm gonna send an e-mail to John Stockton and invite him to attend my next fund-raising event. Never mind that he won't respond, because, hey, I'll just keep that little bit of information to myself until the last possible moment.

After all, like P.T. Barnum always said, there's a sucker born every minute. And that's certainly true here in Utah, where we actually tend to trust people and have faith in their integrity — often to a fault.

e-mail: rhollis@desnews.com

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