The Million Dollar Shot, the popular halftime promotion at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout, is history.
The championship-night event, a tournament staple since 1996, has been shelved by sponsor Vito Ungaro, who said he did so in response to the controversial firing of former athletic director Steve Cobb earlier this summer.
"It was hard to make that decision, but I also grew up that you stick by your friends," Ungaro said Thursday. "What they did to him was wrong. The man's done a lot for that school."
Cobb, UAA's athletic director for 13 years, was fired in late May during the school's search for a new hockey coach. Cobb initially drew criticism for the makeup of the search committee and the job criteria, and he was later scrutinized for his handling of a two-year-old incident in which the former hockey coach used his stick to hit a player.
Ungaro paid for the insurance policy for the Million Dollar Shot, which offered a prize of $1 million to a person chosen at random to shoot a 70-foot shot during halftime of the championship game.
No one ever made the shot, but plenty of people walked away with cars from Vito's Auto Sales and prizes from other businesses.
"We're disappointed and we've certainly appreciated his support for a long time," Tim McDiffett, UAA's acting athletic director, said. "It's been a great part of the event. We will likely look at something different or having someone possibly step up and sponsor another million-dollar shot."
The Million Dollar Shot became an instant classic in its inaugural year. In front of a sellout Sullivan Arena crowd of 8,285, Anchorage schoolteacher Ron Zandman-Zeman badly missed his long-range attempts, but given a chance to win a 1986 Corvette with a single free throw, he launched one of the most famous shots in Shootout history. The ball hit the top of the backboard, bounced high into the air and, astonishingly, found the net on its way back down.
The improbable shot merited play-of-the-day airtime on ESPN. It made minor stars of Zandman-Zeman and Ungaro. And it gave birth to the Shootout's most crowd-pleasing promotion.
Ungaro said in 2010 he was thinking of ending the promotion, but changed his mind at Cobb's request.
"He's helped out a lot of kids, he's been a friend, and he's the one who said please stay with this," Ungaro said.
Shortly after Cobb's firing, Ungaro used the sign outside his Muldoon Road business to scold UAA administrators. Ungaro said he believed Cobb had the school's support, but that support withered once Gov. Sean Parnell told university president Pat Gamble to take action. Ashley Reed, a powerful lobbyist and hockey fan, said he urged Parnell to get involved.
Ungaro didn't suspend his entire sponsorship of UAA athletics. He will still provide a car for one of the school's coaches, McDiffett said.
"I pulled the million-dollar shot and I'm not going to do anything with hockey, but I'll still help out with basketball," Ungaro said. "I'm not gonna be mad at everybody at UAA, I'm not the type.
"I just wanted to let the president know, what you did was wrong, to allow a lobbyist control of the university."
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