Charleston takes inside-out look at NBA Draft

RiverDogs wear unique jerseys, foster fans' unlikely hoop dreams

The RiverDogs' April 13 NBA Draft Night featured unique jerseys, a draft sign-up station and a half-court shooting contest.

By Benjamin Hill / | April 16, 2019 10:20 AM

Note: This is the fourth and final article in a series of articles that detailed the conception, evolution and execution of a new Charleston RiverDogs promotion. Part One ran shortly after the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar, an annual late September idea-sharing event that has since rebranded as the Innovators Summit. Part Two appeared in January, while Part Three ran in March. 

Last fall, the Charleston RiverDogs front office began to brainstorm the promotion that became NBA Draft Night. This first-of-its-kind celebration of formal wear and unlikely draft eligibility was announced March 21; last Friday, just three weeks and one day later, it took place with 4,660 fans at the RiverDogs' home of Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Ballpark. On Monday, the RiverDogs (Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees) sent the applications of 132 draft-eligible fans to the NBA's central office. 

Hey, they can dream.

"Let's be honest. Nobody's getting drafted," said RiverDogs promotions director Nate Kurant. "But we were able to take some fun liberties with the NBA's draft policies. With our theme of 'Make Fun' this year, this fell into our sweet spot with what we were trying to do that night and all season long." 

Tweet from @ChasRiverDogs: We���ve got real talent out here! Fans are already eligible for the 2019 NBA DRAFT!

The NBA's collective bargaining agreement stipulates that any individual who is at least 19 years old and one year out of high school can declare eligibility by notifying the NBA office at least 60 days before the draft occurs. This stipulation motivated the timing of the RiverDogs' promotion, as the 2019 draft is scheduled for June 20. C.J. Rizzo, whom Kurant describes as "our law school-attending intern," manned the draft sign-up table while offering his services as an "Official Sports Agent." Over the course of the evening, Rizzo signed up 132 eligible individuals. 

"All credit goes to [Rizzo]. He also signed up 35 children who are officially not eligible, but we'll let the NBA break their hearts," Kurant said. "It all took a little explaining to people, who thought we were trying to sign them up for car insurance or something. But some people came for it. We had one guy wearing a ["Space Jam"] Tune Squad jersey. ... I assume the NBA will throw [the draft applications] away, but we had people put their addresses on the form. The reason is that if the NBA writes back, I want it to go to them. It would be great if they did that. Then this promotion would get a second life." 

Tweet from @ChasRiverDogs: 167 Declarations for the 2019 NBA Draft from Charleston, SC have been sent to the @NBA League Office! Let us know when you get that call 😎

The uniforms worn by the RiverDogs' players were another memorable component of NBA Draft Night. The jerseys, designed by OT Sports, resembled suits that open to reveal the team's logos on the inside panel. This was a nod to a long-standing NBA draft fashion trend, in which those who have just been selected open their suit jackets to reveal colorful patterns and personally meaningful imagery. 

"Our players, some didn't [get it]. But there were guys who did. Like one of our pitchers, Shawn Semple, he was like 'Oh, dude!'" Kurant said. "He got it, loved it, thought they were so cool. So we had players who were fans of them, and fans who were fans. We auctioned off quite a few [after the game.]" 

Nonetheless, Kurant concedes that the external suit design wasn't unique and that, overall, the jerseys "weren't the best we ever did as far as fan reception goes."

Girl in a jacket

"But the inside printing is such a neat idea," he said. "We didn't necessarily use that technology or capability to its ultimate creative end, but now that we've broken the seal, I'm sure someone is going to come up with something really good. It could maybe open up new avenues of revenue, maybe changing the rules for what kind of sponsorship is allowed.

"And could you imagine a Copa [de la Diversión] team that way? Where on the inside is a wild festival of colors? I imagine a team will do something like that. Maybe the [Erie] Piñatas. They could do a jersey with a piñata on the front and candy on the inside lining. The options for what could be done with that idea are really cool. That's what's most fun about this from my side of things, seeing what might come out of this in Minor League Baseball." 

As with most promotions, not everything that was planned came to fruition. The idea to award a shoe deal to one lucky fan never materialized, and Kurant was never able to land any of the celebrity guests he envisioned (these included Charleston native and former No. 1 draft pick Kwame Brown, Charlotte Hornets mascot Hugo and "Sportscenter on Snapchat" host Cy Amundson). RiverDogs co-owner Bill Murray, one of the stars of "Space Jam," didn't show up on this particular evening, either. 

The RiverDogs did proceed with a postgame on-field half-court shot contest, in which all fans were eligible to take part. Of the approximately 150 who did so, one made the shot. This fan, Chris DiCampli, was awarded $50 and then presented with the following option: Keep the money, or take one more shot for the chance to win $1,000. 

"He had a handful of children with him, and decided to take the $50 and then go get ice cream," Kurant said. "He might have taken the shot if he didn't have his kids with him, but he was a good guy instead of being a dumb guy and going for it like you or I might." 

Tweet from @ChasRiverDogs: Our first $50 winner! Ice cream on dad tonight! 🏀🍦

The RiverDogs have 65 more promotions to stage this season, with possible highlights including irreverent salutes to academic mediocrity (C Night), "Seinfeld" (Moops Night) and enigmatic local Google reviewers (Helen McGuckin Night). But when all is said and done, Kurant believes that NBA Draft Night will stand out as one of his team's best. Will his peers in the industry agree? Could a Golden Bobblehead award be in Charleston's future? He'll have to wait until the2019 Innovators Summit to find out, but at least there's a chance. 

"We think there's enough content there for this to be among the contenders for best ideas of the year," Kurant said. "Really, it's the ideas that push us forward and keep us trying new things."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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