The (Other) Contest
It’s a curious idea to be famous for something that nobody knows you did. In other words, like perfumers and flavorists, they make the things that are themselves ‘famous.’ In the case of CPGs, these would be those billion-dollar, celebrity-like brands that the world knows and loves, but, as is the case with the majority of designers, or in this case, creatives, only their closest family, colleagues, and possibly friends, know they had anything to do with its development, never mind its success. Not that it matters. Allen Kay, back in the day, had taught me another valuable lesson, “You know what the reward is for doing a great job? You get to do another one.” And that’s what it is. A job. It’s work you get paid to do, and you not only shouldn’t take it personally, but the accolades belong to the company you work for first and foremost. We don’t get to sign our work, and the work, it speaks for itself.
In the early 1990’s, Seinfeld was the biggest hit show on television, and syndication isn’t exactly slowing its popularity down any time soon. The cast of characters in the ensemble cast are household names, and nearly every episode bore yet another catch-phrase that has since become a part of the pop culture vernacular. It was during Season 7, September 1995, that we got a glimpse into George Costanza’s apartment as he opened the door to let Jerry in. Over George’s right shoulder, on the wall just behind him, was this bright orange and blue NY Knicks poster from the NBA Playoff games between the Knicks and the Chicago Bulls in June of 1993. I had been invited by an old friend to go to the opening game of the series, at Madison Square Garden, and during one of the breaks in the action, there was an audience announcement, “Don’t forget to get your entries in for our rally towel design contest!” Of the 19,811 other people in attendance, I was fairly certain I was the only person that even heard it. Who pays attention to these things, if you could even hear it and understand it in the first place?
Not being the biggest basketball fan, I figured he was talking to me, so I jotted down the information, and began sketching ideas for a rally towel during the last quarter, while the Knicks new theme song, “Go NY Go,” was relentlessly blaring to rally the crowd. The song, written and sung by the now serial-entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, Jesse Itzler, had been recorded in his apartment, in one take, on a cassette recorder, when he was just twenty-two years old. Jesse dropped off that cassette at the NY Knicks offices in Madison Square Garden on his way to MC the NBA All-Star Game Fashion Show the year before I FedEx’d my entry to the same offices for the rally towel design contest.
Fact of the matter was, there just wasn’t enough time to produce 20,000 rally towels before the end of this playoff series, so when I received the Express Mail from the NY Knicks congratulating me on winning the contest, they let me know that they went ahead and made posters based on my design instead. With all due respect to Jesse’s lyrics, the “Go NY Go!” poster interpretation, was all over the city walls AND airwaves by the time Game 5 was set to take place at The Garden. Besides producing posters of my entry, which was cool enough, I was also awarded two tickets to the game, and a special lanyard to get me out onto center court for the awards recognition. A chaperone from the Knicks organization came to get me from my so-so seat in the stands, and brought me down to the tunnel where the Bulls would be exiting the court. Coach Phil Jackson, followed by the greats Scottie Pippen, and Michael Jordan, these guys were giants in every way, and they hustled past me like tractor trailers in the fast line. For the center court photo-op-of-a-ceremony, I stood, with my now framed winning entry, next to the legendary basketball ambassador, Cal Ramsey, and the two runners-up, whose designs really had no chance of being produced because they clearly had no concept of how a towel would have been printed, even if there was time.
The real prize came two years later, when my mom called, practically jumping through the phone, to tell me she just saw my poster on Seinfeld. With a little bit of digging, I managed to find the name and address of Jason Alexander’s, George’s, management in Hollywood, and I sent them a copy of my congratulatory letter from the NY Knicks, with a pristine copy of the poster, and an explanatory letter from me. About a month later, I received an oversized envelope from Hollywood. In it, was my poster, signed, “Mikel, From my wall to yours. Jason Alexander.” George’s worlds had collided, alright – with mine.
I love this story and was at the games, we should’ve connected but we didn’t know each other then. Wonderful!
Pop culture, Hollywood, film, design, and especially new york – this story has it all. Bravo for a fabulous recounting on a very one-of-a-kind experience!
A great story, Mikel. Love this.
A great story, Mikel. Love this.
Love the story!
Leave a comment