As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, J.B. Bernstein came up with an idea worth a million dollars. After a recruitment fiasco in 2006, sports agent J.B. Bernstein decided he needed to find the next big thing, the next Yao Ming.
At the 2007 NBA All Star Game, Bernstein wished he could find the next Yao Ming. “That would be a good thing to have.” With some research in hand, India became the country, and cricket the sport, that would lead him to finding “his ticket.” He decided that he could find the next great baseball pitcher in a country where the game was not popular, but where the national pastime had similarities to baseball. Thus began the search for The Million Dollar Arm.
On Tuesday, March 4th, J.B. Bernstein was invited back to his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, as the 2014 Eleanor Bateman Alumni Scholar in Residence, to speak about developing The Million Dollar Arm contest and his system for creating the “next big idea.”
The Million Dollar Arm contest was based loosely off American Idol. Substitute a microphone for a radar gun, add a baseball and some cricket players, and you have yourself a contest. Thirty-eight thousand men aged 18-29 across 12 cities in India came out to show how fast they could throw with the hopes of both winning one million dollars and being granted the opportunity to travel to America for a professional baseball tryout.
Bernstein shared his journey of The Million Dollar Arm contest from ideation to execution. The audience learned about his travels to India and his return home to California with the two contest winners, Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh. We learn about culture differences, perseverance, and no matter how thoroughly you prepare for something there will always be challenges along the way.
J.B. has had a long career and is also very well known for his other accomplishments. As co-founder and president of the Access Group of Miami, Bernstein represented some of the greatest athletes of all time including Barry Bonds, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith.
The presentation was not short of laughter as Bernstein told stories of Patel and Singh adjusting to a very different way of life than they were accustomed to. Stories included Patel’s “smurf butt” nickname, Singh thinking his steak came from a chicken, and their fascination with technology.
As promised, six months after landing in America, Patel and Singh were afforded a professional tryout. While their first attempt was disastrous, and, as he claims, the worst day of Bernstein’s life, their second attempt nine days later was a success. Both Patel and Singh were signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in November 2008.
Underneath the laughs and the success of an idea is a remarkable story. It is a story of two young men from India who were allowed to follow a dream that never would have been possible in their own country. It is also a story of a man looking to salvage his career and change the lives of others along the way.
To learn more, you can purchase Bernstein’s Million Dollar Arm: Sometimes to Win, You Have to Change the Game on Amazon or see Disney’s major motion picture, featuring John Hamm as J.B. Bernstein, out in theaters May 16th.