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For a Lakers fan, a swish comes true

Before the start of the fourth quarter of a playoff game against the Thunder, Craig Calloway of Compton won $235,000 by making a basket from half court. He suddenly has a lot of new friends.

May 01, 2010|By Melissa Rohlin

Craig Calloway's social circle is suddenly expanding.

His cellphone is buzzing constantly and his Facebook page is getting dozens of friend requests a day, he says, from "newfound friends, newfound family members and distant, distant, distant cousins."

Oh, and a couple of ex-girlfriends who say they miss him.

So it goes when you're rich and a celebrity, and Calloway recently became a little of both. Last week, before the start of the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Lakers' first-round NBA playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 29-year-old transportation electrician from Compton won $235,000 by making a basket from half court.

His life hasn't been the same since. "It's an amazing feeling at first," he says. "Then it gets irritating. Like, ‘Oh, man, I don't even know half these people who are sending me congratulations.' "

Some, he says, have even asked for his help paying bills.

Calloway earned his big chance when a promotional scout spotted him walking around the Staples Center concourse shooting a balled-up Lakers towel into the air.

Asked if he would be interested in showing his form in a try for big money, Calloway jumped at the chance.

The fact that he was good enough in his playing days to make the Long Beach Jordan High varsity as a freshman, or that he played point guard for two seasons at Cal State Northridge, never came up. The only questions the scout asked him pertained to his being at least 21 years old and no relation to anyone affiliated with the Lakers organization or the Mirage Hotel and Casino, which sponsors the promotion.

Instead of going to his seat, he headed straight for the bar, where he says he downed a couple of cups of water and prayed.

"I couldn't enjoy the game," Calloway said. "My heart was racing."

When he was finally ushered onto the court, he was dazed by the bright lights and cheers from a capacity crowd much bigger and louder than anything he had ever experienced.

Bouncing the ball a few times to capture a rhythm, he took a few steps forward and, with a flip of his wrist, let loose a high-arching shot.

At first, he thought it would fall short. But it didn't, the seams on the ball rotating perfectly before it majestically settled into the bottom of the net.

With that, Calloway spun 180 degrees, pumped his arms at his side and let out a primal scream — "of joy and relief," he says — that was swallowed up by the roar of nearly 19,000 witnesses.

Tuesday night, he found himself at center court again, this time to accept his check. As for his plans with the money, he has a few. Nothing flashy, though. He says he will pay off some debts, maybe buy a new car, help out his family.

Calloway, who shares a small bedroom with his 25-year-old brother, Chris, in their parents' Compton home, is only the second "Mirage Big Shot Jackpot" winner in four years. The prize started at $25,000 for the Lakers' first regular-season home game and increased by $5,000 with each miss.

"I just want to start my life over," Calloway said. "This is enough money to start something."

Video of Calloway's shot was replayed for the national television audience watching the game and shown dozens of times on local news broadcasts and highlight shows in the week since.

Last Saturday, he ignored the clamor from reporters and cameramen and concentrated on helping a team of 8- and 9-year-olds win a basketball game. Calloway spends 10 hours a week coaching kids for a nonprofit organization called Educated Ballers, which is based out of the Salvation Army in Compton.

"That's my big joy," he says.

Before he left the gym, he stood behind the half-court line and shot the ball.

It bounced on the rim a few times — and missed.

melissa.rohlin@latimes.com

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