Lon Kruger went to Atlanta Hawks management before the 2002-03 NBA season with a radical proposal.
Kruger's idea was to build a marketing plan around the Hawks making the playoffs. If the Hawks reached postseason, all season ticket holders would be given free first-round tickets.
"Crowd interest was very low," Kruger said. "The enthusiasm for the Hawks was low. We were just trying to do something to pique interest."
The final marketing plan was different from the plan pitched by Kruger. Team officials decided it wasn't sexy enough.
Before that season, team officials did make a guarantee, though. If the Hawks didn't make the playoffs, every season ticket holder would be refunded $125.
“The team thought it would play better, read better, if they did it the other way, which I was fine with,” Kruger said. “We just wanted to create a little interest.”
Kruger said he believed making the playoffs that season was a realistic goal.
After missing the playoffs three consecutive years, including two seasons under Kruger, the Hawks acquired veteran Glenn Robinson from Milwaukee. Robinson would complement veterans Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Theo Ratliff.
Atlanta also had a talented second-year guard, Jason Terry, who would eventually become the league's Sixth Man of the Year with the Dallas Mavericks.
The organization built its entire advertising campaign around Kruger's plan. When someone called the Hawks' offices, they received this response: “Thank you for calling the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks.”
Kruger felt the campaign might unify players.
“It would let them know we expect to do this,” Kruger said. “Let's act like we're going to get there.”
Former Oklahoma star Gar Heard was an assistant on Kruger's staff.
“He was trying to motivate the guys, but in the NBA that doesn't work,” Heard said. “In the NBA, their motivation is playing time.”
Kruger was fired Dec. 26 after the Hawks started the season with an 11-16 record. Terry Stotts, another former OU star, was named interim coach.
The Hawks finished that season 35-47.
And by failing to deliver on the promise of making the playoffs, the Hawks lost approximately $500,000.