By Chris Daigle
Trash talk was thick between Kimmel and Cruz before their game in Houston on Saturday June 16 at Texas Southern University’s Athletic Education Arena.
The idea for this charity game resulted from Houston-based senator Ted Cruz tweeting a picture of himself court side for Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. His hometown Houston Rockets were trying to keep the Golden State Warriors from getting to the NBA Finals. The Rockets lost, which prompted talk show host Jimmy Kimmel to mock the senator on Twitter, saying he looked like, well, a Blobfish.
Cruz, a basketball benchwarmer in high school, was nonetheless swooshing the hoops playing Varsity about the same time Kimmel was tooting around on his clarinet. Cruz said in a recent interview that he wasn’t taking this insult lying down. “And so I sent a tweet,” Cruz said. “All right big guy, you talk a good game! You have besmirched my support for the Houston Rockets. Let’s settle this man-to-man, one-on-one hoops.”
During a broadcast of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel said he was in.
“I immediately went online and Googled how to guard a blobfish. I’ll accept on one condition: We both wear short shorts, right?” Kimmel asked.
Wrong, said Cruz.
So it was settled. The late night talk show host and the Texas senator squared off in the gym on the campus of Texas Southern University. The contest benefitted two charities: Generation One, based in the Third Ward in Houston (Cruz’s choice). Its mission is to, “Be a catalyst for systemic change in the education system, by creating an equitable educational landscape across the city.” Kimmel chose Texas Children’s Hospital, because his one-year-old son Billy has had three heart surgeries, and is waiting on a fourth.
The choice of an arena was a little more challenging. The advance team first considered a middle school gymnasium, and they even looked at using the George R. Brown Convention Center. Texas Southern University stepped up and offered its Athletics Education Arena, which fit perfectly. There, the challenge would commence: The American versus the Canadian; the baller versus the blobfish. It would turn out to be the Blobfish Basketball Classic.
Cruz wasn’t guaranteeing victory going in, but he made one promise: “Under no circumstances will Kimmel dunk on me. I’ll pull his shorts down to the ground rather than let him get to the rim.”
Fanfare is something Kimmel knows about, and his arrival came amidst lights and smoke, and with him was, naturally, a mascot: A blobfish mascot named “Blobby.” Kimmel said he carbo-loaded to get ready for the game. He practiced a little last week, but after 25 years of not playing basketball regularly, “I decided to wing it,” he said.
During the game, Kimmel and Cruz had brief discussions about detention centers and Cruz’s support for President Donald Trump. “This won’t be the first time you lose to a TV host,” Kimmel said. He also asked Cruz why he didn’t support covering pre-existing conditions. Booing from the decidedly pro-Kimmel crowd drowned out the Senator’s answer.
Senator Cruz had his fan base out there, and they had their cut-outs of his face to wave. The Kimmel fans had theirs as well, and a noticeable mixture of boos from the Kimmel fans upon each Cruz basket was heard, but no boos from the Cruz camp were noticeable.
Cruz and Kimmel proved they should each keep their day jobs, missing more than 100 shots between the two of them during the game. Cruz joked that they also set the Guinness World Record for fouls.
The pace of the game, however, became a matter of Kimmel keeping up with Cruz. Lead scoring was by Cruz, then Kimmel would rally for a tie game three times. But he just couldn’t pass Cruz. The original plan was that the first 15 points would win on this half court, one basket, one-on-one challenge, but early on, both decided to shorten the game to an 11-point winner.
At half time, the score was Kimmel 6, Cruz 5, and the blobfish decided to hold a dance competition. Blobby showed his style by doing three backflips in a fish costume. That took some practice!
Cruz and Kimmel kept the defense tight, but both got lucky on long shot baskets. Kimmel had a better cheering section. Oddsmakers were watching the game too. The Texas senator was favored to beat Kimmel by sports book Bouada. And Las Vegas was begging fans to take the talk show host at 8/5 odds. Cruz was listed at -220 , or 5/11, which basically meant to win $100, fans had to plunk down $220, and hope that Cruz would prevail. At a height of 5’10” to Kimmel’s six feet, perhaps that is not a good enough payout for low stakes prop betting. Cruz, who is three years younger than Kimmel, appeared to have the girth advantage, which helped out in the paint. Plus, some high school basketball time came in very handy.
Things heated up as the score tied, then Cruz was ahead. It was 10 to 8, then 10 to 9 (Cruz). It was a cliffhanger, folks! The crowd was on its feet! Cruz needed one more basket! Kimmel pressed his defense, but Cruz broke to the outside and took a shot…IT’S GOOD!
Ted Cruz won the Blobfish Basketball Classic! No more boos were heard as the arena erupted, confetti was fired, and Kimmel looked astonished. It took almost two hours, but Ted Cruz made the oddsmakers drop their cigars.
“Is that the ugliest game winning shot you’ve ever seen?” Cruz asked. Kimmel said, “I know I’m not a great basketball player, but I’m at least as good at the game as Senator Cruz is at being a senator.”
The real winners in this tournament were the charities. Generation One in the Third Ward received $30,000 and Texas Children’s Hospital received $10,000.
When complimented on his winning shot from the outside, Cruz said, “Next time I’ll try to open my eyes.” Rematch, anyone?
Chris Daigle is a Houston Historian and a regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.