August 10, 2022
The Indiana Fever let me play Deal or No Deal for charity
Inside what it's like to win money for charity, Fever style
Deal? Or no deal?
Those are the questions the Indiana Fever interim general manager Lin Dunn presumably asks during trade calls. It’s also the question that Howie Mandel asks contestants on the hit game show ”Deal or No Deal,” and it has reached the lexicon of Fever in-game entertainment.
During Indiana home games, KeyBank Central Indiana president Juan Gonzalez is the host instead of Mandel. And instead of 26 cases in the television version of the game, there are four. It all happens in one minute on the hardwood instead of over the course of an hour on TV. It’s fantastic.
And I got to play for charity.
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“Deal or No Deal” is a simple game. The player chooses one case from a selection of 26 (or four during breaks in Fever action). Inside each case is a plaque with a dollar amount listed on it — the smallest being $0.01 and the highest being $1 million (the Fever version has a low value of $50 and a high value of $500). Throughout the game, the player eliminates cases from the remaining 25, and the cash amount in each case is revealed after it is chosen. After a handful of eliminations, a banker offers the player a cash amount in exchange for their case, which leads Mandel (or Gonzalez) to ask ”Deal? Or no deal?” The process continues until either each case has been eliminated (the player then wins the amount in their case) or the player takes a deal.
During WNBA action, it’s a little different. After the player picks their case from the four (labeled with a “K,” “E,” “Y” and a key symbol, as KeyBank sponsors the event), they are tasked with eliminating two of the remaining three cases. Then, Gonazalez makes an offer based on the two remaining values. If it’s declined (which almost always happens), then there is a dramatic reveal of the final two cases to see how much money the contestant won (or, on occasion and in my case, how much will be donated to charitable causes). It all happens during a timeout, typically, and the in-arena host narrates the action.
It’s electric, and one of the crowd favorites for in-game entertainment in Indiana. Since it’s fairly easy for every observer to understand the game and determine what they would do in the situation the contestant is in, there are tons of groans and cheers based on how the game goes.
For me personally, it’s a special experience. I used to watch “Deal or No Deal” with my mom when I was growing up — maybe a dozen times per year until I thought I was too cool to be watching game shows with my parent. My mom would always joke that she would be a terrible, uninteresting contestant because she would immediately take the first deal the banker offered since she showed up with no money. Not bad logic, if you ask me.
I was dorky-ish back then (I may be using the wrong verb tense) and math was my favorite subject in school, so “Deal or No Deal” was fun for me to watch. I would try to calculate the expected value of each incoming banker offer in my head before the contestant actually received the offer. Then I would decide what I would do once the actual offer came in (which is hilarious in retrospect since I had about $85 to my name in a wallet that velcroed shut). I got really into it, my mom enjoyed spending time with me, and since she is a middle school math teacher and I love math, it was always a fun hour.
Fast-forward to college. I had three roommates, and we had an unbelievable cable package in our living situation. We had thousands of channels we could watch, but we only watched one — Game Show Network on channel 233. We consumed hours of “Family Feud,” “Chain Reaction” and “Deal or No Deal.” As I matured, I still loved game shows, and watching them with my friends at the time was a blast.
At two influential times in my life, “Deal or No Deal” was a semi-constant. So how fitting that it returned as I began to cover professional basketball.
The Indiana Pacers, the NBA franchise under the same ownership as the Indiana Fever, also play “Deal or No Deal” on occasion during quarter breaks. I always enjoyed it, both as a math lover and fan of the game itself. At one point during the Pacers season in 2019, a contestant made an egregious decision (I think it was accepting a low offer) and I was shocked. They should have won more money! I was also shocked because the same case had the $500 in it during that game as the one before. These emotions and memories ignited me to do two things — track each game decision-by-decision and note which case had which dollar amount for full seasons.
On occasion, I would turn to Twitter to live tweet “Deal or No Deal” games during Pacers/Fever game breaks. I don’t know what influenced me to start doing this, but it was fun to overreact to perfect games (I compared them to a no-hitter in baseball) and poor decisions. Fans in the arena who could also see the action or the rare viewer on an obscure League Pass feed could follow along and share their happiness or frustration.
It became a thing. People would text me when they saw “Deal or No Deal” during a game. Other writers would ask me why I loved it so much. Some team staffers joked that I should play.
I always enjoyed those conversations. But it turns out it wasn’t a joke; the Indiana Fever invited me to be the contestant on July 29. During the second quarter of their game against the Las Vegas Aces, I got to play “Deal or No Deal” on the court in front of the crowd.
At first, I was psyched. But I didn’t want to win money, especially not in my seat at the game. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue — the Fever let me know that I could play for the charity of my choice. I chose Gleaners Food Bank, a Feeding America hunger relief organization. The Indiana Fever and Atlanta Dream volunteered together at Gleaners earlier this season, where they sorted, distributed and packed food.
With that settled, I was happy to play. Ok, fine, I was amped. I couldn’t wait. And I was ready to put my numbers-brain to use. I knew exactly what my strategy was going to be before I even showed up to the arena.
The E and the Y had the highest average value throughout the season prior to that game at $275. The key was next with an average of $213. And the lowly K came in with an average of $175 — it contained the $50 plaque twice. Armed with way too much knowledge for a game that was supposed to be played for fun, I had a plan. I would pick the E. (I chose E instead of Y since my last name starts with E. Take notes, strategists.) Then I would eliminate the K and the key, the two lowest value cases on average, and hope that the $250 and $500 cases remained.
At the end of the first quarter, I walked down into the halls of Hinkle Fieldhouse and toward the northeast corner of the court. I stood with many Pacers Sports and Entertainment employees as I waited for the first break in the quarter action for the “Deal or No Deal” action.
I could see the locked cases in the hallway as I was getting ready to play. A security guard looked at me as I walked past him toward the court. I thought he was about to ask me if I was the contestant, but he had a different question for me.
“Can I help you find your seat?” He probably asks that question 100 times every game day. It was totally normal. I was so focused on my “Deal or No Deal” strategy, though, that it threw me off. Suddenly I was nervous. I didn’t even answer his question, I just pointed at the cases nearby and he nodded his head.
The Fever were on a 6-0 run and had cut the Aces’ lead to one. During the run, Gonzalez and I began talking. He enjoys making the offers during “Deal or No Deal,” and he thought my Twitter commentary of the proceedings during games was fun. We discussed why I like “Deal or No Deal” in the first place, and while I was answering, Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon called a timeout to stop Indiana’s run. I couldn’t tell you anything about the Fever’s performance at the time; I couldn’t focus on the game. Apparently, Kelsey Mitchell was making some of her near All-Star level plays.
It was time for “Deal or No Deal.”
I walked out onto the court and was ready to go. I was also too nervous to take my hands out of my pockets, where they remained for nearly the whole game. But I was ready.
I chose the E. Then the in-arena host, Kurt Streblow, asked me to remove two cases. With no hesitation, I said, “Open the key.”
I was asked to open another case. I had to stick to the plan. I chose the K.
$100. Perfect so far.
Juan and Kurt then discussed what Key Bank’s offer would be to buy my case. The offer was $325. They could have offered $499.99, and I would have declined. I was confident. I said no deal, and it was time to reveal the Y.
$250. That meant my case, labeled with a giant “E,” had the $500 plaque. Freddy Fever, the Fever’s mascot, gave me an enormous hug that forced me to take my hands out of my pockets. It was a perfect game.
Or, as I once coined it, a no-hitter. Baseball fans will hate those adjacent meanings. But I was psyched that my years of research paid off and I didn’t have an embarassing performance.
Gonzalez, and KeyBank, were very generous and, instead of donating $500 to Gleaners, informed the crowd that they would be donating $1,000. That made it even more worth it. I walked through a sea of Aces players, who were exiting their timeout huddle, off the court and back to the sideline near the security guard who originally shook my confidence.
I instantly returned to my laptop and logged the “Deal or No Deal” game, as I do every time. It was much more fun to do when it was my own game, though, and it was extremely satisfying raising money for Gleaners.
Zion Brown, a reporter for the Indianapolis Recorder who was covering Fever-Aces, filmed the sequence. You can watch the end of it here, hands in pockets and all. It was an incredible experience that I won’t ever forget, and now my over-the-top tweets about “Deal or No Deal” can come from a place of insider knowledge. It’s nerve-wracking, and I will never judge a poor decision again.
The Indiana Fever are very gracious for letting me do this and pick the charity myself. That is a necessary part of the story, to me. They could have picked any fan from the crowd to participate, or even invited a season ticket-holder. But they were kind enough to give me a chance, and now I have an unforgettable memory and Gleaners can do more good. I can’t wait for the next round of “Deal or No Deal.”