Tucked away in our tiny backyard behind the Spice Rack restaurant (where Ralphs sits today), and after months and months of practice, my dog Buddy, a golden retriever, made history by sinking a regulation basketball through a regulation 10-foot rim. We had set a goal for ourselves to prove what was thought be impossible, but our day had come and a star was born.
Very quickly, I marketed Buddy’s talent. Within weeks, we became finalists on “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” winning second place. Months later, the “Late Show with David Letterman” was calling. We appeared on “Stupid Pet Tricks,” and much to the delight of the host, when Buddy sank the second shot on national television, Letterman brought Buddy back for an encore where Buddy sank the first shot.
Then the NBA came calling. When Buddy performed a halftime show on Christmas Day 1991 at the L.A. Forum in a Lakers vs. Clippers rivalry, Buddy had a better shooting percentage than three of the starting players on the Clippers team. Now, Buddy was a sports figure to be reckoned with in the NBA. He soon became known as “Air Bud,” a take-off of Air Jordan.
But it was perhaps Buddy’s third national television appearance that solidified his presence in the industry. We were invited back to New York to appear on David Letterman’s 10th anniversary special. Six thousand people packed Radio City Music Hall to watch Buddy sink baskets. An all-star band backed Paul Shaffer and Letterman as Buddy sank his third attempt to the spontaneous standing applause of the crowd. It was an experience like no other to think how far we had come from our tiny backyard a block from Crystal Pier in our beloved Pacific Beach.
I knew on the plane flight home that I had to get Buddy from the backyard to the big screen. But how? I wasn’t a writer. So I continued on. I then cross-trained Buddy to play the position of goalie in the sports of hockey and soccer, and the position of wide receiver in football.
We were fortunate enough to showcase his football-catching ability at a San Diego Chargers pre-game show. We also began performing motivational elementary school assemblies around Pacific Beach. Our first assembly was at Kate Sessions Elementary School and Buddy was an immediate hit. We displayed Buddy’s legendary athletic abilities and taught the children about teamwork and patience. Buddy’s discipline and perseverance was an inspiration to the kids. Buddy’s drive was something they were able to learn from and emulate. From that point on, I knew children were our target audience.
Meanwhile, I did some research on script writing and how the process works. I penned a treatment titled “Mascot,” a film about a struggling NBA team that decides to bring in a mascot to boost morale and turn the team into a championship team. When they find Buddy, the basketball-playing dog, their plan comes together and in the final championship game, and a long “DL” list, they bring Buddy in to win the game and the championship. I registered it with the Writers Guild of America and set out to find a couple of script writers to take the project on spec. When I found two writers, Paul Tamasy and Aaron Mendleson who were fresh out of UCLA Film School, I knew I found the link to get Buddy’s script polished. We brought the story down to a kid’s level and made Buddy the mascot of a junior high school team. After several years and seven or eight revisions, and with our polished script in hand, we hit the streets of Hollywood determined to get Buddy from the backyard to the big screen.
All the while we were performing all over the country: the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, variety shows, universities, state fairs and just about any entertainment venue. Buddy was in demand. We finally contracted with a production company in early 1996 on the movie “Air Bud.” We went into production in the fall of 1996 and Buddy hit theaters in August 1997. Our six-year journey had taken us from our tiny backyard in Pacific Beach to the big screen to the world.
Back in the summer of 1994, I had the foresight to freeze Buddy’s semen. Much like the Griffys, the Bonds and the Mannings, Buddy Jr. is the third son to continue the “Air Bud” legacy. And now, as cloning is being perfected in San Francisco, perhaps one day in the near future, the original Buddy may once again be playing ball here in PB.
Buddy is the modern-day Lassie. “Air Bud 15” has just finished production. The franchise has grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide. Next to James Bond, Buddy has more sequels in Hollywood history than any other film character. Buddy and I will be heading to Super Bowl week this year in Dallas. I might talk to the Spanos family this offseason to offer Buddy’s services as a mascot. I think he would make an excellent addition to their organization and might be the missing link that so far has prevented them, and everyone here in San Diego, from winning a Super Bowl trophy.
On any given day, you know that Buddy is playing some sport, somewhere in this beautiful seaside town, our beloved Pacific Beach.
For booking inquiries, visit www.airbud.com