LAWRENCE, KAN – The Kansas Jayhawks defeated the EA Sports All-Stars 111-94 Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse. Few know the long and storied rivalry between the two teams.
"Everyone knows about the MU-KU rivalry, but few realize that the EA Sports All-Stars were also an early marketing ploy for Kansas. It is fortunate this has been resumed during the Roy Williams era," says Kansas basketball historian Owen Harrington. He notes Kansas and the EA Sports All-Stars have met sixty-three times over the years, the most games played between a university and a video game producer. Monday's win extended the Kansas record versus EA Sports to 62-1.
The Jayhawks and the EA Sports All-Stars began their rivalry in 1921, when the EA Sports All-Stars coach Buzzy Blanchard approached Kansas coach Phog Allen about playing each year in the preseason. It was Blanchard's dream a glorified practice session could be exploited for monetary gain. At that time EA Sports was an electric board game producer, making such popular products as "Pop Warner Football 1920", "Triple Play Baseball Featuring Rogers Hornsby" and "Jim Thorpe Athletic Challenge." EA Sports founder Tom Henson had formed a basketball team to help promote his games.
Allen agreed to the meaningless match up and Kansas proceeded to trounce the EA Sports All-Stars that season 121-14. The next season, EA was able to field five players, rather than four, and fought a much closer battle, losing 93-25.
The EA Sports All-Stars continued their pre-season rivalry with the Hawks throughout the twentieth century, but were interrupted from 1987-1990 when the EA Sports All-Stars tried to form the ill-fated Video Game Producer Basketball League.
"Nintendo was really on the rise at that time, with hot sports games like "Double Dribble" and "Tecmo Bowl," says Ralph Morey, the former commissioner of the VGPBL. "It just naturally seemed that we should expand into real sports leagues."
An attempt at a football league failed when fans grew weary of limited offensive game plans.
"Fans loved Tecmo Bowl, which had just four offensive plays to choose from. But when you translate that to a real football field, fans just don't respond," says Morey. The basketball league soon followed with financial problems. When the Nintendo Ninjas and Sega Genesis Slammers folded, the league dissolved, and EA Sports was available again to play the Jayhawks for their annual anticlimactic pre-season battle.
The EA Sports All-Stars were revolutionary for their time, becoming the first to cross the racial barrier. In 1993, the team's finances became tight. New owner Ted Murphy cut costs by fielding a team full of tech engineers, rather than experienced basketball players. Among those was Jeff Chang, a 5'8'' guard/graphics designer from Pomona, California. Chang became the first Asian-American to play for a semi-professional basketball team sponsored by a video game producer. Although Chang was unable to score that season, he paved the way for future Asian professional basketball players such as Zhizhi Wang and Yao Ming.
This year's EA All-Stars field former Big 12 standouts as Adonis Jordan and D.J. Harrison, making the rivalry all the more fierce and providing for additional photo ops.
"I hope it's a rivalry that never dies," says Harrington. "It's really fun to see KU beat up on old men and former college players who couldn't quite cut it in the CBA."