Yes, that is the name of a person, but for the past 10 years, I've thought of him more as one of the many representations of my childhood than as an actual human who played in the National Basketball Association. Non-humans fall into this category, too, from NBA Jam: Tournament Edition to Sports Illustrated for Kids to GameDay '98 to Eastbay, Inside Stuff to Beckett's Price Guide and Rock N' Jock, but there's something about those players, and what they stood for on and off the court, that still carries so much weight even if you haven't the slightest clue if they made it through Y2K.
Up until three days ago, Cedric Ceballos was nothing more than an obscure reference, a distant athletic memory, and a basketball card alphabetically placed in a plastic sleeve somewhere between Kelvin Cato and Tom Chambers. That was, until I was sent a link to a website, causing this image to pop up on my laptop:
Not having the slightest clue what this was, I scrolled down. And that was the moment when my week officially became a wash.
A 10-minute phone call with Cedric Ceballos, one in which someone was expected to shell out $99? What?
The website is Thuzio.com, and on the surface it's a service for people to pay for experiences involving an athlete of their choosing. Cofounded by retired Giants running back Tiki Barber, it seems to be a nostalgia junkie's dream.
If you're the MSG channel 1994 Road to the Finals–watching type, there's John Starks, and if you miss the good old days of boxing, next to him is Larry Holmes. If the era of '90s point guards is your thing, both Tim Hardaway and Gary Payton are homepage selling points. If you're looking for a more recent superstar, there's also Cy Young knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
I was intrigued. I found a few outlets that had covered the website, from Business Insider to Deadspin to Betabeat, and although upon leaving my literature review I was unsure how far the venture was from an athlete escort service, I was still ready to do some digging and see what the site truly had to offer. That was Tuesday.
It's now Friday and I'm just leaving the sometimes depressing, occasionally troublesome, always confusing, at times inspiring, "Wait, is this sadder for the buyer or the athlete?" K-hole that is the Thuzio database of professional athletes.
There are things I cannot unsee, thoughts I can't take back, and three days I'll never really recover from. While I'm not sure if it was worth it, I do take some pride in knowing that I am finally the foremost expert in something. Yes, I know even more than you, Tiki. I promise.
First, a Thuzio number crunch.
Above is a spreadsheet of every professional in Thuzio's database, along with every service they are offering, and the corresponding rate, as of February 7. There are 340 "Thuzio Pros." One of the things worth noting, within all the numbers, are the demographics of the athletes (and other scattered personalities) that have signed on.
Note: All of the unlabeled small slivers are sports with just a single athlete, thus not warranting a full percentage point.
On each profile page, in addition to each athlete having a little bio and bullet-pointed résumé, as well as their prices, there's a map with a geographical zone within which each athlete/personality is willing to travel for the stated price. Only for a steeper price will the person whose services are being bought go farther than originally stated.
I know. The comparisons to certain establishments with poles are endless. It's unavoidable.
The two main locations for Thuzio connections are the New York City area and various regions of Florida, heavily favoring the Miami–Fort Lauderdale area.
So the service has some major markets. Good to know; great for people who live in those regions and are looking to connect. But that's not nearly the most important information found after breaking down these 340 former and current athletes and media personalities.
The following are those important findings.
It's strange. Only 18 of the 340 people have the option, which in my mind is about 25 too many. Some notable names: Ceballos, Kenny Anderson, Nick Anderson, Mickey Morandini, Mark Brunell, Dale Ellis, Kevin Gilbride, Lomas Brown, and Rick Barry. I get it, maybe, if you're looking for some celebrity contact but can't afford the in-person experience, or live on the other side of the country and it's the best you can do, but still. It just seems awkward for all parties involved.
Who starts the conversation? What happens if it turns into a game of telephone tag? How do voice mails come into play? (In my mind, it's only a matter of time before they are charging $300 for a voice mail birthday greeting from your favorite player.) I don't like anything about this option and am pleased that it's being offered by so few.
At its core, Thuzio is a golfing website. Whether you want to pay a Thuzio Pro to crash your corporate outing or be a fourth in your Sunday round, it all seems to come back to golf. Startlingly, 73.2 percent of Pros whose time can be purchased list "round of golf" as an option, ranging from $300 for Miss New York Elizabeth Tam to $18,000 for PGA tour professional Jeff Overton. I know golf is a thing that you pick up as an adult, but there is no way all 249 of the people who are available for a round of golf are people you want rounding out your foursome.
Outside of the actual golfers in question, only one professional, current New York Giants player Zak DeOssie, gives the buyer any hope that he or she is purchasing someone who has his or her own set of clubs. The final bullet point of his LinkedIn-esque résumé is "excellent golfer (5 handicap)."
ONLY TRUST DEOSSIE.
Even if that trust costs you $1,500. Which it does.
When you're a freshman in college and are struggling to get your résumé to a full page because you haven't done anything in your life yet, or when you've graduated from a liberal arts college and realize that you don't have a single skill to your name, one of the go-to strategies is just listing anything that could be perceived as positive:
"Was once called on in class and correctly answered the question."
"Three-time summer camp counselor; none of the kids died."
"Scored a 92 on a state-issued driving test on the first try, thus entrusted to operate a motor vehicle by the Commonwealth."
There's a bit of résumé-padding taking place in the land of Thuzio that's not that different. Some of the best:
Stephen Baker: Caught 14-yard TD pass from QB Jeff Hostetler in Super Bowl XXV.
Josh Baker: First Career Touchdown Catch from QB Mark Sanchez against the NY Giants (2011).
Fred Baxter: Received for Jets quarterbacks Ray Lucas and Vinny Testaverde and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
John Conner: Plays with teammates Mark Sanchez, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Tim Tebow, and Nick Mangold.
Zendon Hamilton: Played with St. John's greats such as Ron Artest and Felipe Lopez.
Nick Anderson: Played on the Magic with teammates Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway.
Roy Foster: Protected Miami Dolphins QB Dan Marino's blind side for 9 seasons.
Darian Barnes: Is currently a freelance graphic designer.
Kroy Biermann: Married to The Real Housewives of Atlanta star Kim Zolciak.
JJ Birden: Currently a Top Distributor with Xocai Healthy Chocolate.
Jim Chones: NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers when he replaced an injured Abdul-Jabbar in Game 6 and held Darryl Dawkins to 14 points (1980).
Chris Myers: Was the first to interview O.J. Simpson after his acquittal (1995).
Toddrick McIntosh: President, CEO and Co-Founder of Money Players Jewelry Company with his brother, Eric McIntosh.
Maureen Shea: Main sparring partner for Hilary Swank in preparation for the film Million Dollar Baby.
While silly, I get it. If you can't get to Mark Sanchez/Hilary Swank, why not pay for the next best thing: spending time with someone who caught a pass from him/boxed with her. I GET IT.
This award goes to the smartest man in the Thuziosphere: Kevin Faulk. Not adhering to the pressure of simply doing the standard options of golf, dinner, coaching, or making appearances, Faulk has an option that makes him stand out from the rest:
So first off, he's a genius, because he's the only one with a poker option. But think about this for a second. He's getting paid to come play poker. Which means he's essentially being given chips, thus never paying out of pocket for a game one has to assume he's obsessed with. This is one of the few win-wins in the land of Thuzio, because for the buyer, having Kevin Faulk come over and play poker is a great story, and obviously, for Kevin, it's a beautiful working of the system.
Because for many of these professionals, a career of athletic prowess will never be their selling point. What becomes highlighted is something almost as important as being a great athlete: being a good person.
Victor Green: Founded the Victor Green Foundation, an organization dedicated to community reform. Key to the City of Americus award winner for his social reform work in Americus, Georgia.
Jarvis Green: New England Patriots Ron Burton Community Service Award winner (2006).
Bobby Harden: Visited Haiti in 2010 with fellow Dolphins teammates to assist in earthquake relief efforts. Involved in the Miami area community as a mentor and resource for kids.
Chris Washburn: Currently a powerful motivational speaker regarding substance abuse in Hickory, North Carolina.
Troy Drayton: Taught history to 9th and 10th graders at the Academy High School in South Florida (2008-2009). Currently the Youth and Community Programs Coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.
I like this, Thuzio. Well done.
I will never be someone who tells other people what to do with their money. With that said, it is slightly troublesome that out of 340 people, only one person (that I saw) mentions donating his or her money to another entity.
That person is former NFL player Curtis W. Greer.
Yes, he's pocketing the $1,000 he gets from the person who wants to take him to lunch or dinner, but all of his "Attend a Game" and "Speaking Engagement" fees go straight to his alma mater, the University of Michigan. While that institution isn't exactly needy, if someone is giving money away it at least temporarily pauses the looping video of the Broke 30 for 30 that takes place in my head as I spend time on this website. It's not such a bad idea when people are using it as a side-hustle. But if this is seen as a primary source of income, that's when the laughter over $99 phone calls turns into depression.
But I digress shout-out to Curtis W. Greer.
Twenty-one out of the 340 people on the site are women. That's around 6 percent. Not awesome. A bright spot, however, is that nine of those 21 are active athletes (42.9 percent), compared to 42 active male athletes of the total 319 (13.2 percent). Well, kind of a bright spot, until you realize that might mean there's more of a need for active female athletes to have additional streams of income, since they get paid nothing compared to their male counterparts.
So yeah, back to not awesome.
Some notable names: gymnast Kerri Strug (who happens to have the second-highest "Camp Coaching" rate at $7,500 per day; shout-out to sticking that vault) and basketball legend Ann Meyers Drysdale.
And then there's Kavita Channe:
• Ranked in the top 5 Hottest Sportscasters of 2012 by BR5's Daily Show
• Ranked #2 in the Bleacher Report's "50 Sexiest Moments of 2011"
• Served as "The Sexy Co-Host" in the highly acclaimed ManTalk Radio Show
• Nominated for Leukemia & Lymphoma's Woman of the Year (2010)
I'm not quite sure how I feel about the state of the Ladies of Thuzio, but I'm leaning more toward "not great."
These people: Vaughn Martin, Bret Boone, Robert Griffith, Billy Ray Smith, and Jacque Jones. Sure, the epicenter of their geographical zone is San Diego, but it 100 percent dips into Mexico, putting Tijuana on the table.
YOU CAN PAY $1,500 TO "HEAR THE STORY" OF BRET BOONE IN TIJUANA.
I'm shocked that there's not a payment option for a one-on-one session on how to do the Boone Bat Flip. Stop selling yourself short, Bret. It's moneymaking time.
Speaking of selling yourself short:
Dee Brown: While his picture is the eyes-closed dunk, and his résumé does mention that he "beat 6-time NBA All-Star Shawn Kemp to win the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Contest," there is not a payment option to watch him do the dunk. Even if he missed it, I'd give him $100 just to try it. Let us pay you, Dee. We're begging to.
John Starks: In Stamford, Connecticut, there is a cigar bar co-owned by John Starks. Why "smoke cigars with John Starks while discussing his feelings on Reggie Miller" isn't an option is absurd. There's money in these streets, John. Let us pay you, John. We're begging to.
Darren Daulton: For a flat rate of $1,500, the former Phillies catcher will tell you his life story. For the same rate, you can get punter Jeff Feagles. PER HOUR. If there's one thing I know, it's that a conversation between Jeff Feagles and me will not make it to a 61st minute. Darren Daulton, on the other hand, is someone I'm trying to let talk as long as he wants to talk. Sure, some of that time will be dedicated to baseball stories, but I'm trying to get at least four hours on his book, If They Only Knew. You know, the one on occultism and numerology. That's what I'm paying the big bucks for.
Darren, you have to know that's what the people want. You can up your price. It doesn't matter. The people will show up.
Wayne Gomes: According to his bio, he "played for the San Francisco Giants alongside Barry Bonds during his record-breaking home run season (2001)." And, according to the Thuzio rules, for $250, I can buy him for lunch or dinner and "choose what you want to talk about. Wayne will share stories from his career."
So, Wayne, WHAT HAPPENED?
The answer to that question should be worth $1,000. This is your time to shine, Wayne Gomes. Whistleblow over some Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits.
Eric Kelly: This man charging $200 for a private coaching session is highway self-robbery. If you don't know why I'd say that, then take five minutes out of your life, immediately:
Eric Kelly needs to realize that Eric Kelly is a star. I can't allow him to get paid so little, comparatively, when his expertise and sassy ability to belittle the richest of men deserves five times as much money.
I would say this is a steal, but I don't want it to be a steal. This is one of the rare times I want the Thuzio Pro to come out on top.
Dolph Schayes: He's an American treasure. I think he used to babysit James Naismith. If you have the funds and are actually trying to talk with someone who has perspective on this whole sports thing, why not drop $400 on a breakfast with Dolph?
Just imagine what he has to say about J.R. Smith. Take a moment to think about that.
Kenny Anderson, Derrick Coleman, John Starks, Vin Baker, Dee Brown, Nick Anderson, Gary Payton.
Mookie Blaylock, Anthony Peeler, Pooh Richardson.
Ricky Watters: I conveniently left him off the "phone call" list earlier, but for a price, he, too, will talk to you for 10 minutes. But his rate is $199. So someone really must be a Ricky Watters fan to carry through on this call.
You call Ricky and have a conversation that has traces of admiration, but not obsession. Around the eight-minute mark, you ask if he'd be willing to talk again, noting that you were embarrassed, and would definitely pay again, but figured there was no harm in asking.
He obliges, but says that it can happen off the Thuzio books this time. He gives you his number.
The next day you talk, but this time for two hours. Toward the end, you tell him that you're going to be in Orlando soon and would love to pay for him to come play a round of golf with two of your friends who happen to be a couple.
(You're a woman, by the way. Sorry, forgot to mention that.)
He mentions that if he's available, most certainly, and that he'd do it for free. You thank him, but insist. He obliges.
Two weeks later, you call him and tell him that you're headed to Orlando that weekend. He says his schedule is free and that he's in for golf. He even says the phrase "double date." You give him the details of when you're getting to Orlando, and he offers to pick you up from the airport. You thank him but say you have a ride. Two days later, when you arrive, you call him again and straighten out the details for Sunday golf. He asks if you want to meet up the evening before to get dinner, but you say you want to stay in and rest.
He understands, and ends the conversation by saying he's excited you made it to Orlando.
But here's the thing. You're not in Orlando. Not even close. In actuality, you're on your couch in Cleveland. You got laid off two weeks earlier and got a pretty nice severance package. How better to spend it than to Catfish Ricky Watters?
And so it was.
You eventually cancel on golf last-minute, blaming it on food poisoning, and then tell him you have to get back home suddenly for a wedding or funeral. He believes you, because why wouldn't he. He says he'll call you next week. And you say you'll make it up to him and plan another visit real soon.
THIS IS HOW YOU CATFISH RICKY WATTERS.
Former NFL fullback Darian Barnes: Why? Oh, I don't know, maybe this
And then THIS:
This is too good to be true. A guy with a Super Bowl ring went out of his way to put KARAOKE on his list, and he's charging only 100 bucks, AND THIS CAN HAPPEN IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD?
I can't wait until March. This is going to be the best birthday ever.
Jonathan Goff: Bowling, Mini Golf, Ping-Pong, Pool, etc.: $1,000
Zendon Hamilton: 2-on-2 or 3-on-3: $800
Tim Hardaway: Horse, shooting contests, etc.: $1,000 — KNOCKOUT IS INCLUDED
Tiki Barber: Flag Football: $1,500 — BOOOOOO
Darian Barnes: Flag Football: $100/hr — YESSSSS
Rick Barry: Fly Fishing Trip: "REQUEST A PRICE."
Kroy Biermann: Hunting or Fishing: $4,000
Henry Lawrence: Will sing for you and your friends: $15,000
Jim Karol, mentalist: Will perform memory and mental tricks: $3,000
Peter Johncke, "The Trick Shot Master": Will put on a trick shot golf show: $3,000
Dawn Riley: Will join you and your guests for lunch and dinner for $1,000, but for an extra $500, SHE WILL DO THE COOKING.
Greg Buttle: Will be your live auctioneer: $2,500
Billy Sample: "Using the skills Billy has learned through his film career, the award-winning screenplay author will provide the voice-over for home movies, bar mitzvahs, highlight tapes, etc.": $1,250
I could easily make all this up, but I'm not. Which is the best.
Joe Klecko: $4,000 to show up at your fantasy football draft (2-hour max).
Brian Billick: $25,000 to speak at your event.
Rick Barry: $10,000 to speak at your corporate event.
Lawrence Taylor: $10,000 for dinner.
Daryl Johnston, Matt Every: $10,000 to make an appearance at a celebration.
Jeff Overton: $18,000 for a round of golf.
Colt McCoy: $11,250 to have him tell you his story.
R.A. Dickey/Jeff Overton: $20,000 to make an appearance at an event.
John Huh: $30,000 to come to a corporate outing.
Walter McCarty: $5,000/hr to play in a pickup game.
Kevin Gilbride: $7,350/hr for a private coaching session.
Chris Doleman, John Starks: $5,000 for a group coaching session.
Jonathan Goff: $10,000/hr for a team guest coaching appearance.
Jonathan Goff: $10,000 for a camp guest coaching appearance.
On each profile page, at the bottom, there is an option for "custom requests." On 339 of the pages, that option is available.
There is one person, however, who does not have that at the bottom.
While one has to assume this could easily be a mistake on the part of the web team, the idea of Dale explicitly telling Thuzio, "This is all I'm doing, so don't even come at me with all that 'we will try to make it happen' nonsense, because it's not happening, DALE ELLIS MIC DROP" is amazing.
Please don't let this be a mistake.
Wrestle with wrestler Ellis Coleman: $500, and there's NO TIME LIMIT.
Box with former boxer Randy Neumann: $500.
Water ski with water skier Camille Duvall: $250.
Sail with sailor Dawn Riley, on her sailboat because she's got it like that, and she'll probably cook for you since that's how she rolls: $3,000
Fence with fencer Soren Thompson: $400
Run with runner Dean Karnazes: $1,500-$2,500
Squash with squasher Chris Walker: $500 (I know they're not called "squashers," but I had a good thing going with the, er, scheme, OK?)
While the pickup games with basketball and football players are enticing, they assuredly are more fun on paper than in real life. This is the route you want to go. I promise.
The following are the individuals who had the best bios, mainly because they're all over the place.
• Member of the Los Angeles Dodgers with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Tommy Davis
• Talented classical pianist prior to his MLB career and once played at Carnegie Hall
• Nicknamed Al "The Bull" Ferrara
• Pursued an acting career from 1953 to 1978, appearing in many titles including Batman (the TV series) and Gilligan's Island
I want to know him.
• Inspiration for the 2001 film Invincible starring Mark Wahlberg
• Oldest rookie in the history of the NFL when he joined the Eagles at age 30
• Currently regarded as one of the top motivational speakers in the country
I also want to know him.
• Averaged over 12 points per game for three consecutive seasons with the Orlando Magic (1990-1992)
• Two-time All-SEC and All-Louisiana selection (1984, 1985)
• Credited with the term "24/7"
• Inducted into the Louisiana Basketball Hall of Fame (2003)
I can't believe he invented the phrase "24/7." That's incredible, especially because of the story, "He was talking about his jump shot. This is when a player releases the ball in mid-air and Reynolds said his was 'good 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year'."
Fantastic. I want to know him.
• Has gone toe-to-toe with Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Andre the Giant, and Victor the Wrestling Bear
• Knocked Muhammad Ali down in the 9th round of their epic battle
• Is the real-life inspiration for Sylvester Stallone's Rocky character
VICTOR THE WRESTLING BEAR IS THE ONLY PERSON ON THAT LIST WHO WILL STAND THE TEST OF TIME.
Robert Griffith: Someone will tell their dumb assistant to find out about booking Robert Griffin III, and, well, because their assistant happens to be dumb, they will accidentally type in "Robert Griffith" and the end result will the greatest thing ever. Well, at least that's what Robert Griffith should be hoping for. It's really the best thing going for him right now.
I'd hike up those prices 10 times, if I were him. Maybe put, "Will braid your hair: $20,000" or "Teach you how to scramble: $35,000" or "Will tell you everything on Subway's secret menu: $50,000" or "Will talk to you about Robert Griffin III: $12,000" and just bank on speaking in the third person being what stands out, not a completely different last name.
Randy Neumann: Again, someone will tell their dumb assistant (same one, he got fired and moved on to another agency, where he's still, somehow, in charge of booking) to book Randy Newman for the holiday party. Being the dumb assistant that he is, he's never heard of Randy Newman, so sees a "Neumann" and assumes it's the same person. And, thinking he's doing his boss a favor, excitedly books him because it's 95 percent less than what the musical budget allowed for.
Come holiday party, he will get fired again.
On the résumé of Mark Brunell: "Recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award (1998) and named 'Whizzer' White NFL Man of the Year (2001)"
I don't know how you read the second half of this sentence, but I can't get past the fact that I keep thinking Mark Brunell was awarded the White NFL Man of the Year award in 2001. I know that's not what it says, or means, but that's what I see. Maybe a "Whizzer" is slang for "White NFL Man." I don't know. I'm not in the NFL.
Walter Bond: "Scored a career-high 25 points in only his second game in the NBA."
We can all agree this isn't a good thing, right? When has peaking in your second game ever been something to brag about? Walter, maybe take this off and substitute it with "Saw David Robinson once at a Romano's Macaroni Grill" or something. Anything. Just not this.
Going through the list of names in alphabetical order by last name, I had to endure 192 people before I finally got to one of my all-time favorites: Fred McGriff. The Crime Dog.
After feeling the emotions shockwave through my body, I actually started to understand why someone might crack and spend some money to chat with their hero. Almost.
And, since we're being honest, I have to admit I was upset to see Fred didn't have a phone call option. I don't know if you're reading this, Crime Dog, but PLEASE GET A PHONE CALL OPTION.
I NEED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT THE TOM EMANSKI COMMERCIALS.
IF I DIDN'T GET ALL MY ANSWERS IN THE FIRST 10 MINUTES, I'D PAY FOR ANOTHER SESSION.
I PROMISE I'M NOT CATFISHING YOU, IGNORE THAT RICKY WATTERS STORY.
THIS IS MY THERAPY.
1. Set up an option for people to pay for their favorite stars to tweet at them. It's kind of weird, and misleading, and creepy, but so is the site, so why not?
2. Instead of golf or dinner options always meaning an athlete joining the buyer's friends, why not have it be the buyer joining the athlete's friends? That's the money move right there. I WANT TO BE THE FOURTH. LET THEM BE COMFORTABLE. I'LL PAY FOR AWKWARDNESS.
3. If you want to go public by Thanksgiving, just introduce Spades as an option. Trust me.
4. More tennis. All I want to do in this world is hit with professional tennis players for 90 minutes. There's nothing else that matters. Make it happen.
5. Set up a fantasy draft, for the Thuzio Pros, where points are based on how frequently people are buying their services. Nothing incentivizes participation like the fear of embarrassment. Also, just as a note, I'm drafting Ricky Watters first.
I don't like that this is a thing.