Curiosity, as well as the temporary inactivity of Sugar Ray Leonard, has driven Mike Trainer to seek the answer to a question basketball fans have been asking: Who would win a one-on-one game between a tall, powerful forward and a sleek, agile guard?
Answers -- and dollars to the winner -- are forthcoming, Trainer says. Monday night in Atlantic City, eight of the nation's top players eligible for Wednesday's NBA draft, including La Salle's Lionel Simmons, Oregon State's Gary Payton and Louisiana State's Chris Jackson, will participate in Trainer's newest venture, the "One-on-One Challenge." The pay-per-view cable television event at the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino offers $100,000 to the champion, $50,000 to the runner-up and $10,000 to each player in the field.
"I've always wanted to see a one-on-one tournament," said Trainer, who has spent most of the last 14 years managing Leonard, a five-time world boxing champion who will fight again in November. "I want to see whether a good big man is better than a good little man."
He hopes the public wants to see it too. The telecast, available for $12.95 in more than 14 million cable-ready households, is the Bethesda lawyer's first pay-per-view project outside boxing. Minnesota's Willie Burton, Virginia Tech's Bimbo Coles, Michigan's Sean Higgins, Loyola Marymount's Bo Kimble and Texas's Travis Mays also will participate.
"I represent somebody who's not going to get in the ring unless you pay him some money," Trainer said. "These fellows, it's about time they got paid. They've been making money for everybody else for four, five years."
An early paycheck appears to be a pleasing idea to the players as well.
"I think the money thing is what caught me first," said Simmons, the NCAA player of the year. "I'm going to get paid for playing one-on-one, something I'd probably be doing that day anyway."
Trainer recently received a boost when Caesars Palace established a betting line, making Simmons a 6-5 favorite. Payton is the oddsmakers' second choice at 2-1, but "the heavy action right now is on Chris Jackson (3-1)," Trainer said.
In first-round matchups, Simmons will play Higgins, Kimble will take on Mays, Jackson will meet Burton, and Payton will play Coles in the eight-minute games with two-minute overtimes, if necessary.
Syracuse's Derrick Coleman, projected by many to be the first pick in the draft, likely would have been the oddsmakers' favorite had he not pulled out of the event. He since has been replaced by Burton.
Several observers, such as CBS basketball analyst Billy Packer, have suggested the tournament could affect the players' draft positions.
"I think what I've done for the past three years has put my stock at a level that can't be touched," Simmons said. "This here is just a fun thing."
Trainer's "undercard" is a dunk contest in which eight amateurs will try to dunk at the highest possible altitude -- the rim will start at 10 feet 9 inches and be elevated after each round. Seven entrants, including Washington-area representative James Wilson Jr., a former high jumper at Liberty Baptist University, won regional contests to reach the finals. Trainer gave former University of Texas-El Paso standout Antonio Davis an at-large berth into the competition, which offers $50,000 to the winner.