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Million Dollar Arm: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Jon Hamm, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Lake Bell, Bill Paxton, Alan Arkin
based on sports agent J.B. Bernstein and "The Million Dollar Arm" reality TV show

Jon Hamm
Born: March 10, 1971
St. Louis, Missouri, USA
J.B. Bernstein
Born: February 5, 1968
Birthplace: New York City, NY, USA
Suraj Sharma
Born: March 21, 1993
New Delhi, India
Rinku Singh
Born: August 8, 1988
Birthplace: Lucknow, India
Madhur Mittal
Born: January 20, 1987
Agra, India
Dinesh Kumar Patel
Born: May 8, 1989
Birthplace: Lucknow, India
Lake Bell
Born: March 24, 1979
New York City, New York, USA
Brenda Paauwe-Navori
Born: November 5, 1970
Bill Paxton
Born: May 17, 1955
Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Tom House
Born: April 29, 1947
Birthplace: Seattle, Washington, USA
Pitobash Tripathy
Odisha, India
Deepesh Solanki
Alan Arkin
Born: March 26, 1934
New York City, New York, USA
Ray Poitevint
Born: October 1, 1929
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
Aasif Mandvi
Born: March 5, 1966
Bombay, India
Ash Vasudevan
Birthplace: India
Tzi Ma
Born: June 10, 1962
Hong Kong, China
William H.C. Chang
Born: 1956
Birthplace: Japan
I would say the movie's 80 percent a completely true story, and it's called a movie. It's Hollywood. A movie never can be 100 percent true. You know, they have to put a little cheap cream on top of it to make it taste better. But … it's real, I'm happy the way they did it. -Rinku Singh (, May 11, 2014)

Questioning the Story:

Did most people doubt that "The Million Dollar Arm" reality show would work?

Yes. Like in the movie, the Million Dollar Arm true story confirms that most of the people around J.B. Bernstein and his two business partners at the time believed that the idea to use a TV reality show to recruit baseball players from India was absurd. "Right up until the day [Singh and Patel] got signed, everybody thought I was the dumbest guy in the world," Bernstein said, "as soon as it worked [people told me] great job."

Dinesh Patel, J.B. Bernstein and Rinku Singh, Bernstein played by Jon Hamm in movie
The real J.B. Bernstein (middle) poses with Dinesh Patel (left) and Rinku Singh (right), the winners of the first season of "The Million Dollar Arm" reality show.

How many Indian hopefuls tried out for "The Million Dollar Arm" contest?

Around 38,000 potential baseball players showed up for the 2008 "Million Dollar Arm" contest and a shot at the American big leagues. The majority of the Indian citizens who tried out were awful.

What was the monetary prize for winning the contest?

Not only was "The Million Dollar Arm" contest winner awarded a trip to America for a Major League Baseball tryout, there was also a monetary prize of $100,000 and a bonus chance to win $1 million (contest winner Rinku Singh didn't win the million).

What were the rules of "The Million Dollar Arm" contest?

Combing the land from Mumbai to Delhi, "The Million Dollar Arm" TV reality contest awarded a prize of $100,000 plus a Major League Baseball tryout to the pitcher who could throw the most strikes over 85 mph out of 20 total pitches. The winner could take home $1 million if he could throw three consecutive strikes that were at least 90 mph.

Was J.B. Bernstein the one who came up with the idea of recruiting cricket players from India?

J.B. Bernstein, Ash Vasudevan and Will Chang
Unlike the movie, it was Ash Vasudevan (middle) and Will Chang (right) who came up with the idea of searching for potential professional baseball players in India.
No. The idea was actually conceived by real estate mogul Will Chang and venture capitalist Ash Vasudevan. The pair hatched the idea of traveling to Vasudevan's native India in search of an athlete who could pitch accurately at 100 mph. Will Chang was a part owner of the San Francisco Giants and J.B. Bernstein was Barry Bonds' agent. Chang and Vasudevan recruited Bernstein, who was reluctant at first, to go to India. Together, the three men developed the idea for the reality TV contest.

The movie fictionalizes the genesis of "The Million Dollar Arm" contest by having J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) be the one who comes up with the idea of recruiting cricket players from India. It also portrays both Bernstein and Vasudevan as struggling sports agents who work together and pitch the idea to Will Chang, a wealthy San Franciscan. In reality, "Will and Ash were business partners," Bernstein clarifies. "Will's part-owner of the San Francisco Giants, and Ash [co-founder with Bernstein of Seven Figures Management] runs his technology VC fund" ( However, it was by way of Bernstein's Hollywood connections that Chang was able to eventually sell the story to Disney.

Was Will Chang upset that the movie portrayed him as the contest's financier instead of one of its creators?

No. Even though "The Million Dollar Arm" contest was essentially conceived by venture capitalist Will Chang and conceptualized with the help of partners Ash Vasudevan and J.B. Bernstein, he did not criticize the screenwriters for changing the story. "Hey," he said, "it's Hollywood." -SFGate

What made J.B. Bernstein decide to go to India and help create "The Million Dollar Arm" reality TV contest?

Like in the Million Dollar Arm movie, the true story reveals that J.B. Bernstein's business had struggled a bit after some of his big name clients retired, including Curtis Martin and Emmitt Smith. It was also around that time that Bernstein's client Barry Bonds was indicted by a federal court on one count of obstruction of justice and four counts of perjury in a steroid scandal. Though Bernstein admits that he initially went to India with monetary reasons in mind, he says that he also wanted a change. "I was just feeling so detached from this profession that I loved that I needed something new" (NY Daily News).

Recruited by venture capitalists Ash Vasudevan and Will Chang, together they created the reality TV competition "The Million Dollar Arm." Inspired by the success of former NBA basketball player Yao Ming and how popular basketball became in his native country of China as a result, the trio hoped that they would find the same success by discovering a potential baseball star in India. "You find a guy from a country that hasn't had many US sports success stories," Bernstein says, "and you bring that guy over, and [the people back home] start to follow him. All of a sudden the broadcasting and jersey sales start to hit."

Who actually won "The Million Dollar Arm" reality show, Rinku Singh or Dinesh Patel?

Like in the movie, Rinku Singh was the winner and Dinesh Patel was the runner-up. Singh, the son of a truck driver, had never picked up a baseball prior to the contest but managed to throw an 89-mph fastball.

Rinku Singh wins The Million Dollar Arm contest
The real Rinku Singh (right) celebrates winning "The Million Dollar Arm" TV show in 2008. Actor Suraj Sharma (left) recreates the moment for the 2014 movie.

How did winner Rinku Singh find out about "The Million Dollar Arm" contest?

Rinku, a former junior national javelin medalist, was alerted to the reality TV show contest by Sports Authority of India's athletics coach Jasvinder Singh Bhatia, who encouraged him to take the risk. Bhatia knew that if Rinku won, it would solve his family's financial worries. Rinku had been just a few days away from taking his class X exams at Sports College, Lucknow, after which he would have pursued a career in athletics and javelin in India.

"Skipping the exams was a big risk," says Rinku. "What if I hadn't succeeded in baseball? Except my elder brother, who's a Black Cat Commando in India, all in the family were against my going to America." -India Today

Were the 2008 "Million Dollar Arm" winners really not former cricket players?

Yes. Despite J.B. Bernstein's intentions of recruiting cricket bowlers (pitchers), both Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel had much more experience with javelin throwing than cricket. Rinku Singh was a former junior national javelin medalist and had only played cricket as a child. Patel had thrown javelin at school and won a gold medal in javelin throwing at the National School Games at Pune in 2006. The Indian Express

Dinesh Patel, J.B. Bernstein, Rinku Singh celebrate in India
Right: The real Dinesh Patel, J.B. Bernstein and Rinku Singh celebrate in India. Left: Actors Madhur Mittal, Jon Hamm and Suraj Sharma recreate the moment for the Million Dollar Arm movie.

Is Bill Paxton's character, Tom House, based on a real-life pitching coach?

Yes, as indicated in the photos at the top of the page, Tom House, who is portrayed by Bill Paxton in the movie, is a real-life USC pitching coach/guru who has trained pitchers such as Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. Like in the movie, House worked with Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel in Los Angeles, where they received formal training on the mound in preparation for their audition with MLB scouts. Prior to working as a pitching coach, Tom House was a Major League pitcher, first with the Atlanta Braves and then the Boston Red Sox. He finished his career in 1978 after two seasons with the Seattle Mariners.

Did Rinku and Dinesh really stay in Bernstein's house?

Not exactly. The Million Dollar Arm true story revealed that the real J.B. Bernstein owned a condo in Los Angeles. However, Rinku, Dinesh and Deepesh did not stay at Bernstein's condo. "We rented a house a couple of blocks away from the USC campus," says Bernstein, "and myself, Rinku, Dinesh and Deepesh all stayed there."

Were contest winners Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel really unfamiliar with technology and American culture?

Dinesh Patel eating pizza
Like in the movie, the real Dinesh Patel (above) and Rinku Singh quickly developed a taste for pizza.
Yes. Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel's fish-out-of-water reactions to technology and American culture were not exaggerated for the Million Dollar Arm movie. Like in the film, they had never seen an elevator. Rinku and Dinesh came from villages without the Internet, flat-screen TVs or cell phones. In real life, they went to see Iron Man in 3-D and refused to put on the 3-D glasses, telling their host that their vision was fine. In 2011, they pulled up in front of the White House for a visit and asked if Obama lived in a hotel. They were also surprised to see beef on nearly every menu, a taboo in their native India.

"Learning about the culture was really hard," says Rinku Singh. "That was the biggest shock. As an example, walking down the street seeing a bunch of girls and a bunch of guys holding and kissing each other, which is back home not usually happening. ... For me, it was like a totally different planet." -IMDB

Is Lake Bell's character, Brenda, based on Bernstein's real-life wife?

Yes. Around the time of the events in the Million Dollar Arm movie, J.B. Bernstein met and fell in love with his now-wife, Brenda, whose former name was Brenda Paauwe-Navori. "Having Rinku and Dinesh in my life, and Brenda, changed me fundamentally as a person — from this agent who thought myopically about business," Bernstein says. " realize the importance of family."

Was J.B.'s love interest, Brenda, really a doctor?

No. Brenda Paauwe-Navori was an aviation industry executive, not a doctor. At the time, she was the director of commercial aircraft sales and operator relations for Virgin Charter. She has since moved on and currently holds the position of division sales director for Embraer Executive Jets.

J.B. Bernstein and wife Brenda
The real Brenda was an aviation industry executive, not a doctor. Along with Rinku and Dinesh, she did help to change J.B.'s life for the better like in the movie.

Did J.B. meet Brenda at the house he was living in with Dinesh and Rinku?

Not exactly. Brenda was not a tenant who was living in J.B.'s guesthouse like in the movie. "Brenda actually lived in the same condo [building in Los Angeles] as I did," says the real J.B. Bernstein. "I had a penthouse and she had a penthouse on the other side of the quad. So we met in my condo, not in the house that I was renting with these guys. But in essence, we kind of met the same way."

Did J.B.'s experience with Rinku and Dinesh really make him a better person?

Yes. "These guys got me started down the right path maybe for the first time in my whole life," J.B. said in a press interview for the movie. "And it's not that I was a terrible guy. I was just someone who had a very myopic view. I was very driven by business. The only thing I derived any pride from was success in business. You know, the biggest commitment I had ever made in my life was a dog.

So, I really, I was just kind of headed down this path and I felt like I was happy, and you know these guys [Rinku and Dinesh] being in the house, living with me, and really, I think where it first started was being in their villages and seeing their families and seeing how they were with their families, meeting their parents and their brothers and sisters, uhm, it really started to remind me of the importance of family and the importance of being surrounded by people that love you and that you love, outside of just what commission you can generate or whether or not you can get them in a Pepsi ad, and I took a lot of pride in their achievements, and I think these are things that really prepared me, not only opened me up to meet someone like Brenda and to fall in love, but to be a good parent to Delphi."

Did the movie's Indian-style backyard dinner that the boys planned for J.B. and Brenda really happen?

Yes. The Million Dollar Arm true story reveals that the romantic Indian-themed backyard dinner really did take place. "Not only did that really happen," says Bernstein, "but that's almost the exact sari I brought back from India for Brenda to wear. The only difference was that Brenda cooked that Hindi-themed Thanksgiving. But the guys really did suggest very hard that I should marry her."

Who were some of J.B. Bernstein's big-name clients?

If the wedding photo below featuring J.B. and the real Brenda doesn't speak for itself, then you're likely not a big sports fan or you're too young to recognize Major League Baseball home-run heavyweight Barry Bonds (left) and NFL superstar running back Barry Sanders (right), who are two of Bernstein's former clients. J.B. has also worked with Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin and Wayne Gretzky.

Barry Bonds, Brenda, J.B. Bernstein, Barry Sanders
Some of J.B. Bernstein's big name clients included Barry Bonds (left) and Barry Sanders (right), who are pictured here at J.B. and Brenda's wedding.

Were Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel really the first two India-born players to sign pro deals in America?

Yes. After winning "The Million Dollar Arm" TV reality show contest in 2008, in November of that year Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel became the first Indians to sign a pro sports contract in North America. Though Patel was cut in 2010 and returned to India, Singh is still playing in the minors and chasing the dream of one day pitching in the majors.

Were the Pittsburgh Pirates criticized for signing Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel?

Yes. In November 2008, the fledgling Pittsburgh Pirates organization was criticized for signing Rinku and Dinesh. "To be honest, it was not real well received," says Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington. He said that some people viewed it as a "publicity stunt" or a "marketing ploy."

Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel magazine cover
Rinku Singh (left) and Dinesh Patel (right) were signed by a minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
How much were they signed for?

On November 24, 2008, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel were signed by the Gulf Coast League Pirates, a minor league team affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates. They received a combined signing bonus of $8,000.

What became of Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh after signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates?

Both Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel pitched in the minor leagues. Dinesh Patel was cut in 2010 and returned to India. He went back to school, started competing in javelin throwing again, and also spent about two months helping the kids in his village prepare for the second season of "Million Dollar Arm." Rinku Singh, who was 25 at the time of the movie's release, still pitches for one of the Pirates minor-league affiliates. At the time of this article (May 2014), he is recovering from elbow surgery ("Tommy John surgery") and hopes to get back on the mound soon.

Does "Million Dollar Arm" runner-up Dinesh Patel have any regrets?

No. Dinesh Patel, who returned to India after being cut from the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league affiliate in 2010, does not regret the experience. "The sport gave me a lot of name and fame...," says Patel. "Whatever happens, happens for the best. Being with my family also gives me a great deal of satisfaction." Patel says that the money he earned from baseball helped to lift his family out of poverty and paid for his sister's wedding. -The Indian Express

Were the real J.B. Bernstein, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel on hand for the filming of the movie?

Both the real J.B. Bernstein and Rinku Singh visited the movie's set. "I never thought that I'm going to go see real movie getting made," says Rinku. "That was a totally different experience. ... You really understand what the process is and how much hard work they put in there to make a two hour movie. ... It was so amazing of seeing those technologies and how they work, making right-handed pitcher look like they're pitching left-hand. So, it was totally amazing."

What does the real J.B. Bernstein think of Jon Hamm's performance in the movie?

J.B. Bernstein and Jon Hamm
Sports agent J.B. Bernstein (left) and his onscreen counterpart, actor Jon Hamm (right), on the movie set in India.
"When I first heard that Jon was going to play me in the movie, my first thought was I'm not famous enough to be punked," says the real J.B. Bernstein, "so I was surprised. ... Every studio is chasing him down, trying to find a role for him, and the fact that he connected to this character and wanted to play me is a huge honor. The ultimate litmus test for how well he did, I think he did great, but the ultimate litmus test was my wife, who said that he did great, and she probably knows me better than anybody, as we know, Brenda from the movie. So, uhm, it's just been such a positive experience, and the truth is even off the set he's just a great guy."

Is "The Million Dollar Arm" reality TV contest still airing in India?

Yes. The real J.B. Bernstein is still holding the contest and admits that both the movie and book from Simon & Schuster will help to give the show a megaphone it doesn't normally have. He expects to see half a million kids participate in "The Million Dollar Arm" contest in the fall of 2014. "I think that the more kids we see, the more kids we're gonna find," says Bernstein. "There's lots of other kids over in India if given the opportunity could come over and be successful too."

Were the real-life "Million Dollar Arm" winners happy with the movie's portrayal of them?

Yes. During an interview prior to a Pirates game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on May 11, 2014, Rinku Singh, who appeared at the game with Jon Hamm and the real J.B. Bernstein, commented on his onscreen counterpart portrayed by Life of Pi actor Suraj Sharma, "He has done a tremendous job, like, he copied it really well. You know, that's what we'll call an actor, and, ya know, I'm happy the way he did it."

Million Dollar Arm real players with actors
From left to right: Actor Madhur Mittal and his real-life counterpart Dinesh Patel, sports agent J.B. Bernstein, and the real Rinku Singh and actor Suraj Sharma.

Million Dollar Arm Interviews and Related Video

Further explore the Million Dollar Arm true story by watching a press interview with the real J.B. Bernstein and Rinku Singh. Also, view the movie's trailer and watch a Million Dollar Arm documentary segment that shows Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel trying out for the major league scouts.

 Rinku & Dinesh - Million Dollar Arm Documentary

This Million Dollar Arm documentary segment originally aired shortly after Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel were signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization on November 24, 2008. Mark Schwarz follows the two teenage reality show contestants from India as they try to land a big league contract. Footage of Rinku and Dinesh's tryouts in front of major league scouts is shown, and USC pitching coach Tom House (Bill Paxton in the movie) is interviewed.

 J.B. Bernstein and Rinku Singh Interview

"Million Dollar Arm" contest winner Rinku Singh and sports agent J.B. Bernstein are interviewed just prior to the movie's release. Rinku talks about being a fish out of water in America, including getting used to seeing public displays of affection. J.B. discusses how Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel changed his life for the better.

 J.B. Bernstein Biography - The Milestone Marketer

J.B. Bernstein's career as a marketer of professional athletes is chronicled, including the retirement of his client, NFL running back Barry Sanders, and his acquisition of Emmitt Smith and Barry Bonds. Bernstein also talks about how he functions on approximately two hours of sleep each night.

 Million Dollar Arm Trailer

Watch the Million Dollar Arm movie trailer for the film starring Jon Hamm as sports agent J.B. Bernstein, who helped create a contest in India to recruit potential players for Major League Baseball. The two winners, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Kumar Patel, were both former javelin throwers. Bernstein's strategy was criticized as a publicity stunt, as the media waited to see if his discoveries were major league material.

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