The face of an athlete on the body of a duck? Admittedly, some people thought Mr. Wolfe was a quack. Even Mr. Wolfe was thinking he should have stayed with what he knew, that being the West Coast's largest seller of commercial animation artwork, such as the Coca-Cola polar bear.
"When I first thought about the concept for the Celebriduck, even I was like, `Is this thing going to work?' " Mr. Wolfe said.
Then the National Basketball Association's Philadelphia 76ers called Mr. Wolfe's office in San Rafael, Calif., and asked him to produce 5,500 Celebriducks of star player Allen Iverson for a January 2002 giveaway.
The night after the game, Iverson's Celebriduck-complete with the cornrow hair and tattoos-was selling for $23.95 on eBay. The latest phenomenon in promotions and collectibles was born.
"We were really an underground cult phenomenon until the 76ers called," he said.
Since that time, Mr. Wolfe has expanded from 22 ducks to more than 100 athletes and celebrities, including the Osbournes, Kiss, the Mona Lisa, James Brown, various NBA and Major League Baseball stars and college mascots. Demand also increased supply: Mr. Wolfe now produces 2 million ducks a year that sell for an average of $10 to $12 each.
Reportedly, most of the athletes and celebs who have been turned into a Celebriduck seem to like the collectible or, at the last, seem amused.
"I don't think my [butt] is that high," Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett, the most recent Celebriduck giveaway, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "But, it's all right."
But some weren't so pleased.
"Our guy hated his," said a spokesman for an East Coast NBA team. "I mean, c'mon. A big beak on your face and a duck's [torso] for your body? This is kind of a weird giveaway."
Indeed, Celebriducks have been alternately described by writers as "cool and unique" or "freakish." Either way, Celebriducks now rival the legendary Bobblehead dolls as the "in" promotional giveaway, though the popularity seems to be split down company lines, so to speak. Celebriducks has a contract as the official rubber-duck supplier to the NBA, so nearly every basketball team has had a giveaway night. About half the 30 Major League Baseball teams plan a Celebriduck night this season, and nearly all will have a Bobblehead giveaway.
Mr. Wolfe has just begun creating Celebriducks for the National Hockey Association, and plans to introduce a Nascar line this fall. No word yet on whether the National Football League will be involved.
"You never know what's going to be a hit and what isn't," said Robert Tuchman, CEO of T.S.E. Sports & Entertainment, New York. "But what happened here is they had a concept that was kind of unique and they got a big bounce from the Iverson giveaway that created a lot of buzz."
Mr. Wolfe has spiked demand with limited editions of some Celebriducks. He also plans on introducing a small, inflatable pool for collectors to float the ducks on their desks.
Said Mr. Wolfe, no pun intended: "We're tweaking every day."