With Halloween approaching, imagine being handed cold, hard cash for your crazy costume instead of bite-sized Milky Ways or bags of gummy worms? Such is the life for professional sports mascots who don large, often-suffocating costumes to represent a professional sports team while entertaining fans with goofy antics before, during, and after the game. All the while, getting paid — often handsomely — for their time and effort
While Mr. Met, the Philly Phanatic, and the (formerly called San Diego) Chicken are at the top of the list of sports mascot notoriety, the NBA is loaded with fuzzy and furry mascots who bop to the music at halftime and even jump off a trampoline and dunk a basketball while somersaulting. The last airborne daredevil stunt being is one attributed to the long-standing mascot of the Phoenix Suns.
The Gorilla, Phoenix Suns
Some 11 years after plopping an NBA franchise in the desert, the Phoenix Suns stumbled upon a mascot when a gorilla (not a real one, mind you) delivered a message to a fan at halftime of a game. The fans loved it, and soon thereafter, the Suns had a mascot who had nothing to do either with basketball or the Valley of the Sun.
A man named Henry Rojas was the person behind the giant, hairy costume who served as the high-flying mascot until 1988. The current Phoenix Suns Gorilla is Bob Woolf, who, according to estimates, makes somewhere in the vicinity of $200,000 a year. The job entails more than flying through a hoop with a backflip while ending the stunt with a dunk—the Gorilla entertains at outside events and visits children at local hospitals. Woolf, who also owns and operates a gymnastics studio, has performed at more than 1,200 NBA games, including nine all-star appearances.
Woolf/Gorilla is in the Mascot Hall of Fame.
Rumble the Bison, Oklahoma City Thunder
The mascot of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Rumble the Bison, has quite the backstory.
As the Native America saga goes, an American Bison helped rescue his fellow bison from a mountain top during a ferocious Oklahoma tornado. Seeking the highest peak, this brave bison was struck by lightning, which gave it superpowers and allowed it to morph into half of a man with legs that allowed him to escape. The superpowers allowed him to jump higher, run faster, and think quick on his feet.
Once the Thunder (the basketball team, that is) came to town, this special creature found his brothers whose skills matched his. Naturally, he was chosen to be the team’s mascot. The Thunder simply were looking for a mascot that was close in look to Sasquatch, the Seattle SuperSonics mascot before they moved east.
Rumble, according to Sportsmascots, earns between $80,000 and $100,000 for his NBA duties plus outside appearances that can go as high as $600 an hour.
Clutch, Houston Rockets
Since the Houston Rockets’ inception, Clutch the Bear, a lovable teddy bear dressed in an oversized Rockets 00 jersey, has patrolled the stands and hardwood bringing delight to young and old fans of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. As one could imagine, it was a sad day for the team and fans when the original Clutch, Robert Boudwin, hung up his furry suit in 2016 to take on new duties with the team. And so, began the hunt for a new Clutch to adorn the dog suit and collect a salary in excess of $100,000 a year (plus a percent of outside appearance fees). The hunt ended at the University of Montana, where the young, acrobatic mascot for the UM football team was the man for the job.
The man behind the former University of Montana mascot, Monte the Grizzly Bear, was thrilled at his new gig”… Coming to Houston,” he told The Missoulian, “I’ve really tried to continue to be that character and persona that I’ve grown to love as Monte. I brought the versatility of the dance and the acrobatics and gymnastics, along with making people laugh with the silly skits and everything.”
So far, so good as the new mascot—whose identity is somewhat of a secret—has not missed a beat as the team’s furriest cheerleader and was even featured in a State Farm TV commercial armed with a T-shirt gun.