For most young NBA viewers, it is unlikely they will be able to follow a player’s statistics or track a team’s performance. For that child, what is happening on the court at that moment is all that matters; and for many, the colorful, high-flying mascot dunkers who entertain the audience between regular season game quarters are major draws.
Many of the NBA mascots are celebrities in their own right, and the NBA All-Star Weekend Sprite Slam Dunk Contest is becoming increasingly passé as most of the league’s stars opt out of participating – so typically the mascots produce the outlandish, ridiculous non-game dunks that most fans would otherwise only see in a video game. This is why – despite misgivings from many of the league’s veterans, such as Dr. J – so many fans opted to watched the All-Star Weekend Practice, when the NBA Mascot Slam Dunk Championship is typically held.
We took a look at some of the best mascot dunks and compiled a morph of the favorites. While they may not seem important, the costumed, trampoline-fueled slam dunks are actually big business. A child who just saw Benny the Bull in a purple leisure suit slam from the free-throw line is more likely to want a Benny plush. It can be argued that the future of the league depends as much on Hugo, Jazz Bear, and Benny as it does on LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant.
Mascots and High Air
So what makes a great mascot slam dunker? The performers who wear these costumes tend to be some of the most athletic and acrobatically inclined members of an NBA team’s personnel and the stunts they pull reflect this. One such example is The Raptor’s from the Toronto Raptors front-flip slam dunk. Turbo, the Houston Rockets’ former mascot, also did a front-flip slam; but unlike The Raptor, he didn’t need a trampoline to launch from.
For style points, few surpass Hugo, the Charlotte Hornets’ costumed ambassador. A three-time winner of the NBA Mascot Slam Dunk Championship and two-time winner of the NBA Inside Stuff Magazine Best Mascot award, Hugo is exactly the type of mascot one would expect from a team owned by Michael Jordan. Among the stunts that were once in his repertoire was a trampoline-assisted slam dunk through a ring of fire.
Despite all this, some of the highlights from the mascot slam dunk routines are when the mascot doesn’t slam at all. Remembering that the point of a mascot is to entertain the crowd, some of the best moments during the mascot slam dunk contests come when the mascots fall or trip during their dunk, run into the audience, or do something unexpected – such as dunking on a toddler’s basketball hoop set next to the actual goal post.
When it comes down to it, a mascot is supposed to be fun and make the fans laugh.
Of all of the major American sports leagues, the NBA has the youngest fan base, according to the Washington Post (1). This translates into countless kids watching their favorite mascot slams on YouTube and Facebook and tweeting about how insane one slam was versus another. While some fans may view this as silly or distracting, those colorful mascots and their high-air antics make lifelong fans of the sport and ensure that more fans are willing to watch a game live at the arena.
For every child who watches this colorful display, there is one more likely lifelong fan who will buy NBA jerseys, posters, and bobbleheads later in life. The league’s exceptional youth involvement rates suggest it may redefine the American sports market in the future.
It all starts with a child watching a bull slam dunk a basketball from a trampoline.
Want to take home some of the magic? If you’re seeking the latest in mascot merchandise, Fanatics is your one-stop shop for everything from your favorite dunker.