August 2, 2013

NBA Mascot Rank, Part 1

August and September are boring months for the committed NBA fan. Summer League is over, all the in demand free agents are under contract and training camp has yet to begin so we're stuck in limbo for a couple of months with little to occupy our time. Last year we were fortunate to have the Olympics to tide us over for the month of August. This year, there's only the WNBA. And let's face it, nobody watches those games.

So in an effort to keep myself occupied and to make myself feel good about keeping my blog going, I thought I'd take a look at the mascots in the NBA and see if any of them can measure up to the Wizards' excellent-in-every-way mascot, G Wiz. And if that's not blatant foreshadowing, I don't know what is. That curiosity has resulted in what will end up being a five post mascot-fest where I rank all the NBA mascots (and more) from 30 to 1. This first post deals with the concept of mascots and tallies those that don't exist or never have. Read on!

I have to confess I used to hate mascots. I saw them as unnecessary distractions for fans that were less committed than me. I cheered the University of Michigan when I was enrolled there for banning the student-created "Willy the Wolverine" mascot from Michigan Stadium. But as I've grown older, I've come to view them as part of the game experience and have actually started to have positive views of some of them. There are mascots who are genuine icons (think of baseball's Philly Phanatic or the San Diego Chicken here) but others are just downright uninspired, goofy or a complete waste of time.

Some NBA teams don't have mascots and some do. Some teams have multiple mascots or inflatable versions of their primary mascot and some teams keep switching their mascot because they can't decide what they really want. All of that makes ranking them somewhat complicated but I've managed to do it. I can tell you are already impressed. Here's how my rankings work.

When evaluating mascots, I've considered three criteria: name, relevance (either geographical or franchise nickname relevance) and appearance. Some mascots have creative names, are really relevant to their teams and look awesome. Others just don't. In my studies, I've typically only considered a team's primary mascot in my rankings with two exceptions: the Cleveland Cavaliers, because I can't figure out who their primary mascot is, and the Washington Wizards, because, well, this is a blog about my life and the Wizards. So let's get right to it. We'll start with number 30, after some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mention: Hugo T. Hornet, Charlotte Hornets
Yes, that's right...CHARLOTTE Hornets. If there's one wrong that has to be righted in the NBA's mascot world, it's that Hugo has to be restored in Carolina where he started out (this is going to occur in 2014 by the way). If the Hornets name (and consequently Hugo) still existed in the NBA, he would surely challenge for the top spot in this ranking on appearance alone, especially if he were in Charlotte where the Hornets nickname is relevant. Good thing for G Wiz this isn't being done a year later.

Hugo scores so high on relevance and appearance and those two factors more than compensate for his average name. There's no question he looks like a mascot, is clearly what he's supposed to be (a hornet) and represents the team perfectly. He's cartoony without being overly simple. There's a richness in the details here. Can't wait to see Hugo back on the court next October.

Honorable Mention: Squatch, Seattle SuperSonics
If there's a tragedy in the NBA, it's that the city of Seattle does not have an NBA team. That situation could have been righted a few months ago with the sale of the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle based investment group although that would have just transferred the NBA-less tragedy from the Emerald City down to California's capital. When the team that would become the Oklahoma City Thunder left Seattle in 2008, they left the SuperSonics name, the uniforms and the 1979 NBA Championship trophy behind for the city of Seattle. 

They also left behind the Sonics excellent mascot, Squatch, who like Hugo above, would surely be a top 10 mascot in this ranking. Squatch (short for Sasquatch, duh...) has an awesome name and he really couldn't exist anywhere else except for the Pacific northwest (I'll refrain from going into my account of how I think I saw one once in Pennsylvania; that's a story for a totally different time). He also looks just like most of us convince ourselves bigfoot looks like so he scores high in my book on name, relevance and appearance. We will likely have to wait a few more years for Squatch to re-appear. Maybe if the Bobcats/Hornets keep performing poorly enough.

Honorable Mention: Clipper Darrell, Los Angeles Clippers 
I first became aware of Clipper Darrell (real name Darrell Bailey) at NBA Summer League in probably 2008 or 2009. I was watching the Clippers play some other team (I don't remember who although I don't think it was the Wizards) and the Clips were playing miserably, just like they did pretty much every year before they drafted Blake Griffin and the NBA gifted Chris Paul for them. Between chants like "U-G-L-Y you ain't got no alibi" I heard this guy in blue and red yell out something to the effect of "Come on, show them how we play Clipper basketball." Based on the laughter which followed a muffled rejoinder from someone on the other side of Cox Pavilion, I believe it was pointed out to Darrell that the Clippers were actually playing Clipper basketball at the time. 

Among NBA super fans, Clipper Darrell (shown above with his now deceased Clippers car) is my hero. He's the epitome of the loyal-no-matter-how-the-team-performs fan. Five years ago, if there was a team that needed a change of fortune from their entire history, it was the Clippers and Darrell was the symbol of a fan base clinging to absolutely no hope whatsoever. And now thanks to Griffin and Paul, the Clips actually stand somewhat of a chance. They won their first division title ever last year and despite the Clippers organization trying to disassociate themselves with Darrell last season, he's stuck with it. Good for Darrell. I hope one day the fortunes of the Wizards will turn the way they have in Los Angeles. 

Now...enough honorable mentions. On to my rankings. 

30-26 (Tie): No Mascot, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers
No mascot means one of two things to me, either the franchise is too iconic to stoop to having a mascot or there is just no willingness to be the least bit imaginative and create one. The Lakers and Knicks clearly fit into the former category whereas the Clippers and 76ers fall into the latter. The 76ers actually have experimented with mascots, last in the form of Hip Hop, a rabbit with absolutely no value whatsoever. Hip Hop was retired or killed or whatever about two years ago and mercifully hasn't been seen since.

Now, one could clearly take the position that having no mascot in some cases is actually better than having a terrible mascot. Maybe so, and I'd totally entertain that argument but since this is my blog, that argument doesn't work this month. Well OK, it works for one team. On to number 25...

25 (Tie): No Mascot, Golden State Warriors, and G Man, Washington Wizards
In 1997, both the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards rebranded themselves with new uniforms, new mascots and, in the case of the Washington franchise, a new nickname. I am totally convinced that the two organizations cheaped out on their rebrand and split the cost of the re-design because both franchises emerged with the exact same product. Their new jerseys looked remarkably similar, from the offset numbers on the front under their nickname tapering from a large W to a small S to the numbers on the back of the uniform which were the exact same custom designed font.

They also emerged from the rebrand effort with the same ugly mascot, a blue muscled dude wearing the terrible uniforms that the franchises likely split the cost of. The Warriors' mascot was named Thunder; the Wizards' mascot was named G Man. Since 1997, both franchises have rebranded themselves again, both adopting uniform designs similar to the uniforms the two franchises wore in the 1970s, when each won a title. When the Warriors rebranded themselves in 2010, they dumped Thunder. When the Wizards rebranded themselves in 2011, they unfortunately kept G Man.

The two franchises are tied for 25th best (or sixth worst if you prefer) in my rankings because for me on a mascot level, they are inextricably linked and nobody is going to be able to convince me the two franchises didn't collude and get a two for one deal on mascot design. You get what you pay for and these mascots honestly stink. I could have stuck the Warriors tied with the Clippers, Lakers, Knicks, Pelicans and Sixers but quite honestly, I think they deserve some credit for dumping a terrible mascot and so they sit above the other five franchises currently without mascots. The Wizards should follow the Warriors' lead and dump G Man.

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