Editors Note: Joe Buri wrote this piece during the NBA season two years ago. It’s still fantastic to read over. Enjoy it.
Whether you love ‘em or you hate ‘em, mascots have become a staple of the NBA gameday tradition, from their daredevil tricks to their worn-out gags. The Minnesota Timberwolves have Crunch and he stacks up quite well compared to the other NBA mascots. The brute, however, doesn’t even come in as one of the top ten NBA mascots.
I know you’re probably wondering what the heckinheimer a brute is, or why the Timbewolves Crunch is comparable to my dad’s favorite cologne, or why I’m even ranking the NBA’s top mascots. And I’d say those are all fair questions. A brute, I’ll have you know, is a male wolf. Interesting little fun fact, huh? I bet you didn’t know that…much like you probably don’t know that the human head weighs eight pounds, or that bees and dogs can smell fear, or that my neighbor has three rabbits. I digress. How old is our beloved Crunch? By all estimations, he is somewhere in his thirties, which, in dog years, means he is somewhere in his two hundreds. Amazing that he can still sled down the Target Center stairs like it’s 1992. In answer to your second question, I’m ranking the NBA’s top mascots because I know you have been dying for this list for years.
Now if you’ve read this far, there’s a good chance your heart has a special place for Crunch and all mascots. Or perhaps you love all things exceedingly dorky. Or perhaps you just have an unusually high tolerance for pain. Whatever the case, you’re still with me. Given that you’re still hanging on my every word, I’m guessing you wouldn’t mind learning a little more about Crunch the mascot, in particular how a truly born-in-the-wild wolf became an ambassador for one of the NBA’s most exciting NBA teams ever to enter the league. (No, the italicized words are not the offspring of my creative thinking. Even I can’t be that cheesy. I yoinked those words off the Timberwolves’ website. As in…those words are actually used by the T-Wolves to describe Crunch’s role with the team. As in…the Timberwolves referred to themselves as one of the most exciting teams to ever enter the NBA. As in…we are being led to believe that the six-foot oversized Timberwolf walking around Target Center on his hind legs was apparently born in the wild. And don’t even get me started on the fact that the adjective NBA is twice used by the Wolves to modify the noun teams. The whole thing is embarrassing.) Well, if you’re hungry for Crunch-tastic knowledge, I have a glut of information to satiate your collective appetites.
According to the Timberwolves website, Crunch was born in the northernmost part of Minnesota’s wilderness areas. It was there that he grew to love something never before seen by others in his pack. (Yep, you guessed it…he grew to love the game of basketball. If Crunch spontaneously learned to love basketball all by himself, I’d be interested to know what the others in his pack grew to love. Basket weaving? Yoga?) Crunch’s love of basketball puzzled his mother and father, for he seemed to pick the game up all on his own. (In other words, they didn’t have a Junior Wolves program for poor Crunch to be a part of.) Using a makeshift basket made of pinecones and birch bark (really?), Crunch began to refine his game as a young pup. He learned various rules and techniques, and studied players and coaches alike. (…players like Brad Lohaus, Ndudi Ebi, Tod Murphy and Gundars Vetra…coaches like Jimmy Rodgers and Bill Blair.) And when the Timberwolves came to town, Crunch made the decision to leave all he knew and move to the big city (and somewhere along the way also learned to walk like homo erectus). So where does Crunch live when he isn’t pumping up (the always-raucous) Target Center crowd? No one knows for sure. But legend says he has a den somewhere deep inside Target Center. On game days, he is lured out of his den by the deafening howls of his favorite fans (yes, they used the word deafening), which remind him of his days in the Northwoods, but keep him here as he helps the team in their pursuit of victory (apparently he hasn’t been doing a very good job the last few seasons).
So there it is…the life story of Crunch. Who knew his biography was so incredible? (Who knew he lived underneath Target Center?) Well, in honor of Crunch’s birthday, I thought I’d take this opportunity to look more closely at some of Crunch’s mascot colleagues around the NBA, and rank them from top to bottom. Without further adieu, the NBA mascot rankings…
The Pretentious Bastards
30. Los Angeles Clippers
29. Los Angeles Lakers
28. New York Knickerbockers
Three teams in the NBA do not have a mascot. Not surprisingly, all three come from either Los Angeles or New York…two cities that reek of self-absorption. As the saying goes, we’re not arrogant; we’re just better than you. Apparently it applies to mascotorial adoptions as well. An interesting side story about just how self-absorbed these cities can be: I was at a wedding this summer in Palo Alto, California, and happened to meet a guy who was originally from L.A. He was a nice guy, conversation was pleasant enough. Somewhere along the way, he asked me where I was from. I told him I was from the Twin Cities—Minneapolis-Saint Paul area—to which he responded, “I have no idea where that is.” When I told him it was in Minnesota, he gave me a quizzical look, still not knowing where it was. So I gave up and told him it was by Chicago. This resonated well with him. Only a La-La native would unquestioningly accept Minnesota is near Chicago as a perfectly acceptable answer.
By the way, the Knicks occasionally use Maddie the Lovable Dog, the mascot of the WNBA’s New York Liberty, as their mascot. Just wanted to throw that out there.
The Darby O’Gill Award for Most Uncreative Mascot
It was my full intention to give ole’ Lucky a little company. But honestly, there was nobody else worthy of tossing in this category. The Celtics’ mascot is nothing more than a guy dressed to the nines in St. Patrick’s Day garb. What’s more, the mascot is a Notre Dame rip off, only the Irish do it better. In terms of creativity, it can’t get much blander.
As an aside, I was trying to think of how the Celtics could improve their mascot, and I was reminded of The Leprechaun movie franchise. Why not go all out with that scary little guy? At the very least, they’d slide out of the cellar and into our next category, The Freakishly Frightening. Yeah, they’d scare a few kids…but isn’t that going to happen anyway?
The Freakishly Frightening
26. Hip-Hop the Rabbit (Philadelphia 76ers)
25. The Coyote (San Antonio Spurs)
24. Boomer and Bowser (Indiana Pacers)
I really don’t know what these franchises were thinking. Aside from the fact that all three chose a mascot that has nothing to do with its nickname (76ers and rabbits…Pacers and dogs?), the actual mascots themselves are just plain scary. The Coyote looks cracked-out. Boomer and Bowser seem to have wandered in from a backyard brawl. And Hip-Hop…well, let’s just say Hip looks a lot like Vanilla Ice. All three seem to be suffering from some form of dementia…their eyes are crazy. I mean, honestly…are these the mascots you want exciting the fans and interacting with children? Eesh.
The Just Plain Weird
The Warriors gave it a good effort. What they came up with, though, is pretty weird…a steroid-injected mascot dressed in a blue spandex suit with a lightning bolt coming out of its head. I’m not entirely sure why Thunder from the Warriors has to look like he’s competing for the World’s Strongest Man competition, or why he has a lightning bolt for a head (as Thunder and Lightning are clearly not the same thing). But the real kicker is the blue spandex suit. I coach a high school basketball team, and we played in our conference championship last weekend. One of our student fans showed up to the game in a full body blue spandex outfit. Seeing a picture of Thunder reminded me of that student. Pretty pathetic if the best an NBA franchise can do is match a Charlie Kelley when it comes to ingenuity and creativity.
The Walt Disney Award for Most Likeably Adorable Mascots
22. Hooper the Horse (Detroit Pistons)
21. Blaze the Trail Cat (Portland Trailblazers) (also have Sparky…much better)
20. Moondog (Cleveland Cavaliers)
19. Clutch the Bear (Houston Rockets)
18. Rocky the Mountain Lion (Denver Nuggets)
17. The Raptor (Toronto Raptors)
I’m not sure if these franchises were going for adorable. But that’s pretty much what they have. Giant cuddly NBA mascots. Hooper’s doppelganger is Bullseye from the Toy Story movie franchise. Moondog and Blaze look like the family dogs (even though Blaze is a cat). Clutch makes me want to reconnect with Winnie the Pooh. Rocky looks like a house cat (even though he’s a lion). And The Raptor looks like a slightly scarier version of Barney…a big purple dinosaur with teeth. All in all, a good effort…nothing wrong with playing it safe and keeping your mascot likeably adorable. It just won’t get you in the upper half of my rankings.
The Neither Here Nor Theres
16. Crunch (Minnesota Timberwolves)
15. Harry the Hawk (Atlanta Hawks)
14. Bango (Milwaukee Bucks)
13. Rufus D. Lynx (Charlotte Bobcats)
12. Champ (Dallas Mavericks)
11. Sly the Silver Fox and Mini Sly (New Jersey Nets)
There isn’t much to be said about these mascots. So I won’t. They kind of make you go…ehhh. Entertaining? Sure. Names make sense? Yeah. Likeable? For the most part. Wow factor? Definitely missing. And so they hover in the middle of the pack.
I do think that it is worth highlighting one of the NBA’s cooler mascot names (Rufus D. Lynx), as well as giving a shout out to the Nets for their dynamic duo of Sly and Mini Sly (who are eerily similar to the Dr. Evil/Mini-Me combo from the Austin Powers movies). Both did well enough to slide them up near the top ten.
The Top Ten Mascots
10. Hugo the Hornet (New Orleans Hornets)
I’m not sure why I have Hugo ranked so high. The giant wasp could easily have slipped into the neither-here-nor-theres, or even farther down than that. I guess a fuzzy purple-and-green bee has a special place in my heart. And if there was ever a bee that I’d want to hug, Hugo would be it. Can I give you a good reason why Hugo is ranked higher than Rufus or Champ or Sly-squared? Nope. All I can tell you is what an ex-girlfriend once told me…I just had a feeling.
9. Slamson the Lion (Sacramento Kings)
Okay, I know what everyone’s thinking. How did an Aslan look-alike make it into the top ten? Why is a mascot who’s badly in need of Rogaine with Minoxidil ranked so highly? Definitely good questions. Slamson easily could have slipped out of the top ten. But I decided to give him the nod for two reasons. First, it’s a pretty creative nickname—alliterative, basketball-themed, and loosely connects a long-haired lion to a long-haired Biblical character. Second, the mascot itself creatively and logically connects Sacramento’s nickname (the Kings) to an animal (the lion…king of kings). Does all that excuse the lion’s receding hairline? No. But it also isn’t enough to bump them out of the top ten.
8. Jazz Bear (Utah Jazz)
7. Grizz (Memphis Grizzlies)
I don’t know if there is much to be said about Jazz or Grizz. They’re both big, furry badass bears. They look friendly and fun…but also look like they could maul you in a heartbeat if you said the wrong thing. Bonus points to Jazz for the headband. Bonus points to Grizz for looking like a blue version of Scott Howard from Teenwolf. All in all, they both are solid mascots.
6. G-Wiz and G-Man (Washington Wizards)
The Wizards are one of three teams to take the tag team NBA mascot approach. And they do it pretty well. Like the Kings (Slamson), the Wizards do a great job of creatively naming their mascots—G-Wiz connects to the Wizards part of the name, and G-Man connects to the Washington part of the name. Beyond that, the two mascots offer a completely different appeal. G-Wiz is a big fluffy wizard-looking thing. G-Man is a mysterious muscular man (reminiscent of Kevin Bacon from The Invisible Man). The duality of purpose just works.
As an aside, yes, I do realize that the difference between G-Man and Thunder (Golden State Warriors) is pretty slim. Just know that G-Man did it better, as his muscles look more like a superhero and less like a bodybuilder. Plus, he has the added benefit of a cooler name and creative sidekick. That gets you in the top ten.
5. Benny the Bull (Chicago Bulls)
4. Go the Gorilla (Phoenix Suns)
Classics. When you think of NBA mascot, Benny and the Gorilla are sure to come to mind. I wish there was more I could say about them. They are just good, old-fashioned mascots that have stood the test of time. Well done to both franchises.
As an aside, is it unfair that the Suns get a pass, having chosen a mascot that has nothing to do with their nickname, while the 76ers, Pacers, and Spurs do not? Yes. Yes, it is.
3. Burnie (Miami Heat)
A close runner-up to Stuff the Magic Dragon. Burnie is a fantastic mascot. Great name. Great appearance. It doesn’t hurt that Burnie looks like one of the great nameless characters from Sesame Street. Furry and fun, I can only imagine Burnie is a fan-favorite in Miami. Bonus points for the green basketball for a nose.
It is a bit sad that one of the great NBA mascots (Squatch) no longer exists…just another negative byproduct of the Supersonics folding up shop and moving to Oklahoma City. Squatch was awesome…part Wookie, part Harry from Harry and the Hendersons. It was a sad day when he was laid to rest.
Thankfully, the Thunder did a good job of honoring the memory of their fallen brethren by re-incarnating Squatch as the OKC Thunder mascot in a somewhat similar look in Rumble. Does it bother me that he looks a lot like Benny the Bull? Kind of…but not enough to make a difference. Second place goes to the Squatch-Rumble combination.
1. Stuff the Magic Dragon (Orlando Magic)
Hands down the coolest name for a mascot in the NBA. It is basketball-themed. It connects with the Magic nickname. It chooses a creature that is magical by nature. And it’s fun to say. Beyond all that, the Dragon is visually fun to look at…like the dragon from Pete’s Dragon. I just want it to blow fire out of its mouth so I can have a toasted apple. Ahhh…to be a kid again. Ladies and gentleman, the Top Mascot in the NBA…Stuff the Magic Dragon.
Joe Buri is a former high school athletic director who currently works as an attorney in corporate America. In addition to writing for TC Huddle, he also volunteers as an assistant varsity basketball coach at a local Twin Cities high school. Once dubbed “The Human Stump,” he considers holding former NBA forward Devean George to 39 points a highlight of his collegiate basketball experience.