So after a month's worth of weekly blogging about NBA mascots, it has come to this: the fifth and final part culminating in the crowning of a mascot champion. At this point, all the mascots left score really really high on the appearance and relevance scales. This last six is without doubt a good looking group and they are clearly representing their franchise name or location. The separation between sixth and first will be subtle but I'll do my best to explain my choices. Hopefully it will make sense. We'll start down south.
6: Harry The Hawk, Atlanta Hawks
In contrast to Major League Baseball and the National Football League which abound in bird nicknamed teams (three in MLB; five in the NFL), the NBA boasts a single franchise with a bird mascot and the Hawks are it. The National Hockey League, by the way, has zero ever since the Thrashers left Atlanta and headed north to become the second incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets. What is it with Atlanta and birds? A couple of years ago they had the Hawks, Thrashers and Falcons. Doesn't matter I guess.
As a mascot, I think Harry does the birds of the world and the city of Atlanta proud. He's clearly a bird (I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment on subtleties of bird of prey mascot costumes but I believe he's a hawk) and he has the Hawks' color scheme down to a tee. Other than being alliterative, his name is nothing special but it's better than some of his colleagues'. For me, Harry's a top six mascot because of all mascots, I'm believing there's some ferocity in his appearance. I think it's the eyebrows.
5: Rocky The Mountain Lion, Denver Nuggets
Whoever runs (or ran) the virtual Mascot Hall of Fame doesn't agree with me on much when it comes to NBA mascots' excellence. I am placing four of the Hall's five NBA inductees at numbers seven, 14, 16 and 21 in this countdown. But when it comes to the Nuggets' mascot Rocky, we are in agreement. This is a top five mascot for sure.
The great thing for me about Rocky is his all pervasive relevance. He's clearly not a nugget (however you would represent the actual nickname of Denver's franchise I don't know) but the concept of a mountain lion named Rocky in a city deep in the Rocky Mountains is awesome. He's also a great looking mascot and I love the shoes.
4: Bango, Milwaukee Bucks
I have to say the Milwaukee Bucks don't have a whole lot going for themselves lately. They lost their two marquee free agents in the offseason, they have won one division title since the 1985-1986 season and they haven't won an NBA championship since 1971. Admittedly they had a pretty good run before in the 1970s and 1980s, winning 12 division championships in a 16 year span but the last 16 or so years have been less than fruitful (no comments about my Wizards here please).
But if there's a bright spot in Milwaukee, it's Bango. Just like Rocky at the five spot, Bango looks great and represents his franchise superbly, this time through actually being what the franchise mascot is (a buck) while managing to avoid the Santa's reindeer look that could have conceivably tripped him up. Besides scoring high on relevance and appearance, Bango's strongest asset is his name which comes from longtime Bucks play by play announcer Eddie Doucette who used the phrase on air whenever a Bucks player connected on a long range basket. I love that the Bucks honor someone who called games for 16 years for the franchise. The name puts Bango ahead of Rocky and into the number four slot.
3: Benny The Bull, Chicago Bulls
For years when I was a New York Knicks fan, I hated the Chicago Bulls and everything associated with their franchise. It would have been unthinkable at that time for me to have ranked anything associated with this team as high as third. I would have tried to mock their logo (which is actually really pretty good) or their stupid alternate pinstripe uniforms (which are worthy of mocking) or found some other way to tear them down. Heck, I would have probably brought up Benny's rap sheet as a way of ranking him lower in a mascot rank.
But times have changed, I root for the Bulls in the playoffs and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat have settled in to the Bulls' old spot in my life so Benny gets the bronze medal here. Except for the alliteration, the name's not awesome but he's clearly a bull and he's very red, which I think is perfect for that animal. But let's face it here, Benny's appearance is the reason he's so high. Rocky and Bango both have better names. Benny just looks better.
2: Stuff The Magic Dragon, Orlando Magic
If you had asked me a year ago who I thought was the second best mascot in the NBA, no way would I have picked Stuff. But looking at all 30 mascots in a comprehensive fashion this summer really revealed Stuff to be an outstanding choice at the two spot. It is admittedly difficult to make a mascot that represents magic (or heat or thunder for that matter) but I think whoever designed this thing pulled it off.
While the Magic website's story of the franchise name doesn't point the origin of the name at nearby Walt Disney World, I'm pretty confident that place was a pretty strong influence. And Stuff looks like he'd be right at home there. There's no question he looks magical and unlike any dragon I have seen before, sort of an updated Phillie Fanatic for central Florida (I know there are folks in Philadelphia shuddering at this statement).
But as good as Stuff looks, there's no question in my mind that the name puts him here at the overall runner up spot. Notwithstanding Ben Stiller's likely true accusation in Meet The Parents, Puff The Magic Dragon is still a kids' song to me and applying that name to the Magic mascot with the small alteration in his name to relate to basketball works perfectly.
1: G Wiz, Washington Wizards
Just so you understand, this is not a TOTAL homer pick. I really do think G Wiz is one of the best mascots in the NBA. Maybe I'm too close like I am with most things Wizards but I think he represents our franchise nickname perfectly, even though he's obviously more muppet wizard than human wizard. I can admit he looked a lot more like a wizard in the early days of me being a season ticket holder when he still sported his beard and cape but he doesn't lack anything by losing them. Maybe he would lose his wizardly look if he lost his hat but I don't think that will ever happen.
I also think despite being covered in blue fur (thank God they didn't switch the fur to red when they rebranded the franchise in 2011) and being utterly unrecognizable as any sort of animal or creature of myth that G Wiz is a handsome mascot. The new uniforms and change to red gloves and shoes improve his look immensely but then again, changing from the Wizards' 1997-2011 uniforms would help anyone or anything look better. And finally there's the name, which is pretty much perfect. It rolls off the tongue like the antiquated saying it is but works really well. Much more mellifluous than Stuff The Magic Dragon. Congratulations, G Wiz! Number one in my book of mascots every day.
So that's it. This countdown has lasted five Fridays and now we are now only 29 days from the opening of training camp. This at least kept my mind occupied in August. Can't wait until September 28!