Mascots are as synonymous with American sports teams as cheerleaders, nicknames, and superstar athletes. From Chicago’s Benny the Bull to Boston’s Lucky the Leprechaun, audiences across the nation cheer the sideline exploits of these famous figures. Chuck the Condor patrols the Staples Center for Clippers home games, but city rivals the Lakers lack a mascot to call their own.
Why do NBA teams have mascots?
Anybody connected with sports, players and fans alike, tends to be superstitious. Many fans have ‘lucky’ clothing that they’re convinced will steer their team to victory, while players have set rituals that prepare them for the basketball court. This belief in fortune led to the origin of mascots, who were considered lucky charms.
Initially, mascots were human – usually children or living animals. Over time, mascots have evolved into the larger-than-life cuddly characters that we see today, usually connected to the team’s name or location. This helps provide a team with a unique identity – and a consistent presence. Plays retire or get traded. Coaches are fired or retire. Mascots, like fans, are with a team for the long haul.
Of course, there’s also a more cynical side to the use of mascots in the NBA. Basketball may be a sport, but it’s also a business. By hitching their wagon to a cute, instantly recognizable character, a franchise can shift more merchandise – especially to younger audiences.
Do mascots really matter in basketball?
That’s a loaded question – after all, does anything really matter in the NBA, other than points on the board and trophies in the cabinet? Mascots are primarily a little fun to add some pomp and ceremony to proceedings.
Mascots can also rouse a crowd when things are not going well. NBA mascots are not just enthusiastic fans – they are salaried employees of a franchise. The role of a mascot is similar to that of a cheerleader, encouraging audiences to get on their feet, cheer and applaud the athletes on the court.
Mascots are also used to connect a team with the local population. It’s not uncommon to find a mascot attending weddings, children’s hospitals, parades – even funerals.
Why do the LA Lakers not have a mascot?
Having established that mascots are important to the NBA, from entertainment and financial standpoints alike, it’s interesting that the LA Lakers do not adopt such a figure. There are two significant theories for why this may be.
The first is simple economics. The Lakers are valued at an eye-watering $4.6 billion and are believed to spend just $155 million on outgoing expenses each year. The franchise makes more than that each year in ticket sales and TV rights, as well as being merchandise monsters. The Lakers are hardly hurting for income, making a mascot almost superfluous.
The second explanation is that the Lakers already have multiple unofficial mascots. The Lakers were the first NBA team to truly embrace cheerleading, with the Laker Girls part of the furniture at the Staples Center. Introducing a manic, consumed character may distract from the hard work and tireless choreography of these talented performers.
In addition, as befits the home of Hollywood, the Lakers have an abundance of celebrity fans. Tom Cruise, Justin Bieber, Vanessa Hudgens, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jack Nicholson are just some of the famous faces frequently spotted in the Staples Center. When you have that kind of star wattage, a performer in a bear suit just feels superfluous.
Do any other NBA teams not have a mascot?
The Lakers are not the only buzzkills in the NBA. The Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets, and New York Knicks also lack a mascot.
When based in neighboring New Jersey, the Nets were represented by Duncan the Dragon and Sly the Silver Fox. Upon relocating to the Borough of Trees, a superhero named the BrooklyKnight was introduced to much fanfare. Marvel comics even published a comic book detailing the adventures of this hoop-loving hero, but he was retired after just two seasons and never replaced.
The Warriors took a similar approach. Comedian Sadiki Fuller (sadly no longer with us) donned a muscle suit for five seasons as Thunder, a slam-dunking superhero. The character was retired when the Seattle SuperSonics relocated and became Oklahoma City Thunder and never replaced.
As for the Knicks … well, like the Lakers, this franchise has never employed a mascot. Presumably this is because, like the Lakers, the Knicks are already hugely marketable. The owners have never seen the need to boost their coffers by employing a symbol to increase their earnings, even though Spike Lee no longer fills this role in an unofficial capacity.
Will the Lakers ever have a mascot?
Never say never. It seems unlikely, though. The Lakers have never felt the need for such a figure, and there is nothing to suggest that this will change.
Perhaps if the team falls on hard times a mascot will be enlisted to re-energize disenchanted fans. That seems unlikely too though.
Consider the murderer’s row of hall of famers that have represented the Lakers over the years. This franchise will always attract the biggest, best and brightest names in the NBA. That, in turn, is the closest guarantee to success you’ll find in professional sports.
It may be a shame for younger Lakers fans to miss out on the mascot experience, but it’s hardly damaging the franchise brand. The Occam’s razor principle applies here – the LA Lakers do not have a mascot because they do not need one. It’s unlikely that will change any time soon. Anybody seeking a hug from a point-scoring condor can always attend a Clippers game.