My man Eric Perdiguerra and I wondered the other day, what exactly was the Warriors mascot "Thunder" and what was his association with the San Francisco Bay Area?
I was never a fan of Thunder, mostly because he butted up against my preconceived notion of mascots as fuzzy and larger than life animals that did goofy things on the court like a dancing tree or an elephant 'going dumb' in the streets. Some people loved him, but some people just thought he was completely random. As my girlfriend once said about his randomness: "Why does he have egg yolk on his head (referencing the lightening bolt car-hood-like ornament on his forehead)?"
Thunder was a polarizing figure among fans. And ultimately, why has there not been a replacement? And why were fans in love with him as much as we normally do with other bay area mascots?
Joe Ciolli of the Peninsula Press did some investigative reporting on the whereabouts of Thunder nowadays and actually, with some amazing interviews with two mascot trainers (mascots need to be trained???), us fans get some great insider information on why Thunder was arguably one of the worst moves of the Cohan era (second to Mike Dunleavy Jr.). Pat Walker, in-game entertainment consultant for the Seattle Supersonics, notes, as quoted by Ciolli:
"The mascot was one of a handful in the league that was a human character, versus a furry, lovable one. While he had a large skill set with some of the acrobatics that he would do on the court and in the crowd, I think the character itself may have been limited on what it could do from a humor standpoint, which is a large part of being a mascot."
A-ha! So fans LOVE fuzzy cartoon animals. To the Warriors franchise credit (I can't believe I'm giving them credit), they tried very hard to market him different over the years. They added the gigantic inflatable Thunder during the fourth quarter timeouts to come out and bop fans in the front row. At one point Thunder had his comrades of equally mind-numbing form, that would dunk-a-long with him. But Ciolli adds more from Walker about mascot love in general:
"Teams don't absolutely need a mascot to sell seats," Walker said. "But I think mascots are a source that can bring the largest incremental fan experience and provide huge revenue opportunities - not necessarily in arenas but also outside." This comes in the form of merchandise sales of items like stuffed animals, as well as public appearances.
Random question, is there any huge revenue being made of the Warrior girs? As much as those new outfits may be giving us a new flavor of Warrior girls, fans interest in those white booty shorts and the gold bikini that the Solid Gold Dancers would approve of is at an all time low. Here is the final kicker though about mascots:
"With the New York and L.A. teams there's a certain prestige - they feel like the mascot might add some cheesiness," Walker said. "At those games, it's a who's who. The Lakers have Jack Nicholson. The Knicks have Spike Lee. They don't really need a mascot - people go to celebrity watch. The teams in those markets tend to play a little more conservative show."
Weirdly, Ciolli calls the Warriors a small-market team even while claiming that the Warriors are in the 6th largest market. But, would this statement above mean anything to us as fans and maybe why we never had prior to Thunder and currently don't have one? We are a big market team but would having a mascot make things 'cheesy' in the bay? It's not like we have celebrities in the seats and the ones that are most likely are CEOs of big high-tech companies, which hardly deserve jumbo-tron attention like Jay-Z.
Face it folks, Thunder was just another bad creation by the Cohan era. Completely contrived and utterly uncreative. While another one of Ciolli's interviewees lauds Thunder, also known as Sadiki Fuller, for being a "gifted performer" and great at making people laugh, he was just a poorly conceived "16th man" on the Warriors bench that was of what people called the "cartoon era" of NBA branding of the late nineties. And while most teams dumped their cartoon jerseys (like the Rockets' Rocket with a face on it) in the early 2000s, realizing that this was a trend that was not going to be timeless, the Warriors didn't get the message.
I for one am glad Thunder is gone and I feel at ease knowing that Thunder, or rather Sadiki Fuller, isn't breakdancing on the streets of East Oakland for some spare change.
With that said, do the Warriors need a mascot? Do you want a mascot to be entertained during the bad moments of a Warriors game? Why do you think Thunder 'failed'? Given Ciolli's reporting, what do you think Warriors should have done?