The Stories Behind These 6 Animal NBA Mascots

Written by Justin Sexton
Updated: November 17, 2023
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The National Basketball Association has a total of 30 basketball teams. Some include the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics, and the Golden State Warriors. Some teams don’t have a mascot on their sideline getting fans pumped up from courtside to the nosebleeds. Which is odd, because after all, what are the Lakers if Los Angeles doesn’t have any lakes?

They were originally in Minneapolis, MN in their early franchise days, but anyhow this article will cover some stories of some of the most popular NBA mascots and their real-life animal species counterparts.

Before we get to the selections, the four teams that currently do not have an NBA mascot are the Los Angeles Lakers, the Golden State Warriors, the Brooklyn Nets, and the New York Knicks.

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Benny The Bull

spanish bull in the bullring

A picture of the iconic Windy City Mascot

©De La Torre Antonio/

Benny The Bull is one of the most recognizable mascots in NBA history because of the popularity that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen brought to the team. The mascot is one of the longest-tenured mascots in the NBA and all of professional sports. How did Chicago decide to stick with a bull as their mascot? The Bulls’ name is a reference to the Chicago Union Stockyards that carried livestock. The stockyards were once a prominent business in Chicago.

Benny is far lighter and has more of a vibrant look than an average bull. But like how bulls are, they’re fierce towards humans. Well, in Benny’s case, the team he’s the mascot for has to be fierce towards opponents. Bulls have massive bodies and muscular backs. The main purposes bulls have are to breed with female bovine and for meat purposes.

The Bulls mascot doesn’t have the popular bull nose ring. The popular nose rings go back to ancient civilizations 4,000 years ago. People would also tie ropes to the bull rings so they could control the bulls.

Go The Gorilla

Silverback gorilla chest beating

Go The Gorilla is an unusual NBA mascot with a unique story.

©Tanya Puntti/

The Phoenix Suns have a gorilla mascot rather than a mascot that’s the sun. Usually, team mascot uniforms are what the team is named after like Hornets, Bulls, Bears, and Spartans. But why is a gorilla the Suns’ mascot? Well, it was a good accident. In the 1980s, a singing telegram worker was delivering a telegram to some veterans at the stadium. As a man of humor, he came into the stadium in a gorilla suit. Security guards suggested that he should stay at halftime to perform to the crowd, and the rest is history.

Gorillas have similar DNA to humans, actually, 98% of their DNA is similar to humans. Gorillas also have the capability to learn American Sign Language and are some of the strongest animals in the world. They also have a vegetarian diet unlike Go The Gorilla who eats backboards as he tosses alley-oops to himself at halftime.

The gorilla species are also an endangered species as there are several conservation programs in place to help preserve the species. Although gorillas have opposable thumbs and can walk like humans, we are not sure if they’re able to shoot a basketball. They probably can though.

Hugo The Hornet

Hugo the Hornet, mascot of the Charlotte Hornets. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for McDonald’s)


Hugo The Hornet was a face for some of the most popular clothing and colorways for starter jacket pullovers, Champion Jackets, and more for the youth in the 1990s. Basketball came to the Queen City of Charlotte in the late eighties. The inspiration behind the Hornets mascot is a historical one. It came from the city’s strong resistance to the British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Their resistance had Lord Cornwallis to refer Charlotte as a “veritable hornet’s nest of rebellion.”

Hugo The Hornet is able to fly to the rim somewhat like his animal counterpart, a hornet. Hornets are related to wasps as they’re in the same Vespidae family, but they make up a small amount of that family. There are 22 different species that live all over the world. There aren’t that many, if any, hornets in the wilderness that are teal and purple like Hugo. Hornets are typically colored in black and yellow, dark orange and brown, or orange and black.

The European Hornet is the most common and widespread hornet in the world. They’re located in North America, Europe, and Russia. However, there are many different types of hornets in Asian countries, Australia, and the Middle East. Hornets are well-known omnivores that love themselves some fruits like peaches, apples, and nectarines. They also eat small insects and not basketballs.

Harry The Hawk

Bottom view of a red-tailed hawk flying, seen in the wild in South Oregon

Skyhawk with Harry The Hawk on the right


Before the Hawks basketball team moved to Atlanta, the team used to be in St. Louis. After a bit of research, the Atlanta Hawks were once called the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in Moline, Illinois. The story behind the Hawks’ name goes back to the Black Hawk War that took place in Illinois in 1832. So what type of hawk is Harry The Hawk?

It would be safe to say it’s a red-tail hawk. Red-tail hawks get their name from their wide tails. They’re giant hawks with broad and rounded wings. In the wilderness, the red-tail hawks feed on rattlesnakes, mice, lizards, rats, smaller birds, and voles. Some of their main predators are humans, great-horned owls, and bobcats.

There are many other types of hawks such as Broad-winged hawks, Ferruginous hawks, Cooper’s hawks, Northern goshawks, and Zone-tailed hawks. The Ferruginous hawk is the largest hawk species in the United States but the Upland buzzard in Asia is the largest hawk species in the world.

Typically, the female hawks are bigger than the male hawks. Hawks can span in height between 12 to 28 inches and their wingspans can go from 26 to 63 inches. The Hawks family’s origins tie back to dinosaurs. One of the nicknames for the Hawks is the Raptors. These birds can be found everywhere except for Antarctica, making them a versatile species that can live in almost any climate.

Slamson The Lion

Single lion looking regal standing proudly on a small hill

Sacramento’s mascot is a lion.

©2021 Photography/

The Sacramento Kings mascot is a lion. Slamson became a part of the Kings franchise in 1994 as a rebranding effort to bring more people to their games. He has been a fan favorite ever since. Slamson the Lion is a lion.

Lions aren’t natural to the Sacramento, California environment. Lions are more native to south and central Africa along with India. They live in small groups called prides. Lions eat zebras, warthogs, and antelopes. They’re one of the largest and strongest felines in the world. Lions are only behind the Serbian Tiger in their strength and size. There are two subspecies of lions. One is the Panthera leo melanochaita. That species lives across South and East Africa. The other lion subspecies is Panthera Leo. They live in West and Central Africa along with Asia.

It is estimated that there may just be over 20,000 lions left today. The IUCN reported that the lion population decreased by 42% between 1993-2014. 80% of the prides are composed of mostly females and it’s reported that one in eight male lions survive to adulthood. Male lions face the threat of other male lions that want their pride families. Due to their much more massive size, male lions don’t do as much hunting as female lionesses. Female lionesses hunt with their pride groups and are able to bring back food that’s much bigger than them.

Like Slamson, lions have a short coat of gold fur with a long tail that has a fur tuft at the end. However, there are white lions. Their albino coats are due to recessive traits. White lions are bred today at many zoos and wildlife parks. White Lions are actually being reintroduced into the wilderness for breeding purposes to increase the general lion species.

Rocky The Mountain Lion

Mountain lion standing on large rock with her kit

Denver’s mascot is a

mountain lion



Rocky The Mountain Lion is the highest-paid mascot in the NBA for the Denver Nuggets. He gets paid $625,000 annually, which is more than ten times the median salary for a mascot job. Rocky has been known for his popular antics on the court and appearing at Denver’s GOP rallies. It makes plenty of sense that Rocky is a mountain lion. Why? Denver, Colorado is 5,280 feet above sea level and is just outside the Rocky Mountains. Hence, the name Rocky.

According to Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife Foundation, over 57% of the land in Colorado is suitable for mountain lions. The mountain lions in Colorado live at the front range of the Rocky Mountains border and westward toward the Utah border. Mountain Lions in Colorado also live in some parts of Colorado’s southeast corner. The CPW also reports that there are between 3,000 to 7,000 mountain lions in the state.

On average, mountain lions can weigh between 60 lbs to 190 lbs. At most, they can weigh up to 200 lbs. The average mountain lion and Rocky the Mountain Lion share some similarities. They have good senses, large fur, and high running speed. A wild mountain lion can use its fur to camouflage in the wilderness as a good defense from threats. They have 2.5-inch claws and 2-inch canines that help them pierce their prey’s skin.

The mountain lions ambush their prey as their primary attack method. When they ambush them, the mountain lion wraps its forelegs around its prey and takes them to the ground. Before then, they stalk their prey in silence.

While Rocky strikes fear into the visiting NBA teams, as NBA mascots could do, the wild mountain lions can strike fear into unsuspecting humans. But mountain lion attacks on humans are very rare. For example, over 1,500 mountain lions live in the Washington state area, but only 20 attacks have been reported in the last 100 years. Two of those attacks were fatal. For North America, only about 120 attacks happened and 27 of those were fatal in the past 100 years.

Outside of Colorado and Washington, mountain lions also live in states like Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Idaho, Georgia, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

Mountain lions are also able to swim across rivers. These lions are also very athletic. They can jump up to 15 feet to climb a tree, reach speeds up to 50 mph, and jump over 12-foot-tall fences.

They are also related to cougars and panthers. Its scientific name is Puma concolor and is also known as Felis concolor. They were once the most vast mammal group in North America.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © DavideAngelini/

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About the Author

Justin is an A-Z Animals Writer that loves to cover places, unique natural disasters, and travel. He has eight years of experience as a writer in the medical and media fields. He wrote for the likes of VCU Health, theMSQshop, PayDay LA, and Comic Book Resources under the penname Jay Guevara. Although he's a full time writer, Justin graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2019 with a Bachelors in Health, Physical Education, and Exercise Science with a background in Community Engagement. After spending over two decades in Richmond, Virginia, Justin now resides in the suburbs of Rancho Cucamonga, California. He's a dedicated gymrat. He's also a two-time poetry author who's influenced by rappers Joe Budden and IDK along with Dante Alighieri.

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