The 2017/18 NBA season has begun just how Detroit planned it. After missing the Playoffs out East and moving home in the off-season, the Pistons sit at 10-3. While the results of last season could perhaps be put down to health woes and a lack of chemistry, so far in ’17 the Pistons are working extremely hard and firing on all cylinders.
However, it’s not just the team on the court who works their tails off for the organisation. There is a member of the Pistons who shares honours with Ish Smith as the shortest player on the roster, standing at 6 feet tall or “18 hands” as he puts it.
His name is Hooper.
He walks, he talks and he flies – whether that be through the air for one of his slam dunks during a game interval or being sent halfway around the world as a representative of the organisation. There isn’t much Hooper wouldn’t do for DE-TROIT BAS-KET-BALL (you read that out loud in your best Jalen Rose voice, didn’t you?)
Hooper admits he’s “eight years old at heart”, which might help explain why he continues to enjoy being the figurehead of entertainment when there is none on the court. After getting the call-up in November of 1996, Hooper has been shooting shirts, popping confetti and hyping the crowd for 20 years and counting.
A Pistons fan before he took the job, Hooper certainly understands what he is there to do.
Hooper on the best advice he was given – A wise mascot once told me “every time you are out there, it could be someone’s first or last time seeing you. You owe it to them to give everything you’ve got and put on the best show you can, every time”. Those are words I live by.
As Zach Lowe and Kevin Arnovitz recently touched on during The Lowe Post podcast, there is a code when it comes to NBA mascots and no team ever dares to jeopardize the magic of who might be inside. That said, even by looking through the eyes of the suit, it is easy to see just how hard Hooper works for his organisation.
The primary job of any NBA mascot is to entertain the crowd on game day. Hooper gets 41 games inside the Pistons newly built home, Little Caesar’s Arena, to work his own little bit of magic with the faithful crowd. But while the Detroit players are doing their bit – currently 7-1 at home – the crowds have been a little flat to start the inaugural season inside a new building. Recent polls suggested Detroit were 26th in overall attendance despite the hot start and Hooper hopes that can turn around sooner rather than later.
Hooper on moving into Little Caesar’s Arena – such a bittersweet moment because like everyone else, I absolutely loved the Palace… that said, nothing beats being downtown and in the middle of all of the action at a state of the art arena! @LCA_Detroit is truly a gem. I’ve never seen another like it and I fully expect my NBA mascot buddies to be totally jealous when they visit.
Those that do attend a Pistons home game will see Hooper in full flight, barely taking a breath. A typical game day for Hooper will begin by checking the calendar and doing a “little happy dance” when he realises it’s a home game. The workday can start hours before any patrons fill the seats, as Hooper helps set up props, get the t-shirts and giveaways ready, plus stay hydrated. There are no assistants to take care of everything for the star of the show and one can only assume it gets very hot in that
After going over any details for special visits or timeout activities during the game, it’s “off to the races” Hooper excitedly explains. There are a ton of photos to take, autographs to sign, hugs for those kids perhaps having their first Pistons experience and high fives for the big kids who attend Pistons games to escape their adult lives. At least for a couple of hours, Hooper epitomises the joy NBA basketball brings to the city of Detroit.
Yet once the game is over, Hooper has two main priorities. A healthy snack first, before winding down and taking
care of the second priority – watching the game highlights. After all, Hooper’s a fan first and foremost, all that running around means he barely sees a second of live action on the court.
That said, Hooper remains professional when pushed for a favourite current Pistons player. He simply won’t choose one but is happy to admit Rick Mahorn is one of his all-time favourite Detroit players from days gone by. It surely isn’t from the two points Mahorn averaged when Hooper began as the Pistons mascot for 96/97 season. When pressed further, Hooper admits to “bugging” Mahorn at Pistons games and being “in awe when I see highlights from his career” rather than from what he saw live in those formative years.
As for the old home, the Palace, Hooper won’t pick a single highlight there either. He will tell you it has been an “amazing home” though and even admit to “staying out of the way…. eating cotton candy” when the infamous Malice In The Palace occurred. Likely a smart idea when Ben Wallace and Ron Artest make their way into the stands.
NBA mascot fights are far less serious, especially the heavily scripted bouts with Robin Lopez that mimic a professional wrestling storyline. Hooper puts the entertainment of the fans above absolutely everything else, even if it’s his own safety that comes second.
Hooper on rivalries in the NBA – Just a lot of talk and hot air! We’re all friends in the end. Friends until we play each other. Then it’s every mascot for himself. But in all honesty, we all get along very well. We’ve each been given the opportunity to have the coolest job in the world, and all of us take it very seriously! In terms of Robin Lopez… you had to bring him up. He knows this isn’t over.
Work isn’t limited to game nights for Hooper either. He doesn’t travel with the team for road games, only attending the odd mascot birthday party when invited and visiting his friend Buckets in Grand Rapids for the G-League. However, he still finds plenty of other jobs to do as a member of the Pistons.
Hooper’s favourite event of the year? The Thanksgiving Day Parade put on by The Parade Company.
The Pistons mascot describes it as an “immensely fun” event, celebrating with all the local Detroiters in attendance. Plus, Hooper gets to spend the parade with his two best furry buddies, Paws the Tigers mascot in the MLB and Roary who represents the Lions in the NFL. You get the sense that these three are pretty tight in Detroit, attending a lot of events together and no doubt discussing tricks of the trade.
There’s still plenty more. “You name it, I’m available for it” is a motto Hooper likes to live by.
Hooper is constantly travelling all over Michigan and neighbouring States. The Pistons keep their mascot busy when the team is on a road trip, by booking appearances at various events; charitable events, corporate events, weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, communions, basketball summer camps, parades, festivals, fairs and even boat races. He’s right, there isn’t much Hooper won’t do for this team.
That commitment included three separate trips to China in the off-season, mostly as a representative of Detroit and the NBA but with a little time for fun too.
Hooper on his trips to China – We got to visit China on three different occasions this past summer. Visiting Beijing, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. NBA Finals, some Finals watch parties and an NBA 3 vs 3 tournament. It was unreal and so fun. I couldn’t believe I had fans half way around the world waiting for me at the events! Amazingly fun to represent the league and the Pistons and meet fans. It was absolutely unforgettable. Plus the food… yum.
Still, the off-season is the hardest part of the job in Hooper’s eyes. When you live to entertain the fans, nothing beats being in the stadium as the Pistons hit the hardwood. Safe to say Hooper is enjoying the early wins at Little Caesar’s Arena, even if it’s unlikely the Pistons can reach the “80,000 wins” he jokingly predicts.
Just hearing him talk about the current state of the team though just illustrates that Hooper is and always will be, a fan first.
Hooper on the 17/18 Detroit Pistons – Our team is young, hungry and playing well together. Not just one player, but all of them. I believe in us and know we have the grit and determination to make waves in this season and beyond. To sum it up, I’m EXCITED.
A fan that is living out his dream as a mascot for the Detroit Pistons.
A job that has allowed him to do things he wouldn’t have dreamed of otherwise. You can add riding in an army tank and skydiving to that list. Hooper and some of his favourite buddies from around the league (Benny, STUFF, Pierre, G-Wiz, Bango & Jazz are names that Hooper mentions when pressed for his favourite peers) are living out a dream.
The hard work is a lot easier to swallow when you are doing what you love. When he speaks about getting into the mascot game, it’s clear Hooper believes the fun will always outweigh the hard work. It doesn’t make the effort any less admirable mind you and it’s clear you have to be a special breed to live the life of a mascot in the NBA.
For those that think they have what it takes, Hooper has some very simple advice.
Hooper’s advice for aspiring mascots – Don’t give up, keep persevering, keep working, learn by watching, network, practice in front of a mirror, ask questions, watch YouTube videos for inspiration, and most of all… HAVE FUN! If you can’t have fun, you can’t do this job.