How The Phoenix Suns Landed On A Gorilla As Their Mascot

For a professional sports team, selecting a mascot is an important decision. The costumed character serves as a team representative in the arena or stadium and out in the community so they need to be instantly identifiable with the team. That's why, more often than not, a team's management decides to not over-exert themselves by thinking too hard and making their mascot whatever the team is called. A team called the Wildcats might get a mascot that's a wildcat, or a team called the Cowboys might introduce a mascot that is — you guessed it — a cowboy.

Others go the extra mile to come up with a unique mascot. The Philadelphia Phillies have the Phillie Phanatic, the Philadelphia Flyers have Gritty (Philadelphia is America's greatest mascot city), and the Atlanta Braves have whatever Blooper is (via MLB).

Yet, the NBA's Phoenix Suns went in a strange direction. Sure, a mascot that's a sun would look like a walking, t-shirt cannon-firing Raisin Bran box. However, the Suns wound up getting lucky, because their now-iconic mascot came to them, per 12 News.

The Gorilla started as a way for one guy to make some money

In 1980, a telegram service employee — specifically, a singing telegram service called Eastern Onion, per the NBA — sat in his car outside of Phoenix's Veteran's Memorial Coliseum. His name was Henry Rojas, per 12 News, and he was there that day because someone had hired him to go to a Suns game dressed in a gorilla suit. An odd request for sure, but money is money, and Rojas admitted to being embarrassed about what was ahead for him and his store-bought gorilla suit. Security spotted him and suggested he do a little dancing under a basket during a time out. The fans loved it.

Rojas' inaugural outing as The Gorilla went so well, that other fans continued to hire him to show up in his costume, and soon enough, the Suns caught wind of his antics in the stands. By the end of the first season of showing up as a freelance gorilla, the team decided to bring Rojas and his simian alter-ego onboard in an official capacity.

The team outfitted The Gorilla — who became known as Go the Gorilla — with a team jacket and turned the hoops-loving primate loose to dance and joke with fans in between whistles.

The Gorilla has become an icon to some ... not others

The Gorilla wasn't the first mascot the Suns had tried. Years before Go the Gorilla came on the scene they had tried to introduce another mascot, a human-sized sunflower, per the NBA. That never really resonated with fans, because, well ... it sounds terrible. But fortunately, Rojas — or as he refers to himself, The O.G., Original Gorilla — appeared on the scene.

Once people got past the very obvious hurdle that The Gorilla had absolutely nothing to do with the Suns — not the team, not the city, not the sport — they embraced the unique character for what it is: unique. One of The Gorilla's hallmarks has been a propensity for dunking and slapstick comedy. He once appeared on court ahead of a game against the New York Knicks, looking like a simian Sinatra, with garbage stuck to his fur. He was promptly "mugged."

Such antics have endeared Go the Gorilla to some fans and made him reviled by others. According to PlayAZ, a website that ran a 2021 survey to determine the best and worst NBA mascots. Go the Gorilla came in at No. 25, ahead of only the San Antonio Spurs' Coyote and the Dallas Mavericks' Move Man. Not every team in the NBA even has a mascot, and two teams — the Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers — feature more than one mascot.