Mascots in the NBA are like no other mascots in sports. Nowhere is that truer then in Toronto, where the Raptor thrills fans and entertains the crowds at games. Now entering his 23rd season, the Raptor was hatched out of an egg on November 3, 1995, opening night of the Raptors’ inaugural season.
“He is the number one mascot in the NBA; he is the absolute best!” starting center Jonas Valanciunas said.
I spent a game day with the Raptor going behind the scenes and seeing firsthand what an impact he has on a game and the fans!
This was one of the more challenging interviews I have ever done. The Raptor cannot talk, as he is a dinosaur, but he can listen and write. So I asked him questions, and he wrote down the answers on a piece of paper. This proved to be challenging, as he had a tough time focusing. He would drift into doodling or trying to play tic-tac-toe with me—a good indication of what a fun-loving mascot he really is.
The Raptor made his way to Toronto by way of Jurassic High and the University of Dinosaurus. He majored in Entertainment Distribution Engineering. “It’s a real class!” he insisted. There he also minored in tumbling, which came in handy for his career choice. A perfect fit arose when Toronto was granted an NBA franchise and the team was nicknamed the Raptors. While auditioning to be the mascot in Toronto, he found himself up against a chicken and a mouse. He knew he had the job in the bag!
On the day of an evening game, the Raptor is at the arena by 11 a.m. For him, preparing for a game is a mix of stretching and rehearsing various skits that will take place during halftime and time outs. The Raptor’s skits aren’t simple; he’s very acrobatic and agile. Many times, the Raptor is skiing down an aisle, or dunking a basketball off a trampoline! It’s exhausting even for a dinosaur, and the Raptor regularly consumes two to three liters of water each day to stay hydrated.
The Raptor really has a big impact on getting the crowd excited and into the game, which is important for raising the energy in the arena. As Valanciunas said, “We feed off the energy of the crowd. Toronto has great fans, and the Raptor really gets them going!”
At the beginning of the game, the Raptor is on the court, making his way around warmups, heckling the other team, and taking part in the Toronto player introductions. Immediately afterward, the music rises, and the Raptor goes into full pump-up mode. He runs with giant flags that encourage the fans to cheer, and the energy in the arena immediately goes up as the game begins.
During the game, the Raptor walks around and takes pictures with the fans. But as he did during our interview, he frequently gets distracted. Often, he’ll stop and do a handstand in the aisle, or grab someone’s hat or popcorn and run away!
While the Raptor is fun-loving, you better not be a fan of the other team playing that night. Be aware that you might get a pie or cake to the face! One overly hyper fan in an Atlanta jersey received a pie to his face during the third quarter the night I was there. This fan was a good sport about it. Who doesn’t like free desert?!
Halftime is when the Raptor shines brightest. Usually he and the Raptors Dance Pak, a talented group of female dancers, energize the crowd with a number that gets the fans up and dancing as well. The Raptor is an amazing dancer—who knew?!
From here, some of the fans might be brought down to the floor for a fun game, or the Raptor will put on a show of his own, flying off a trampoline and dunking the ball. The crowd absolutely loves whatever he does!
Once the Raptor leaves the arena, though, he isn’t done with the fans. He loves helping out in the community and giving back. Recently he and Toronto star DeMar DeRozan were at nearby Sick Kids hospital giving out presents and hanging out with young fans who would be spending their holidays in the hospital. Another day, the Raptor and star Kyle Lowry were at a local Toys “R” Us hosting underprivileged children and giving out toys so that they could have a special holiday season.
What’s clear is that the Raptor loves his fans, and the fans love him just as much—if not more! Recently the Raptor was voted the No. 1 mascot in the NBA by SportsIllustrated.com. In a sports-crazy town like Toronto that also has the Maple Leafs in hockey, the Blue Jays in baseball, and TFC in Major League Soccer, the Raptor is one of the most recognizable (of course) and popular sports figures in the city!
Photographs by (from top) Abigail Dove (2); Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images