How the Muppets Can Save the Sixers

Now that Hip-Hop has gotten axed—excuse me, married—the people who created Elmo must help the new mascot compete for Philly's hard-earned affection

The entertainment at halftime of Penn’s home opener this year was a game of Simon Says. Really! Steve Max eliminated Penn and Temple students until there were two left. Everybody danced, Steve declared co-champions and the Palestra roared.

Photo-Illustration by Dan McQuade

In-game entertainment at sporting events is pretty ridiculous and amazing, ranging from a couple that changes outfits a bunch to a woman riding a unicycle balancing bowls on her head to the Zooperstars. Most ubiquitous, though, are mascots, and Penn’s and Temple’s mascots participated in Simon Says. Hooter the Owl, Temple’s mascot, attempted to cheat; this is not surprising, as in 2001 he received a technical foul during a Penn-Temple game.

We’re lucky in this city to have the Phillie Phanatic, the greatest mascot of all time. The Phanatic—which Wikipedia describes as “a large, furry, green creature that somewhat resembles a bird from the rear view with a cylindrical beak containing a extendable tongue”—looms over all mascots. Unless you like Saint Joe’s, you probably don’t really like any other local mascot.

Yesterday, the Sixers officially killed off Hip-Hop, the rabbit mascot that had been part of the team since 1999. Officially, Hip-Hop has “fallen in love, married, and will relocate to a rural part of Pennsylvania to start a family.” (This is pretty common. Phlex, the former mascot of the in-exile Adirondack Phantoms, left to pursue other opportunities including “traveling the world and seeking out new adventures.”)

While I would have been happy to see Hip-Hop stay, he didn’t seem to have much backing. A quick check of Twitter didn’t find any tweets in support of Hip-Hop, though one guy did write, “You will be missed as much as polio.” The closest thing to support came from Sixers guard Evan Turner who wrote, “I just heard they got rid of Hip-Hop. I guess the recession and lockout is real. It’s a damn shame when a mascot isn’t safe smh lol.”

Coming up with a mascot that everyone likes is next to impossible. Back in 2006 Penn changed the Quaker and it failed. “The new face of the Quakers is pretty ugly,” a senior told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “I refuse to interact with it.” Not everyone likes the Phillie Phanatic! Tommy Lasorda says he once called the front office to complain about a skit. Fortunately, the Phillies allowed the Phanatic to do again the next time the Dodgers were in town.“That type of a display should not be shown in ballparks, especially in front of children,” the most humorless man on earth wrote decades later. “It exhibits violence and disrespect.”

The Sixers have had a litany of terrible mascots: People have clamored for the return of Big Shot, but from what I can remember everyone hated Big Shot. He also had a sidekick mascot named Slam (a guy in a blue body suit) sometime in the mid-’90s; I was there when he was introduced with a vignette of him beating Big Shot in a basketball game and rappelling down from the ceiling. No one was impressed.

The only 76ers mascot anyone liked was Lil’ G, the little person mascot who wore No ½ during the early 2000s. He got his job as a mascot by attending a Pat Croce autograph signing and asking to be a sidekick mascot. Reportedly he was let go when he asked for more money.

Hip-Hop never got much traction. An Associated Press recap of a 1999 Syracuse-Villanova game at the Center says Hip-Hop was booed both times he went on the court—and this is when the Sixers were popular! During the last game of the 2008 season, a playoff loss to the Pistons, Hip-Hop and his Hare Raisers missed every dunk off a trampoline during one timeout. He was booed almost as much as the team that night.

New Sixers owner Adam Aron has done the right things. The Sixers are in negotiations with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and Raymond Entertainment Group; the people behind Elmo and Big Bird and the people behind the Phillie Phanatic should be able to create the World’s Greatest Muppet. He also made sure to bash Big Shot in an interview.

Then again, the new mascot isn’t going to have much to cheer for. The 76ers are reportedly among the teams with hardline owners refusing to back down. You think these rich guys would be eager to play with their new toy, but I guess it’s more fun to hunt rabbits.

Sigh. What I wouldn’t give to see that rabbit miss just one more dunk off a trampoline.