The Original Phoenix Suns GorillaPosted: Updated:
PHOENIX - “We're all used to seeing the Phoenix Suns get new players, but there is one member of the family that has been there for 30 years....the Gorilla.
3TV had a chance to travel down memory lane with the very first person to make the mascot come alive.
“Once I got the costume on my adrenaline was so pumped,” Henry Rojas says. “It was such an incredible feeling to walk out and all of a sudden hear the fans see the gorilla coming out.”
Rojas is reminiscing about his days as the Phoenix Suns Gorilla at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. He was the first one to wear the mask and it all came about because of a singing telegram.
“I was actually singing telegrams for a company called Eastern Onion,” Rojas says.
It would be a gorilla telegram to a Suns fan that would change his life forever back in 1980.
“My dream as a kid was to play in the NBA and to think of coming to my favorite place [Veterans Memorial Coliseum] to be in a costume was horrifying to me,” Rojas says.
Well he did it anyway and in the process of looking for that fan, Rojas got a little creative.
“I was already visible in the suit and I thought I've got to make something out of it,” Rojas says. “They start to play music and I stop dead in my tracks, it’s like I had no control over my feet and shuffled on the court and started dancing.”
The crowd went wild and this is how the Phoenix Suns Gorilla was born.
“It started to become a regular thing,” Rojas says. “They [Suns fans] were watching for the gorilla, it was picking up steam and then the Suns asked if I would be at all of the play-off games.”
That eventually led to all the Suns home games for the next eight years. Rojas was even contracted out by other NBA teams to make appearances at their games.
“My dressing room was adjunct to the visitor’s locker room,” Rojas says. So they came in all the time, especially the Los Angeles Lakers players, James Worthy and Magic Johnson. All those guys would come in to see if I would make fun of their coach that night,” Rojas continued.
“Whether it was poking fun at coaches, players or officials, a lot of Rojas’ routines were impromptu.
“This [outfit] is when I impersonated Jack Ramsey, coach of the Portland Trailblazers, Rojas says as he shows 3TV a photograph. “He would wear the loudest plaid pants in the world.”
Rojas was not always alone on the court. He had a helper, ball boy Ronnie Williams, who is still very much a part of his life today.
“I was the luckiest kid in the whole world,” Williams says. “I got to travel and see the world and make friends with the greatest mascot in the world.”
With Facebook pages like the Original Gorilla and the Phoenix Suns Fan Museum to help keep Rojas' legacy alive, he says he is thankful he can share his experience of life behind the mask.
“It has become a foundation to be able to go tell that story,” Rojas says. Since leaving his job as the gorilla, Rojas is a motivational speaker.
1. The Original Gorilla a.k.a. Henry Rojas
2. Phoenix Suns Fan Museum
Also online at www.henryrojas.com