The man behind Jazz Bear, the reigning Mascot of the Year, has been fired after almost a quarter-century with the team due to “a rift” with the organization, according to multiple reports out of Utah.
The extent of that rift is unclear, according to the Deseret News’ Eric Woodyard, but Jon Absey served as the man inside one of the NBA’s most iconic mascots since Jazz Bear’s debut 24 years ago. The Jazz did not cite Absey by name, but did confirm his ouster, alerting media that a new mystery person will be inside the Jazz Bear costume when Utah hosts the Golden State Warriors in Friday’s home opener.
“Jazz Bear will continue to be one of the most iconic mascots in the NBA,” a Jazz spokesperson said in a statement. “Out of respect for his character, which is separate from any employee ever associated with it, we have never discussed his identity. We do not discuss individual personnel matters.”
Absey was in uniform as Jazz Bear for the mascot’s introduction, rappelling from the rafters on Nov. 1, 1994, in a move now banned by the NBA, according to the Deseret News. The NBA’s longest-tenured mascot, he performed in more than 800 games, winning Mascot of the Year honors five times, including last season, when he also captured Leadership and Best Video awards at the NBA Mascot Conference, per The Salt Lake Tribune. Absey was inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2006.
He was probably best known for sledding down the stairs of Vivint Smart Home Arena’s aisles and emptying a seemingly endless supply of Silly String onto opposing fans. His greatest gag, though, was leveling fans who ran onto the court and mercilessly attacking them the way bears are supposed to:
He made out with referees and sprayed CO2 on usher’s behinds. He jumped through rings of fire, played fireworks-filled pianos and rode Karl Malone’s motorcycle onto the arena floor. In a 2010 interview with the Deseret News, Absey said as a result of his performances he has bone spurs in both ankles, broke his big toe, tore his right calf, blew out his right knee, tore both hamstrings, had hernia and back surgeries, ripped tendons in two fingers, blew out both bursa sacs and required stitches.
“If I look back over the years of being Bear, I’m definitely grateful for having a job like this, as well as blessed that I’m able to take a character and give back to the community and the fans who have given so much to us,” Absey said in that interview. “I just hope that when I’m done, I can be happy knowing that maybe I did change the lives of some children through the charity work that we’ve done.”
Whoever takes over Friday has big paws to fill. Jazz Bear is dead, long live Jazz Bear.
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