Monday, June 15, 2009

"We decided to go in another direction"

I was working at the Houston Rockets 15 years ago in June 1994 when I was told those words by one of the Vice Presidents and I thought of George Karl.

The team had just won the NBA World Championship and days before I was flipping through the streets of downtown Houston in front of nearly 1/2 million screaming Rockets fans at our Victory parade.

I knew the end was coming, I just wasn't sure how it was going to be presented to me. You see, this VP and I were never on the same page and I knew my days were numbered. I think I got on his bad side on the first day he arrived at the organization.

I remember it vividly but not because it was his first day. It was December 1993 and we were launching the character TURBO. Shawn Welling, the founder of Planet Funk, and I came up with this madly audacious idea to debut TURBO during the halftime of the game that night.

We had a large box built that was to be carried out onto the court by 6 huge bodybuilders. It was to be set down at center court and the top was to be lifted off by straps that hung from the rafters. The inside of the top had fog machines and strobe lights so that when it was lifted up the fog seeped out and the strobes created this cool effect.

There were 4 of us inside the box and the lights bounced off us as the fog whirled around us. I jumped out the box, did the TURBO pose and began this crazy compilation of dunks while the other 3 teamed up with some of the Rockets Dancers and did this choreographed routine that I would join in as a transition between my dunk segments.

After this dazzling array of dunks and dance routines, the four of us climbed back in the box, the top was lowered down and latched and like hulky pall bearers, the muscle-men carried us back into the tunnel.

Everything went great, the crowd loved it and we were celebrating inside the box. Once we were safely lowered to the ground, we went to climb out of the box through this hatch door built into it for that very purpose. As one of the guys cracked the door open he froze and quickly shut it and said, "We can't go out this way". You see, had the box been facing the way it was facing when we climbed in through this hatch, we would have been OK. But when the pall-bearers exited the court they stayed in formation and the back end of the box with our entry/exit hatch was now in full view facing the court. After such a cool performance, we just couldn't bear to ruin it by having the audience see us climb out through this little hatch door.

So, here we were stuck inside this huge, heavy box figuring how best to escape. The only way it could be taken all the way through the vomitory and into the tunnel was if it were empty. The top could only be lifted by connecting cable from above, so we couldn't get out by lifting the top. Because it was so high, the whole box had to be slid through the tunnel doorway and shimmied around the corner. With us in it, it was too heavy to slide and the body builders would get hurt if they lifted it because the pegs they held onto were on the base of the box and they would have had to bend too low to get it through the doorway.

Here is where it gets bad. This tunnel happened to lead to the locker rooms and it was the entrance onto the court for both teams. The good thing is that the players from both teams had already entered the court and began their shoot-around. The Rockets coaching staff had made it out also. The opposing teams coaching staff had not and we were blocking their way.

We could hear George Karl, the head coach of the Seattle Supersonics shouting on the other side of the box making it clear that he was not happy about not being able to join his players on the court. While all of this is going on, I am inside the box thinking about how this VP as he witnessed all of the production we were putting into this halftime show sarcastically said, "Remember, there is a basketball game tonight"

Luckily there was another entrance onto the court that Mr. Karl and his staff were able to take and they got out there before the 3rd quarter started.

That was the first of many incidents where my penchant for the theatrical probably rubbed this VP the wrong way. Suffice it to say, on that crazy day 15 years ago when this VP sat before me and said "We decided to go in another direction." The first thing I thought of was this incident and George Karl. It was as if I could hear Coach Karl uttering those same 7 words as he trotted onto the court explaining to his players what took so long.

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I get asked all the time: What does acrodunk mean? What does an acrodunker do? What is acrodunking?

If you have ever created anything before, you will be able to relate to the feeling I had back in 1993 when I came up with a brand name for the activity that had literally taken over my life. I was a mascot for the Houston Rockets and had just launched a dunking mascot which was an alter-ego to the big fluffy mascot I performed as.

The activity was commonly known as acrobatic slam dunking at the time. There were other NBA mascots doing it as well as the Bud Light Daredevils. I was inspired by some teammates of mine from college to get into the mascot business and finally, I was going to get a chance to put my acrobatic skills on display in a streamlined spandex costume. I couldn't wait.

The new spandex wearing character was what I call a Sports Super Hero and later it's how I described the members of the High "Impact" Squad and even later the members of ACRODUNK. A Sports Super Hero is someone that not only displays amazing athletic skill but also inspires others to greatness.

This definition of Sports Super Hero led to the creation of the brand name ACRODUNK. When I came up with the term, it was so right. There was no better way to describe this idea of entertaining and inspiring through the combination of acrobatics and basketball. While others were engaged in acrobatic slam dunking, members of our team were ACRODUNKERS that engaged in ACRODUNKING. The mindset of an ACRODUNKER is focused on not only entertaining but also inspiring their audiences.

We focused on entertaining by blowing people away with the dunks and passes that we did and we focused on inspiring by doing what we did so well that we took audiences to a place in their own minds where they ask the question "how can I excel like this in my area of expertise?"

So, the brand ACRODUNK is our version of acrobatic slam dunking and those athletes in the ACRODUNK Family are ACRODUNKERS who engage in ACRODUNKING. Not everyone can be an ACRODUNKER both literally and legally.

ACRODUNK is our brand name and ACRODUNKER and ACRODUNKING are extensions of our brand.

Stay tuned for more as future posts will cover topics like "Was the IAF before it's time?" and the state of the acrobatic slam dunking industry.

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