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The man behind the original Phoenix Suns Gorilla shares how it all began

Posted at 5:58 AM, Jul 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 08:58:56-04

PHOENIX — Have you ever wondered how the Phoenix Suns mascot came to be the Gorilla?

WHERE IT BEGAN

It started in 1979 when Henry Rojas, a west Phoenix native, was working part-time doing singing telegrams. He was delivering one to a fan at the Suns game at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum dressed in a gorilla suit.

"I didn't want to be seen as an idiot inside of a costume. I don't even like mascots. Here I am inside a suit, and so the desire to not be foolish turned into some of the greatness that happened."

Trying to not draw attention, he decided to leave during a time out. That didn't work.

"And when I walked near the edge of the court, they started playing music. All of my childhood of entertaining my family and being known as the kid with dancing rhythm, I just started dancing," he said.

Next thing he knew, everyone was talking about "the gorilla" at the game. Rojas would become the official Suns' mascot for 10 years.

"Everybody loved the character and the Gorilla. I loved the actual performance part and the connection to the fans," said Rojas.

He fed off the crowd, coming up with creative skits, poking fun at refs, players, and coaches.

"There was nothing like grabbing that moment, spontaneously wondering what's going to be offered, to be improvisationally doing something that just brought the house down," he said.

STILL HELPING OTHERS

It was a hard decision to leave the gig, but Rojas said he wanted to pursue his passion to help others without the mask.

He's now a motivational speaker.

"When I go and I speak, I'm helping people -- whether it's addicts or alcoholics or business executives -- walk away from the thing they felt trapped in. Because it's easier to start something new than it is to walk courageously away from something you thought you were," said Rojas.

LIFELONG SUNS FAN

Rojas said he always knew he'd become an entertainer, but he never thought it'd be in a costume. He also had the dream when he was young to become a basketball player.

"Since I was little, I was a diehard fan. Back in the day of Connie Hawkins and I followed the Suns and believed I'd be on the team one day," said Rojas. "Who would've thought that the dreams of playing in the NBA would end up this way, and while I didn't like it being that way, I would've rather been 6'8", it actually helps me to help those guys who are 6'8" know what their identity is."

Rojas said he's thrilled to see his childhood team have a real shot of winning the NBA Finals.