Still Going Bananas

Writer Fadi Sitto
Photography Courtesy of Barry Gossage / Phoenix Suns

“I get to perform for thousands of people every season and bring smiles to people’s faces. I love the fact that I create long-lasting memories of joy and excitement with the fans. I wouldn’t trade what I do for the anything in world,” says Go, the Phoenix Suns Gorilla.

Go is one of the most iconic mascots in all of sports, and though he gets hot in the summer from all his hair, he’s still happy to call Arizona home.

Go the Gorilla has been a fan favorite for almost 40 years. This beloved five-foot-tall Valley icon is as recognized and sometimes even more famous than Suns players or anyone else who’s part of the Suns organization.

The Gorilla has a huge impact in the local Valley community, partnering with charities, schools, hospitals and local businesses. In addition to attending Phoenix Suns home games, he does about 400 appearances per year. Any time people—especially kids—see Go, two things inevitably come to mind: the Phoenix Suns and fun!

The Gorilla first appeared in 1980 at the Mad House on McDowell in downtown Phoenix, also known as Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The origin story of the NBA’s most significant mascot is simply a happy hairy accident.

Henry Rojas was a somewhat shy 23-year-old messenger from Eastern Onion Telegram Service. He was sent to the coliseum in early 1980 to deliver a singing telegram to a fan during half time of a Phoenix Suns basketball game.

His job that day was to show up and deliver that singing telegram dressed as a gorilla, and that’s what he memorably did.

As Henry was leaving the arena, security stopped him and suggested that he stay for a while to entertain the boisterous Suns fans during time-outs. He did a few dances underneath the basket and joked with fans during timeouts, and the fans instantly loved it.

Loyal Suns fans began calling and asking for this gorilla the very next day, and it wasn’t long after that Henry Rojas and his gorilla attire became the norm at Phoenix Suns home games. Henry just kept coming to games until he was officially invited to be the Suns’ mascot for good.

He was given a Suns warm-up jacket, and the rest is history.

Henry Rojas was the original Suns Gorilla, and would be until 1988. Mascot history and in-game entertainment changed forever, as this occurrence led to the creation of one of the most recognized mascots in sports.

The iconic Gorilla started to become the talk of the town—and the talk of the NBA, thanks to his epic pranks, high-flying acrobatic dunks and shenanigans. It was as if there was a Go Show and it just so happened that a professional basketball game broke out.

The Gorilla’s comedic routines during time-outs have become legendary. At a New York Knicks home game, for example, he came out to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” wearing Sinatra’s signature hat and a garbage stuck to his body. Halfway through the song, a group of “muggers” attacked him, and he staggered off the court.

After Henry Rojas, the second Suns Gorilla was Bob Woolf. He introduced some of the most notable moves Go performs even today. Bob entertained audiences from the 1988-89 NBA season until the 2005-06 season.

The next Suns Gorilla was Devin Nelson, who performed from the 2006-07 season until the end of the 2011-12 season. He was also revolutionary with his skillful stunts and acrobatics.
The current person behind the costume and antics is a closely guarded secret. The Phoenix Suns organization will only reveal the name when he or she passes the torch to someone new.

The daily routine of our mischievous friend is pretty straightforward.

“I wake up, I eat a banana, go out and wreak some havoc and prepare for the game,” Go the Gorilla says.

Go is a primate with a passport. He has entertained Suns fans in Phoenix for almost four decades, but is also a world traveler, bringing universal joy to many people overseas.

Go has wowed crowds and made appearances in over 20 countries, including China, Argentina, Spain and Australia, just to name a few.

In 2005, he was selected and inducted to be one of three inaugural members of the Mascot Hall of Fame. The Gorilla will forever be remembered among the greats, alongside Phillie Phanatic, the famous San Diego Chicken and Aubie the Tiger.

Even though Go the Gorilla is a Hall of Famer, an elite megastar and highly professional, there are those rare times that embarrassing moments simply can’t be avoided.

“I’ll never live it down, no matter how hard I try,” Go says.

The infamous “drumstick on the court” incident occurred during a Suns home game against the Washington Wizards on a Tuesday night in March 2017.

The Gorilla dove head first onto the basketball court to remove what the NBA says was a rogue drumstick during the game, during the course of play!

It was definitely not a ploy to get attention. Go was trying to encourage the home crowd with cheer and hype using a chicken drumstick that abruptly slipped from his ape fingers. The Gorilla had no choice but to quickly grab the drumstick and shuffle off the floor, as it could have caused a professional basketball player harm or injury.

How does one get to be the Suns Gorilla anyway? Eventually, no one knows when, the current gorilla is going to want to hang up those hairy high tops and sip banana margaritas next to a pool.

Among the many requirements for being a future Suns Gorilla is a college degree—best if attained at Fur-man University.

A minimum two years’ mascot experience on a collegiate or professional level is necessary, and applicants must be skilled in gymnastics and dance, something that takes an extreme level of athletic fitness. They must also have the availability and willingness to work extended hours, including nights and weekends.

Then there are requirements like needing to be able to withstand and perform within extreme heat conditions, restrictive outfits and occasional impaired vision. Oh, and they need to be proficient in Microsoft Office, Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint and other related computer skills too.

No matter who the Gorilla is, the message from our loveable furred ambassador remains the same: happiness, fun and Arizona pride.

One more thing, says Go the Gorilla. “I hate banana jokes. No one should ever joke about a banana.”

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