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Zach Lowe Interview
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Cudo:  This month we have a guest from the media, NBA writer Zach Lowe. He has an interesting perspective on mascots and he was kind enough to share 10 minutes with us to talk about it.  


Zach Lowe is a popular NBA staff writer for Grantland (from October 2014, now Senior Writer with ESPN.com) and host of The Lowe Post podcast on Twitter @ZachLowe_NBA. Zach was just a few years removed from writing about crime, city and state government for the Stamford Advocate and has quickly become one of the nation's most popular NBA writers.

On the surface is a quintessential NBA basketball-first purist will be an unlikely guest on our podcast about game operations and entertainment. However, he's also known for his deep enjoyment of NBA mascots, including a careful watch to see if a Coyote is wearing pants in San Antonio and frequent Twitter updates when inflatable mascots make appearances.

It's not just X's and O's, his yearly countdown of the best of some of the NBA's most novel concepts like court designs and team names have become some of the most anticipated columns of a coming NBA season. Thanks for joining us today.

Zach Lowe: That was a crazy introduction my friend, but I'll take it.

Cudo: I'm trying to point it all.

Zach: I'll take the praise. And yes, I do love to meet some NBA mascots, inflatable versions preferred.

Cudo: Well, I wanted to paint a picture of your background as a basketball guy first, because I think that's important. My first boss, a sports marketing genius, Tim Leiweke used to talk about the basketball purist, which you seem to be as about 10% of the NBA audience in simple terms. And that was the 10% that mascot just wasn't really meant to entertain, yet you seemed to be drawn to it. Is there a place for mascots even amongst purists or are you just an outlier?

Zach: No, of course there's a place for mascots even amongst purists. I mean, its people can hold multiple beliefs about things and people can find all sorts of different things entertaining. So yeah, I love basketball but you know it's funny, I have to take it very seriously and it's my job...I have to see how the Spurs are defending the pick-and-roll and whether Tristan Thompson is showing or dropping on the pick-and-roll and all sorts of crazy sophisticated basketball stuff that I'm not frankly qualified to do yet, but I fake it. And maybe after a half of doing that, I want to see the Coyote dance around and I want to see the  around that I want to see Benny the Bull heckle some poor security guard and I want to see Moondog run around to do crazy staff. Maybe mentality that's what I'm ready for when it happens.

Benny the Bull at Roosevelt

Cudo: And do find yourself or do you find like-minded people like yourself in terms of in the media or basketball mascots or whatnot that you're sitting here?

Zach: Oh yeah, absolutely. Everyone loves the mascots. I can't speak for everyone but I think we find them - maybe even it's sometimes a challenge because I think they are at their most entertaining when they're at the side doing little subtle fun stuff with fans and enemy fans or security guards or whatever.

That's even more entertaining to me than some of the central acts and so that's when the game is going on. And sometimes you'll see one of the mascots doing something goofy with a fan and you'll want to watch that for two minutes and then you think and you have to remind yourself, actually I'm here to watch this game.

Cudo: And so in your mind, what makes for a good mascot character? You talked about kind of in-the-crowd antics or sometimes trump what happens on the court in those 90-second windows. But what do you see as a good mascot character? What makes for a good mascot character?

Zach: I think you've got to be constantly on. I mean, there is no downtime. If the subtle stuff is just as funny and memorable as the center stage stuff then you've got to keep doing the subtle stuff because not all of it is going to be a hit. Some fans aren't going to want it or act with you or some of it is going to be a bust and and you've got to constantly innovate.

I mean, I don't know I've only been covering the league for five years so I don't know if 10 or 12 years ago mascots were producing really funny video skits for the Jumbotron. I don't know if that was the thing 10 or 12 years ago. It is clearly a thing in a lot of cities now and they knock you out funny in some cases and that requires a lot of work. If you want to knock out 15 or 20 those a season however many it is, plus the dance routines, plus whatever else you're doing that's work. It's just work, it is not that everything is just work.

Cudo: It is just work. Well, you claim to attend about a game and half a week and yet you live in New York, home of zero NBA mascots, which makes me wonder if you don't see a ton of them in action and this might make you hungry for mascot antics. Is there chance you would be tired of the whole thing if you lived in say Toronto or Chicago?

Spurs Coyote entertains baby

Zach: Well yeah, I do think about that sometimes. I mean, I see the Raptor three times a year, I see Benny the Bull once or twice a year, I've seen the Coyote a lot because they make it to the finals every year and then Benny the Human Flame, I won't see as much anymore in Miami. I do think about that because the Knicks of course have no mascot and this goes to something that's interesting.

I mean, the Nets had the Brooklyn Knight which I've hammered the Brooklyn Knight and they've since killed that off. But part of the problem was they didn't let him anything, he didn't have any skits, he didn't have any fun and he'd come out and do some trampoline dunks and wave a flag and leave. And some things I know now are sort of less permissive with both in terms of stunts and fan interaction with what they let their mascots do it and I think there's only so much you can do if you're given a so-so character and no freedom to do anything.

Cudo: Yeah, it's a great point. Are there mascots that you just don't care for? I only asked because you seem to be pretty positive about it in general. I think there's an important place for mascots to fit within a context of their events. Are you ever watching a mascot perform just and you're thinking " like the genre, but this one just doesn't work for me?" ... And you don't need to mention names.

Best of 2013: The Gameops.com Review
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Best of 2012: The Gameops.com Review
Podcast - March 2012
Podcast - March 2015
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