By Jeff Case
We are nothing if not lovers of mascots and mascot news around these parts, so this story today about the Golden State Warriors and their long-ago mascot, Thunder, caught our eye.
Scott Cacciola of The New York Times details the origins and, ultimately, the end of “Thunder” the Warriors mascot. The short version: once the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City before the start of the 2008-09 season (and were renamed the Thunder), the other “Thunder” was done in Oakland.
As the Warriors run rampant through the league and push for the single-season wins mark, Cacciola thought it the right time to look back on the mascot that once resided in Oakland:
Once upon a time, Sadiki Fuller made his living by dressing up in a skintight bodysuit. Foam-enhanced muscles formed mountain peaks on his arms, and he wore a blue mask framed by a lightning bolt that swept toward the heavens.
Fuller played the role of Thunder, the onetime mascot of the Golden State Warriors — a fading and sometimes forgotten piece of franchise lore.
Fuller, who was inside the costume when Thunder made his grand entrance in 1997, entertained fans for five seasons before he left to pursue a career in comedy. Playing the role of Thunder was fun, Fuller said, but not without its challenges. The Warriors back then were not the record-breaking deities that they are now. Their overall record during his tenure was 97-281.
“Steph Curry would have made my job so easy,” Fuller said in a recent telephone interview from his home in the Los Angeles area. “You know how hard it is to get 18,000 people to scream when they feel like the team is just going to lose again?”
Interestingly, the Warriors also had a second mascot during the “Thunder” era, too:
As a part of its travels, the squad made regular appearances at Warriors games. During the 1996-97 season, the Warriors relocated to San Jose Arena while their facility in Oakland, now known as Oracle Arena, underwent renovations. The team tried to draw new fans — or at least distract the old ones from the on-court mess — by unveiling a mascot named Berserker, who did not exactly dazzle crowds. It was a brief experiment.
“Berserker died after one season,” said Brett Yamaguchi, the Warriors’ director of game operations.
Fuller felt obliged to help sell people on the team, he said, because the Warriors were not — how to put this mildly? — setting the region ablaze. He recalled running into the lobby of a bank near the team’s offices — in full costume, no less. That alone was a startling sight, and then Fuller opened his mouth and said, “This is a stickup!”
In hindsight, Fuller said, it was not the most judicious way to build a connection with the community.
“I was overzealous when I first got the job,” he said.
Nobody making a deposit that day recognized Thunder as an N.B.A. mascot. Most were under the impression that a less-than-sane person in a superhero outfit was attempting to rob the bank until Fuller backflipped out of the lobby while shouting, “Go Warriors!”
When Fuller returned to the team’s headquarters, he was met by several members of the team’s front office. They had received word of his marketing ploy.
“They were like, ‘Listen, it’s great that you’re doing everything with so much enthusiasm, but you can’t run into banks,’ ” Fuller said. “I was young. I didn’t get it.”
Thunder was often responsible for the game’s few highlights. He was like an action figure come to life. While the Warriors occupied themselves by bricking jump shots, Thunder spent timeouts soaring for dunks. The aesthetics of the costume itself were a stark departure from industry standards, and fans were receptive.
“He was sleek and muscular,” Yamaguchi said. “Up to that point, most teams had these mascots that were fluffy and huggable and kind of clumsy.”