Rockets Mascot Gets in the Ring

The man behind Clutch takes up the fight game on the side.

In 2006, he joined a co-worker at a gym near the Toyota Center, but was unable to keep up with it when he moved out to the suburbs with his wife and newborn twin sons. After his divorce last year, he moved back into town and immediately began working out at Slava to get into better shape, something that's a necessity for Boudwin and his fellow mascots, who deal with the brutal physicality of being mascots night after night.

Jazz Bear, the mascot for the Utah Jazz, who prefers to keep his human identity a secret, said: "I've got a workers' comp list that is a mile long." After 20 years as an NBA mascot, Jazz Bear, 44, has undergone five major surgeries and admits it takes him 15 minutes to get out of bed in the morning. "I'm like an 80-year-old stuck in a 40-year-old's body," he said, the permanently back-bowed pinky finger of his left hand on display as evidence.

Longtime mascots like Jazz Bear and Rocky from Denver — who also prefers to keep his human identity to himself — bristle at the notion that what they do is a part-time gig that could be done by anyone. "Sometimes we're not taken seriously," admits Rocky, who, at 45, is the oldest and longest-tenured mascot in the NBA. Much of their work is done away from the bright lights of the arena. NBA mascots average more than 200 events per year including games. Boudwin has performed at as many as five events and two games in two cities in less than 48 hours. The grueling schedule requires hours of prep time and rehearsal not only to get bits right, but to keep from getting hurt and to look convincing doing them.

Clutch performs at more than 200 events every year including 80 shows in schools.
photo by Jeff Balke
Clutch performs at more than 200 events every year including 80 shows in schools.
Boudwin signs dozens of autographs and poses for dozens of photos at every Rockets game.
photo by Jeff Balke
Boudwin signs dozens of autographs and poses for dozens of photos at every Rockets game.

"It's very hard to make somebody believe that it was spontaneous when we've known all week that this is exactly what was going to happen," the Grizzlies' McMahon, 32, explains. "Ninety percent of our jobs are behind the scenes."

It's obvious these guys are a tight-knit group. Not only do they take time to meet in the offseason to trade notes and share experiences, but many of them have become close friends. "At times, this can be a bit of a lonely job," admits Boudwin. "Rarely does a day go by where I don't talk to another mascot."

That camaraderie is important for a bunch of guys who, from the outside, often look and act like crazy people in costume. "You need to look like a lunatic," Boudwin said, "but you can't be a lunatic."
_____________________

"I need a can of silly string primed and ready to go, a sign that says 'Rockets Stink' and an inflated basketball." It's 90 minutes before the Houston Rockets tip off against division rival the Memphis Grizzlies and Boudwin is shouting orders to his assistants in an oversized dressing room in the bowels of the Toyota Center. Despite the fall that left him with a chronic injury, he is about to attempt the stunt again. For Boudwin, it's all about pushing the envelope.

While silly string and hugging children may be at the heart of what most mascots do, Clutch's pure-id persona allows for some pretty outlandish behavior. On environmental night at Toyota Center, fans were treated to a videotaped skit of a green-suited Clutch pouring hot coffee on the head of a Rockets employee for overusing paper cups. Other scenes found him full-on tackling people when they didn't recycle. But not every bit makes it past the higher-ups with the team.

One of Clutch's signature moves has been having his photo taken while he's holding a baby and pretending not to return the child to the mother. In one skit he pitched early in his tenure with the Rockets, he wanted to take it a step further by actually racing off the floor carrying the baby with the mother ­chasing him. Backstage, he was going to switch the baby with a doll, come back out with the mother in hot pursuit, hit a trampoline and dunk the doll before revealing the gag to the audience. Boudwin thought the gag, which he had modified from a stunt he saw in the movie Jackass, would be funny. "I pitched that to our CEO at the time and I remember the response was, 'Hmmmm...no. That's sick.'"

Early in his career, Boudwin admits, he often missed the mark. "At first, I couldn't stand him," Rocky says of Clutch. "He was obnoxious." Boudwin believes that was a fair assessment. "I think where I was weak as a young performer is when I would get a negative reaction," he said. "I would take it very personally and then I would exploit that person to make the other people in that section laugh, and that's not a good choice."

Unlike stand-up comedians, who can rip hecklers and poke fun at anyone, Boudwin knows now he has to keep it light and remember that most fans are there to see the game, not the sideshow. "In stand-up comedy, [the comedian is] the cake. I'm just the icing," Boudwin said.

Since those early days, he has refined his act and channeled a near boundless energy into making himself one of the most well-respected mascots in the league. "He's driven like nobody I've ever met before," says Jason Kholl, the team's vice president of corporate development and a close friend of Boudwin's. "Everything he does, he does it the best." And it's not just his co-workers who think so. "I think he is if not the best, one of the best in the league and who has ever been," McMahon said.

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5 comments
deadmanshand
deadmanshand

played on a hockey team or 3 with Robert in Clear lake a few years back,He was a blast to hang out with.Glad to see everythings going your way Robert!

Craig Hlavaty
Craig Hlavaty

Robert is a great man, and a fun guy to hang with. I went through Clutch camp with some mascots from around the country for the Press, and it was one of the most magical Saturdays in my life.

Chad Bellah
Chad Bellah

Your favorite mascot Bobby Lee and Todd Bazin.

Sir Sting..
Sir Sting..

I'm Sir Sting-A-Lot, mascot for the RGV Killerbees. I am a 4X Best Mascot of the Year from 2009-2012. And I owe it to my mentor, Clutch, he has been an inspiration to us minor league mascots. We have learned a lot from this man. This is a great story. Love you Clutch..

 
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