“Berserker died after one season,” said Brett Yamaguchi, the Warriors’ director of game operations.
Fuller, who got to know members of the team’s production crew through his work with Burrell’s dunk squad, felt that the Bay Area market had untapped mascot potential. The Warriors were planning to rebrand upon moving back to Oakland for the 1997-98 season, with a new logo that featured a lightning bolt. Soon, Thunder was born. Fuller got the gig.
“I was living the dream,” Fuller said. “I still can’t believe I got that opportunity.”
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.”
Fuller was only a few months into the job when Latrell Sprewell choked P.J. Carlesimo, who was then the team’s coach. It was an infamous episode that was, in so many ways, a sign of things to come. Those were lean years for the Warriors, who never won more than 21 games in each of Fuller’s five seasons with the team.
“But he took his bag of tricks and became a star there,” Burrell said. “There are still people who are like, ‘My God, Thunder was the best.’ Because there wasn’t anything else going on. The team was that bad. But Sadiki came in there and started doing things that they had never seen before.”
Courtside, Fuller said, he met luminaries like Johnnie Cochran, the famed lawyer, and Roger Craig, the former 49ers running back. Fuller recalled playing a full-court game of one-on-one against Chris Mullin. Shaquille O’Neal once spent 15 minutes trying to remove Thunder’s mask.
“Like, man, can’t I have a secret identity?” Fuller said.
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.”
There were on-the-job hazards, however. As Fuller put it, “With any superhero, you’re going to have some limitations.”
Velcro, for example, was dangerous. Any contact with the material was harmful to the structural integrity of the costume.
Also, Fuller wore wraparound sunglasses under his mask, which gave Thunder a sleek, buglike look. The problem was that the lights occasionally dimmed in the arena, making it tough for Fuller to see. Darkness only increased the degree of difficulty on many of his stunts: leaping from the top of backboards, riding motorcycles, jumping off trampolines.
“We always did an extravagant entrance,” Fuller said. “We worked our hardest to do something amazing before the start of each game.”
One such installment of amazingness involved Fuller descending from the rafters by rope and harness, except that he got distracted and slammed his head against the court.
“I got up and went to the team huddle,” Fuller said, “and all the players were like, ‘You O.K., man?’ ”
There were other close calls. Thunder was not waterproof. Fuller made an appearance at a birthday party, he said, where a group of children pushed him into a swimming pool.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever had a thin layer of spandex over your face,” Fuller said, “but when that gets wet, you can’t breathe.”
Fuller made dozens of public appearances each season, showing up at school functions and store openings in addition to performing for fans at the team’s 41 home games. Thunder was unique in that he was allowed to speak. (Most mascots are not.) But things tended to get uncomfortably warm in that suit. Once in a while, Fuller caught a break.
“Maybe it’s a 10-minute thing and you’re just running through somebody’s office, like, ‘Hiiiiii! It’s a happy birthday telegram from the Warriors!’ ” he said.
But the work was usually more strenuous. Fuller laundered his Thunder outerwear regularly.
“I mean, Spider-Man did his own laundry, too,” he said.
Several others played the role of Thunder for the Warriors after Fuller left for his new career in Los Angeles, but the mascot’s days were numbered.
Not so long ago, Thunder was actually spotted working in China — a production crew from the Warriors reported that he had fallen in love with a young woman there — so perhaps he was able to sidestep mascot purgatory and land a second act overseas.
As for the Warriors, the team appears determined to go mascot-free for now. During all those losing seasons, Thunder filled a vital role. But these days?
“The show,” Yamaguchi said, “is on the court.”
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