“Gorillas, In The Desert”? | Lamar Odom Thinks The Phoenix Suns Mascot Is Racist, But Here Is The Real Story

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 02: Lamar Odom (C) attends a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Pelicans at Crypto.com Arena on November 02, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

Former NBA star Lamar Odom believes that the Phoenix Suns gorilla mascot is intentionally racist imagery. The two-time NBA champion explained his theory in the wake of the ousting of former Suns owner Robert Sarver for racist, sexist and misogynist behavior.

“I feel bad for the Suns’ fans because they ain’t even gonna get what y’all probably deserve until, probably until you change the mascot,” Odom said on the Bootleg Kev podcast. “The thing that’s funny is they kind of slid that one by for all these years. Nobody, like, says anything about that. OK, gorillas, in the desert, you can’t find any. You could probably find a cactus.

“In basketball, bro, just like, come on,” Odom continued. “But you know what’s so, really crazy about it? They just tried it, because they wanted to get the fans involved, and that’s the reason why they kept it, because the fans loved it. I’m just saying, it’s not good representation because Phoenix is like the last city to recognize Dr. King as a holiday.”

Lamar Odom Says Phoenix Gorilla Mascot Is Racist 

Odom has a point regarding the slowness of the acceptance of MLK Day. In November 1992, Arizona voters passed Martin Luther King as a holiday making Arizona the last state in the union to install an MLK holiday formally; the only state to approve the MLK holiday by popular affirmation.

Although the coincidence between Arizona’s lack of acceptance for a civil rights hero and its former owner’s track record of racist statements, the story behind the gorilla stems from the eighties. Sarver bought the Suns in 2004, well after the mascot’s introduction. The choice of a gorilla was reportedly more random than anything.

Who Is The Man Behind The Phoenix Suns Gorilla Mascot? 

The original gorilla mascot was Henry Rojas, a telegram service worker back in 1980 who was hired to go to the then Suns arena, Veterans Memorial Coliseum, dressed in a gorilla suit. Once inside, he began rooting for the home team, dancing, and the fans loved the energy. After that first appearance, Rojas told local News channel 12 that fans continued to hire him to come back in the gorilla suit, and by the end of the year, Suns management had offered him an official relationship with the team.

Although Rojas never expected the gorilla to last, it has become a staple and an unintentional reminder of inconvenient truths about the state of Arizona and its wayward former team owner.

Lamar Odom Says Phoenix Suns Gorilla Mascot’s Got To Go 

For Odom, the current climate of change and racial sensitivity means it’s time for the gorilla to go, and he expects the elder statesman player of the Suns to lead the charge.

“It’s just like, how they change the Redskins and the Indians to the Commanders… yeah, I think it’s probably about that time,” Odom continued. “As a woke young black man in America right now, in this climate, I’m surprised Chris Paul hasn’t said anything about it.”

Fans took to Twitter to call out Odom’s apparent stretched correlation between Sarver’s racism and the gorilla. Still, the fact remains that the gorilla as a messenger turned mascot is unnecessary and a distraction based on Sarver’s actions. Odom is just bringing it to the forefront; however, he misguided the explanation.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.