FREEDOM


Charlie Thomas owned car dealerships in Houston, TX and he also happened to be the owner of the NBA Houston Rockets from 1982 to 1993. I started working at the Rockets in September of 1991 as their alien mascot Booster. I auditioned for the job because many of my college gymnastics teammates had taken jobs as mascots and were using mini-trampolines to do dunk performances during time-outs in the games. I figured I’d be able to get paid to flip which is something that I had been searching for since graduating and thought I’d never find. It turned out that the mascot was a purple and green, skinny legged, big tummied, fat headed, cone nosed, antenna eared alien. This collection of costume features made flipping in it a challenge. It was a challenge that I met on one hand and a challenge that eluded me on another. I could tumble in costume, do back flips off the scorer’s table and complete basic dunks off the mini-trampoline. I could not do the amazing things like front flip dunks and reverse dunks like some of my teammates were doing in their streamlined costumes. I needed an alter-ego. A streamlined costume with better vision. I convinced Rockets management and I ended up with a spandex version of Booster that we named Turbo-Booster. From day one, I thought the team mascot should at least be the same color as the team’s uniforms. The Rockets colors were red and yellow at the time. I envisioned a character that was more like a super-hero than an alien and it had to match the Rockets colors. Prior to the start of the 93-94 season, Leslie Alexander, who was a bonds trader, bought the team. Things began changing fairly quickly. It started out with some personnel changes in many departments and the guy I reported to in community relations was let go and nobody was hired in his place for some time. I began to go to Steve Patterson, the General Manager at the time, to get things approved until he was no longer there and then Tod Leiweke was brought in but by then I had begun to just do my own thing with nobody to really report to. I spoke with Steve Patterson before he moved on about creating a red & yellow mascot that was more like a super hero and he didn’t object to it and I came up with a plan. I have always had an independent inclination within me and I embraced the idea that even though I might be working in a business that I do not own, I approached my “job” as if I did. My “boss” was my client and I was being paid to provide an agreed upon service in a way that exceeds their expectations. With no one to report to, nothing had really changed in my approach to my work other than I didn’t need to get permission from anyone to do what I believed needed to be done. This was the perfect time to create “TURBO”, the red and yellow, sports super hero that I had been dreaming about and that is exactly what I did. If there is any one thing that I did which altered the trajectory of my life, it was making the decision to create a character that truly spoke to my strengths and allowed me to do what I loved without limitation. By the time the Rockets red hot season had rolled into January, we had a new interim General Manager and a few other positions were filled and had to be re-filled. This chaos didn’t affect me much as I had gotten used to navigating it with my heart and my passion and I spent more time out of the office doing appearances around town than in it. But then the chaos came knocking. I was called into a meeting with John Thomas, the new interim General Manager. He said he thought I should perform as TURBO every game. The new look and style of the character had taken off. The team was winning and more people were attending games and he felt that the entertainment offering should be consistent from game to game. Why should someone who came to the Wednesday night game get a different experience than someone who came to the following Sunday game. More importantly, why should a season ticket holder who comes to most every game not get some of what he got at every other game? These were great questions and I explained our strategy. By “our” I mean “my” strategy. I had only been performing as this new iteration of the mascot since mid December and the strategy was to do something amazing every time TURBO performed. I did not have a huge repertoire of amazing things to do so I had to learn them as I went and when the new dunk or tumbling pass was good enough to perform, we would have TURBO show up at a game. It might be every 3rd game or maybe two games in a row but you never knew when TURBO would be at a game and if he did appear, he would do something ridunkulous that would blow you away and leave you wanting more. The Interim GM insisted that the fans expected a relatively consistent experience from game to game and that it was our job to provide that. I understood that he was just doing his job and I understood that the NBA had best practices that they subscribed to and that providing a consistent experience was one of them. What he didn’t understand is that no best practices existed for a character like TURBO. It had never been done before. I was obviously a man in a super hero costume. Not a primate or an insect or an alien. TURBO spoke and no NBA mascot dare speak. It was against the mascot tradition to ever speak in costume. TURBO began doing dunks and show elements that had never been done before. We were re-writing what it meant to be an athletic mascot and we need time to edit and re-write some more. So “No”, I told him. It didn’t make sense for TURBO to perform unless he was ready to take it up a notch each time. I added that I was not getting paid to perform as TURBO anyway. My contract was to perform as Booster which I was still doing every game and that contract had lapsed a while back because there was no one around to give it any attention. If he wanted, we could have that conversation, until then, how bout we let the strategy play out. What I actually said was “You get what you pay for!” I’m not sure how he interpreted that but what I meant by it was the Rockets couldn’t pay me enough to do it their way. I had experienced the taste of freedom and independence and there was something magical about being in a place where you don’t need anyone’s permission and there was no turning back. I don’t think they had hired anyone for me to report to anyway by the time of that meeting, why else was I was meeting with the interim GM. He was the third person in the role of General Manager over the course of 6 months and his title included “interim” in it. As much as I respected what expertise he brought to the table that got him hired for that job, who knew if he was going to be around the following month or the following week for that matter. The way I saw it, I was on a mission to take care of this character. To nurture him and his relationship with Rockets fans and there was a method to what may have seemed like madness. I was not about to let someone who just showed up on the scene wreck that because he couldn’t see the vision. I loved what I was doing and was OK with giving it away for “free”. That experience changed my life. I don’t even mean that in reference to how many doors it opened for me to experience stuff I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d get to experience. It changed my life because I began to question the whole idea of permission as it relates to me living out my purpose. Not long after that amazing 93-94 season where the Rockets won the NBA World Championship for the first time and I flipped through the streets of downtown Houston with 500,000 Rockets fans celebrating the team’s victory, that same interim GM told me they were going in a different direction without me, I was inspired to write down my mission/purpose: To Create Joy and Model Living Life On Purpose! I didn’t need the Houston Rockets or their interim GM’s permission to do that then and I don't need anyone else's permission to do it now. It is how I live and while I have to remind myself of it from time to time to stay on track when things are especially stressful, it is mostly embedded in how I approach most everything in life. PS: If I were the interim GM, I probably would have fired me too. I remain grateful!

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