• Jerry L. Burrell

Getting In Trouble

Day 11 of my 21 day writing challenge


When I was younger I was described as hyperactive. I’m not sure if a doctor provided my mom that analysis or if she heard or read about it somewhere.

I had to move.

It was not a choice.

I blame it on my atoms.

I would dance, jump, fidget, walk on my hands and flip off of stuff. While I don’t remember ever getting a whoopin’ for it, I do know it frustrated my parents. I specifically remember breaking a lamp and knocking the screen part out of the screen door. Who knows what else I broke and never fessed up to.

I remember having to resist doing handstands and cartwheels in the aisles of the grocery store and other public places. It only makes sense that I would end up doing handstands and cartwheels in public places as a career.

Getting to that career took a while and it was quite the circuitous route.

For the 4 years between graduating college and landing a long term opportunity to flip in public I had 13 or 14 jobs…..I have trouble keeping track now. 2 of those jobs were as a performer with Kurt Thomas. They were short term opportunities that I wish’d could last forever. As a gymnast at ASU, Coach Don Robinson booked events for us to perform at and he would deliver a motivational talk sometimes. I loved those events!

It was the summer of 1991 and I was working for Pillsbury when I decided to look into an opportunity to be a mascot for the Houston Rockets. Paul Linne, a teammate from my college gymnastics team, gave me the contact info. He and a few other teammates of ours had become NBA mascots. They were getting paid to run and jump and entertain. At first I dismissed the idea. I had a marketing degree, I was 26, I had just gotten a promotion, it was time to build a serious career, I had a tumultuous start with adulthood & jobs and being a mascot couldn’t be a real job anyway. So, I took the contact name and number and set them off to the side of my desk.

A week later after a particularly hectic Monday, I found myself daydreaming about what I would rather be doing than fighting other vendors for my allotted shelf space at the overnight store remodel.

By the time I called Tracy Mitchell at the Rockets, she had already filled all the audition slots. I told her about myself and I asked if there was a possibility I could be considered. She asked that I send her a resume and video.

It didn’t make sense really. I didn’t know what the job would pay. They obviously had a short list of who they liked for the position. I didn’t even know what their mascot was. I had turned down a job in Houston that I was offered in 1987 because of the downturn in their economy. Who knew what craziness awaited me. The more I thought of it, the more the craziness appealed to me. I knew Bob Woolf and Michael Zerrillo were doing dunks off a trampoline in their mascot jobs. Maybe I could do that too. At the very least the job would have variety with game stuff and community stuff and while I was not an NBA fan at the time, even I got excited thinking about performing in front of a live audience alongside world-class athletes.

I decided this job was going to be mine.

After a trip to the library where I found a Houston Rockets Media Guide with a picture of what I sadly regarded as a lame alien joke of a mascot, I began to have second thoughts. Bob was a gorilla, Mike was a hornet, Paul was a panther. I couldn't wrap my head around being an alien. I thought, too optimistically, that maybe I could get them to change the costume but there was only one way to find out. I had to get the job first, deal with that later. This was going to require all of my skills of persuasion and marketing.

Time was of the essence, so i checked the media guide out of the library and headed to Kinko’s. With the magic of a copy machine, scissors and a glue stick, I created a media guide of sorts identifying me as the new Rockets Mascot. I didn’t have much footage or time to come up with a video. I have no idea what I sent them video-wise but the cover letter was golden.

I weaved what I thought was the perfect argument in that cover letter and figured that at minimum, whoever read it would want to meet the person that wrote such mumbo jumbo (or convincing copy depending on your perspective) and invite me to audition.

I overnighted the packet and got an invitation to audition.

Mark and Kim Bowers, who owned a gymnastics gym and dance studio respectively, helped me out tremendously. I was able to tumble at the gym just to shake the rust off and Kim choreographed a short dance that I could use for the 1-2 minute skit the Rockets asked me to present at the audition. The previous guy that wore the costume was a professional dancer and they wanted the new guy to be able to dance as well.

Over $1100 dollars later, I arrived in Houston on a Thursday night for the 9am audition Friday morning. I made the cut and was invited to the final audition Saturday morning.

I got a call the following Tuesday from Brad Ewing offering me the job at an almost 30% cut in pay from my job at Pillsbury. He wouldn’t budge on the compensation but the job came with benefits and the use of a company van for appearances and personal use. We negotiated the outside appearance fee and terms and a few weeks later I was living in Houston preparing myself to be Booster, a purple and green alien.

This unlikely unfolding of events was the start of my more than 25 years in the live entertainment business. So many things had to go right and be in place for this to have come to pass. But that is the poetic beauty of what I consider the universe’s alignment with my hopes and dreams. There is also something to be said for the power of commitment.

Part of our training at ACRODUNK includes the memorization of the following quote from William Hutchison (W.H.) Murray (1913-1996) a Scottish mountaineer and writer. Whenever a teammate says “try” in a training session they have to do a handstand and recite the quote. I’m not sure if it helps them become better dunkers but it certainly helps their handstand and their memory and if they internalize the message, it has the power of changing their lives. It reads:


"Until one commits there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way."


Thanks Kurt, Coach Robinson, Paul, Bob Woolf, Michael, Tracy, Mark, Kim and Brad.

I remain grateful.





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