Baku, Azerbaijan, April 16
By Anvar Mammadov – Trend:
Aside from the exciting athlete performances at the 26th European Championships in Trampoline, Tumbling and Double Mini-Trampoline, which was held in Baku April 12-15, what made the event even better was the Gur-Gur - a mascot frog, brought to life.
The men behind Gur-Gur are no strangers to the job - Scott Hesington and Barry Anderson spent years in the NBA, as the official mascots in the league.
Hesington spent 24 years as a mascot in different sports, but is mostly known for his work as "Stuff the Magic Dragon" mascot of the Orlando Magic, and "Hooper", the mascot of the Detroit Pistons. After a career filled with numerous awards and honors within this activity, he left the NBA in order to pursue a career in stunt work on television in New York City and build a his own business.
Meanwhile, Barry Anderson spent 17 years on NBA grounds as Benny - the bull mascot of the Chicago Bulls. Anderson left the Chicago Bulls in 2016 to travel the world and do volunteer work for children in Southeast Asia.
In an interview with Trend, Hesington and Anderson spoke about their impressions of Baku, the National Gymnastics Arena, and so on.
- You add a lot of fun to this competition. Is it your first participation in gymnastic tournaments?
Barry Anderson: Yes, this is my first time. I don’t know much about gymnastics. Scott used to teach gymnastics, so he knows more about competitions and technical details, but I don’t think I took part in gymnastic competitions of such a level as a mascot. By the way, this is a serious challenge for us, because it is necessary to study and learn the competition rules, which are very different from those in basketball. We mustn’t run around the trampoline during the performance of the gymnasts. It is also necessary to know when it is allowed to make noises, when it’s needed to be funny, and when to be serious. This takes a few days.
- What surprised you the most in Baku? What did you feel when you found out that you are coming here, and what did you feel when you arrived in the city and saw the audience in the hall?
Barry Anderson: Azerbaijan is not such a famous country in the West. We didn’t know much about the country. I think that we both had the most erroneous thoughts about Azerbaijan and Baku. We didn’t think that the city would be so modern and so developed. We participated a lot in international competitions, and most of the cities, arenas that we visited were not modern and developed. We thought that it would be the same in Azerbaijan. But when we arrived here, we both were shocked, starting from the very moment we landed at the airport – it was great. We really liked buildings, architecture – we have never seen anything like it. We were shocked also by the National Gymnastics Arena in Baku. We didn’t think that we would see such a modern and magnificent arena. This turned out to be a big surprise.
Scott Hesington: We were shocked by the hospitality. As Barry said, we performed a lot around the world. We have been here for three days, we live in a wonderful hotel, we are deliciously fed and we are cared for. Everyone is so cute, nice and friendly. People are aggressive in some arenas in the US, but here everyone is very nice. We did not know where we were going, but as a result, we came to a wonderful place with wonderful people.
- During the competition, you often contact with children in the hall. How do they react to you? What is the difference between Azerbaijani and American children?
Barry Anderson: Children in Azerbaijan react to us in a completely different way. The culture of the people can be seen in children. Here we are faced with great respect, as well as admiration. They are gorgeous. We sometimes face aggression by children in other cities. They can grab you, try to tear something off.
Scott Hesington: Children have more good manners here. Maybe, we met something like that only in China. Usually we are bitten, grabbed by the tails, by the hair.
- Both of you are famous stars of the National Basketball Association (NBA). What is the difference between performances in basketball competitions and gymnastics?
Scott Hesington: Sport in the US is not just a sport, it’s also entertainment. In the US, sport is the central part of the show, but there are lights, music, various effects, graphics, dancers, mascots. It attracts people - not only those who know basketball, but also those who come to have fun. Here we have to drive ourselves more into the framework of competition.
- What do you think about 'Gur-Gur'?
Barry Anderson: We love how people react to this mascot. We must wait for the reaction of the public to our actions. This is a long process. The character is not created instantly. Its further development depends on the public - what you can do and what you cannot do, what joke you can make, etc. We are still getting to know our character. As the fans love it, we also love it. Creating a frog mascot was the idea of the AGF. We also assisted in designing of the costume and final image.
- Your work seems to be a great adventure, but what is it really?
Barry Anderson: As Scott said, we are learning on the spot. We come to a place, which is unknown for us and where we do not know fans. Each appearance on the stage is a new lesson. We return back to room, and then we come up with new actions and ideas. Every appearance on the stage raises questions - can we joke with judges, athletes or children. We always try to find a line that we can not cross. We try to create bridges between people and a mascot. And this is a real adventure. It is like discovering new continents or exploring the jungle. We can make plans, but when we are on stage we often refuse them and began to improvise. Because, you can control yourself, your actions, but you can not control actions of hundreds or thousands of people. And hitting the bulls-eye and improvisation is a real adventure.
- If you had a chance would you visit Baku again?
Well, it depends on whether the AGF will be satisfied with our work and would like to work with us in the future. But if it depended only on us, we would like to come to Baku more than just once. We really liked the city.