While compiling my list of the 20 greatest Denver Nuggets of all time, I realized I was leaving one great Nugget off the list. He never played a single minute for the team but he has been a valuable asset to the Nuggets franchise for 24 years. So before I reveal my 10th greatest Nuggets player of all time, I thought I would pay homage to the greatest non-playing Nugget athlete of all time, Supermascot Rocky. “Rocky the Mountain Lion” was the brainchild in 1990 of then Nuggets President Tim Leiweke. The Nuggets were going through one of the worst runs of bad basketball in the franchise’s history. They had just come off of the fallout of the unceremonious firing of the winningest coach in franchise history, Doug Moe. They would win only 20 games in the 1990-1991 season and attendance was at an all time low at McNichols Arena. Leiweke had gotten his start in the entertainment industry and knew that he needed to do something to put butts in the seats. He figured if he did something that would appeal to younger fans, their parents would bring them to the game to see the “Show” that is an NBA basketball game and increase attendance despite his teams woeful performance on the court. That’s when he realized that a mascot might do the trick. The Phoenix Gorilla was already a staple at Suns games and the Nuggets had never had a mascot before.
So Leiweke went to the local media and set up a contest to determine what the Nuggets new mascot would be. There were a slew of entries, some logical and some ridiculous, but the winner was a Colorado Mountain Lion as the Nuggets first mascot. Once the “Species” of the mascot was chosen it was time to find the person to put inside of the costume. There were auditions held at the Nuggets facility inside of McNichols Arena and after the first day it was already obvious who was the perfect person to introduce Rocky the Mountain Lion to the world. His name is Ken Solomon and he is the only person to reside inside of Rocky’s now iconic costume. He is a great athlete, was and still is a fine acrobat, and had obviously played some hoops in his life. Solomon debuted Rocky the Mountain Lion on December 15, 1990 at McNichols Arena in a game against, ironically, the Phoenix Suns. Rocky has become a fixture at Nuggets games since that night and his antics have gotten him national recognition, along with a couple of pretty impressive awards.
Rocky’s shtick includes a bevy of athletic skits including dunking off of a trampoline, doing backflips over the Denver Nugget Dancers, riding his Harley onto the floor for playoff games among many others. His most popular feat may be Rocky’s Half Court Shot that he does during the final timeout of the 4th quarter in every Nuggets home game. It’s popular not only because of what he does, (shoot from half court backwards over his head, facing the opposite basket) but how many times he has made this incredibly difficult shot (I think he is over 25% for his career making this shot but I have not been able to find documentation to back this up).
On April 1st, 2013 Rocky put out a Press release saying that he would be retiring after the 2013 season. This was met with some sadness around the Denver area because he has become such a beloved figure in this City. Alas, the old Mountain Lion was just dropping an “April Fool’s Joke” on Nuggets fans far and wide. He showed up at the Nuggets next home game and had the P.A. Announcer tell the crowd that it was just an April Fool’s joke and he would be returning for his 24th season in 2013-2014.
Rocky has become a fixture around the Denver area doing appearances at Children’s Hospital, Benefits and other Charitable causes. It’s very common to see the “Rockymobile” around town at various venues including doing private parties, Holiday Parties and Birthdays. Rocky is so good at his job that he has been bestowed with 2 awards in his 24 years as Nuggets Mascot. He was awarded “Most Awesome Mascot” at the Cartoon Network’s Hall of Game Awards and was inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2008. Rocky the Mountain Lion has become more than just the Denver Nuggets Mascot but a fixture in the Denver Community for 24 years.
And that’s why it would have been impossible to do a Denver Nuggets top anything list without including the one and only……. “Supermascot Rocky”!