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Jon Absey, the original Utah Jazz Bear, shares his journey from farm boy to becoming a world-class mascot.
Jon Absey Shares His Journey To Become An NBA Mascot As The Original Utah Jazz Bear
In this episode, Jon Absey, the original NBA basketball Utah Jazz Bear, an extraordinary philanthropist, shares his life and fascinating journey in becoming a sports team mascot. He began as a farm boy in North Dakota, landing his first mascot job for only $25 for Moorhead State College, which eventually led to an audition to be the Utah Jazz Mascot in the early 1990s.
Absey created the Jazz Bear character and costume, and worked more than 800 home games over 24 seasons. Being named Professional Mascot of the Year five times across all professional sports and being inducted into the Professional Mascot Hall of Fame gives us an inside glimpse into the insane creativity and intense courage required to be a world-class mascot and crazy entertainer. Most significantly, Jon proves why being a mascot has nothing to do with the suit. Showcased by his countless hours of community and public service, and his incredible respect and standing as an important citizen of Utah who has won eight Mascot Leadership Awards.
You get to ask the question, who is the real human being behind the mascot costume? Who is the individual when you go to a sporting event and you see this mascot perform, engage the audience, and cheer on that home crowd to give us the home field or home court advantage? Who is this human being who comes up with extraordinary ideas and creative ways to get the audience riled up and entertained, especially when there are timeouts and there’s nothing worth watching on the field, which is the case of all the teams who have losing records?
Living here in Utah, I am so proud to have on my show a gentleman by the name of Jon Absey. He is the original Jazz Bear. He created the idea, costume, and antics that allowed him to be named and honored as the MBA Mascot of the Year five times and the number one voted Most Popular, Most Amazing, Most Significant Mascot across all professional sports and cold sports nationwide two different times.
He’s in the Mascot Hall of Fame, but more importantly, he’s a husband, a father, and a philanthropist. He is so kind. He is such a stud in every way. You’ve inspired me since I met you at Asian Star out of costume for the first time. Our dear friend, Thurl Bailey, introduced us, and you were going in for your first of 462 and a half surgeries, if you remember that. It was my wife’s 40th birthday party. Thurl was there to sing to her. We had a star-studded dinner there at our favorite restaurant here in Utah, and you so graciously paused for a moment, and then I got to ask Thurl who you were.
When you have the Jazz players, the Gail and Larry Miller family, the fan base, the thousands and thousands of ticket holders and season ticket holders who have been entertained and inspired by you, it’s an honor for me to unveil the mask or the masked singer. The true gentleman, and kind, caring human being that you are underneath this costume we affectionately call Jazz Bear. Welcome to the show.
Thank you, everybody. That was great. I’m not topping that.
He’ll have this played to his wife every night as we did with Andy Chudd. He needs all the help he can get, but Jon doesn’t need any help. What a good way to turn off the lights at night and go to sleep.
Thank you for that intro. That was super kind to you. I appreciate that. I do want to clarify one thing. Looking back at everything that I did and how I started, I was fortunate to have the beginning of it all like the perfect management. I go right to Grant Harrison, who was our vice president then. If it wasn’t for his trust in letting me be the bear, as he said, “Listen, I’m going to give you enough rope to hang yourself. Just don’t hang yourself.” He was the guy that went to battle for me. There were a number of times where I went a little outside the box and he went to battle, and he knew that, in order for the character to keep creating and growing, it needed to push those bounds.
It was a group effort to get the character going. I was fortunate to have something that we called the bear crew. I have three guys that started when I started and they all quit when I left. When I left, I had nine guys that worked with me on game night. Knowing that I had my trust in them and I trusted them to save my life and always tell me, “That might not work. You’re probably going to die if you do that.” I trusted those guys. They’re there every game and they put a lot of effort and energy into making the bear what it was.
A metaphor for life. Behind every successful husband is an astonished mother-in-law. Every successful superstar is someone on a team that is behind the scenes that make us look great. Let’s go all the way back. Let’s pull the curtain. Where did you grow up? Were you always an extraordinary natural gymnast? Did you always have a natural sense of balance and body strength or did you develop that? Take us from the beginning.
Honestly, I was never a gymnast. I was a farm boy in a little town up in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. I grew up with older brothers and sisters and how much they beat me up helped. They taught me to be a little tough. It was climbing trees and the warehouse, getting on top of the barn, jumping on a tractor, and tearing off in the field. It was my training ground. I was fortunate to go to Sacred Heart High School in East Grand Forks. They were patient enough with me to put up with the stupid stuff I would do.
I was not a mean kid. I remember one time in Spanish class, the teacher didn’t show up on time. I ended up out on the third-floor ledge and chilling out because in my head, I was like, “I’m bored.” I was so ADHD. I remember the principal leaning out the window. Her name was Sister Basil, and I love her. She goes, “Jon, can you come in here?” I got up and walked over. She grabbed me by the ear and held me all the way down to the office. I remember running up the wall another time and putting two big holes in it, but they were patient with me. They let me learn all my skills for what I was doing.
As a mascot, you’ll be doing a lot of stunts so you need a great guardian angel to look over you.
The three years you were a junior in high school, you almost killed the whole faculty?
It was three years as a sophomore and two years as a genius.
I knew we had something in common as soon as we kept talking along. From high school, then what happened?
After high school, two weeks after I graduated, I went to Minneapolis. I wanted to get off the farm and see what the big city was. I moved out there with one of my best friends. His name is Jim Johnston. We went out and lived with his dad for a while. I was there for a number of years and then came back to school in Moorhead, Minnesota, at the Moorhead State, and then I joined the military to help pay for college.
I was in the Army. I was a Forward Observer and I volunteered. I was done with the military and still going to school. I’m all over the place. There are so many little caveats.
How old were you when you joined the military?
I was 22. I’m not out of the military yet, but out of basic training and all this stuff. I was going through school and I was coaching over at a gym. It was called American Gold Gymnastics. That’s basically where I started teaching myself gymnastics.
Did someone teach you so you could be a teacher or did you just show up and figure it out?
No. This is funny because I lied on the application and said I was a gymnast at Sacred Heart, but I never was. It wasn’t for a number of years later that the boss or Marcy came in and she’s like, “I found out that Sacred Heart doesn’t have a gymnastics team.” What I would do is I would go in and I would watch what other coaches were doing. His name was Mark and he would teach me after hours and stuff. I would watch him do his backflips and I’d say, “Do it again,” and if I could see it and visualize it, I could do it. There were a number of times when he would show me how to throw a full-off on a tramp.
I don’t know why, but I was able to do the trick. Thankfully for American Gold Gymnastics, they’re the ones who lent their facility for me to learn and train. The Fargo Fever, which was a CBA team back in the day before the D league and stuff, came over and asked if there was anybody there that would want to be a mascot. They immediately all pointed at me. I was like, “That’d be great,” because I was a poor college kid making $25 a game. I started sledding down the stairs back then and bungee jumping out of the ceiling.
In the CBA league?
Yes. They called me and fired me because they thought I was going to kill somebody. They were like, “Jon, we appreciate everything you did, but you’re going to kill yourself or a fan in there.” I was like, “That was fun.” It wasn’t life-changing for me. It was something fun to do. A team up in Winnipeg happened to be down scouting. Tom Nissalke was the commissioner up there for the NBL back in the day. There was a Winnipeg Thunder and those guys had brought me up to Winnipeg to mascot for the summer, but unlike Fargo, they had no rules. I almost died four times. There were crazy moments. That’s when I realized I got a great guardian angel. That somebody is looking out for me.
Let’s go back to sledding the stairs. Visualize this, a basketball arena, cement stairs, railings going down the side, people and me away from being taken out by a sledding mascot in a costume, looking out the window, whatever it looks like, and somehow navigating straight down the steps going in about 30, 20 or 50 miles an hour.
No, that would’ve been fun to radar that.
You would come whipping down there. How did you come up with that idea?
I got smart when I got to the Jazz as I started putting two sleds together and put a wood board in the middle of them so that it was more solid. Do you remember those old roll-ups sleds? I used one of those when I started in Fargo. It was so hard on my body because I would feel every stair as that thing went down.
When I hit Winnipeg, I remember I rappelled in and straddled two beams, and when Thunderstruck started, I would jump in the air, put my feet together, and zip in quick on a rope, and I got up there late. Usually, when I’d get up there, I had time to take my head off, look and hook myself, and check my equipment. On this night, for some reason, I didn’t get up there in time and I did it blindly. I left my head on and it felt funny. I sat there and I was like, “It doesn’t feel right.”
I remember there was this voice in my head that was screaming, “Don’t go.” I remember the audio kicked in Thunderstruck. I literally got on my toes and I didn’t go. I took my head off and I looked and I hooked into a cargo strap, which holds about fifteen pounds. It was a rock-climbing thing. I was so thankful that I didn’t go.
How many feet up were you?
About 120. It was in the Winnipeg Jets Arena. There was another time when I was zip-lining in and I was coming out of a spotlight stand about 80 feet in the air. I had a dancer from the Winnipeg Thunder that was not strapped in or anything was holding onto me, and I’m holding onto her. I’m zipping in with one hand wrapped in what was called the lanyard that would slide on the cable. I wrapped my hand in, we do the practice, but I did it off a ladder that was probably fourteen feet. She held on to me, we zipped in, and we hit the floor.
When you take a rope and put both ends on the cable, you’d put your hand in it and twist it. It twists down on your wrist. That 12-foot or 14-foot ladder didn’t allow enough time for me to understand that I was going to unwind. When we came out that night, we did it. As we’re zipping in first-time doing a full go, it started to unravel. When it was unraveling, it was the only thing holding us and I remember screaming halfway down when I realized we had spun and that the only thing keeping my hand in that loop with her on my side was me squeezing those two ropes together.
When you have an opportunity, never doubt yourself. Put yourself out there and take your shot.
My only thought was, “I’m not letting her die.” I don’t care what happens to me because of the stupid decision that we decided because we’re doing Phantom of the Opera. As we’re coming in, I remember everything in me to hold us and we hit the floor. She ran over to join the group to dance and I collapsed on the floor. I remember laying there and I couldn’t move because it like took everything out of me to hold that rope. Those were two real bad moments.
Talk to us about your exercise program. At your age, you’re still so fit and so strong.
I love you, Dan. Thank you.
No, but when we have arguments with our spouses or significant others, we call it the rebound rate. If you ever go through counseling, if anybody ever does that, it’s always about the rebound rate. How long does it take you to come back and start talking instead of holding a grudge? How long does it take us to respond once we go into the gym and push ourselves, tear down our muscles, and work on our cardio?
When you have X number of games in a week as a professional mascot, where do you have time to strengthen your muscles? Not just maintain, but to strengthen and continuously keep your flexibility where it needs to be for you to be that Mascot of the Year and at the top of your game. Game in and game out, year in and year out, unbelievable.
Honestly, the biggest part that kept me out of so many injuries was my flexibility, which I did almost every day. When I would get surgery because I hurt myself, they’d always say like, “It’s going to be hard to come back. You won’t come back from this 100%.” I’d be like, “Now, it’s a challenge.” It’s like when they did my knee, they took my hamstring instead of a cadaver tendon and stuff. I remember them telling me that I won’t be able to do the splits on that leg anymore. I was like, “Game on.” I worked so hard and I literally got my splits back and I still think I did it better than before.
For the benefit of our tribe, what were some of the most famous antics that you are still known for no other mascot does? I could plant seeds, but you can start rattling them off.
When I started, I wanted to find my own path. There are three types of mascots. There are big heavy funny mascots like the Phillie Phanatic. You have your athletic mascots like Thunder from Golden State back when he was dunking and stuff and Lucky from Boston. They are those guys that are strictly athletic and work for the crowd a little bit. You then have the Phoenix Gorilla and some of the other mascots in the league like Rocky, Crunch, Sacramento, Portland, and Indy, but they’re that mix where you’re funny and athletic.
That’s where I wanted to be, but then I realized that’s a big group. I named off a bunch and I wanted to make sure that I was doing my own path to success here and hopefully make it successful. I did stunts and I was one of the first mascots to start doing stunts. I remember Luke Larson, my assistant, I love him. I started a mascot conference, a few years into when I had started mascotting.
Was that 1993?
I started in ’93. In ’96, I started the conference.
You started mascotting in ’93, and that’s not when you came to the Jazz and was way before when you did everything else?
No, I came to Jazz in ’93.
That’s when you became the mascot.
I started a mascot conference because, in my head, I was like, “Why is everybody so competitive?” because nobody would talk or share ideas. What I realized is because I’m doing something in Utah, but if the Gorilla copies that nobody’s going to know. I was like, “If we can make this industry stronger and better, it’ll help all of us.” Five guys showed up the first year, and then as time passed, it turned into the conference you had to attend. All the other leagues copied it.
When I would submit my stuff, Luke would always say, “Why do you keep showing them the stuff you’re doing?” I know this pushed me and I’m glad I did it because it worked. I said, “If I don’t share it and nobody’s trying to copy it, one, I don’t know if it’s good enough to that I’m doing this. Two, once somebody does it, I want to be able to do something else. I don’t want to get into a rut.” I remember that happened with the ladder. I went out and I was one of the first guys to bring a ladder on the court and get up on top of signs, and then guys started doing that.
How tall was the ladder? We’re not talking a little six-foot.
Back then, when I first started going, it was only twelve feet and then guys started going out and they were on the ladder. I was like, “I got to get a bigger ladder.” That’s when we pulled out the 25-footer. The Little Giant, anytime I had an idea, they would build me a ladder because they’re the ones who built me the big sled from the upper bowl. I got a big ladder and Rocky got a big ladder. I was like, “I got to top this now.” The next year I was like, “I’m going to do a handstand.”
On the top of the ladder?
Yes, on the top. Mark started doing handstands. It was like, “I’m going to do a one-armed handstand.” The one-armed handstand happened and nobody copied it. I was like, “I’m safe here.” Honestly, I thought somebody was going to. Before I go out, I was working on doing a flag where you would hold yourself out sideways on a bar and I was going to do it up top and then my guys below would spin it so that I would spin around the top of the ladder, but thankfully I never had to do it.
Did you conceive the idea of a bear or how did that idea come to fruition?
Thankfully, I got out here because if you go back before that, when I did tryouts out here, they had a three-team tryout with Sacramento, Seattle, and Utah. I got an offer from all three teams, but I didn’t call anybody back because I was too scared. I chickened out. For everybody out there, take that step and give it a shot. I almost missed out on being out here. Grand Harrison called me a couple of weeks after. He’s like, “Did you take a job with the other teams?” I was like, “No.” He goes, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I don’t know.” He goes, “Why don’t you come out here?” He talked to me like I was then. He’s like, “Come out here. Give us a chance.” I was like, “Okay.”
The charity side of things can motivate you in your job as a mascot.
Who came up with the idea of the bear?
When I got out here, the Black Panther was one of them, the Jazzmanian Devil like the Tasmanian devil, something like that, and then this one character, which was funny, they called it a blob, and it was this big blob character. The other one was a brown bear because it’s native to the mountains. That’s where we went. The Black Panther was almost on top of the list, but we wanted to step away from the old New Orleans Jazz field. We wanted our own identity.
You come to the Jazz in ’93. Coming from the upper bowl, paint the word picture for everybody.
I sled from the lower bowl at the top all the way down.
How many rows?
It’s 28 rows.
That wasn’t enough for the Jazz Bear?
That’s what I loved about my job. I loved always pushing myself because I felt as if the day that I stopped pushing myself and I was not excited to try and do something new was the day that I got to hang it up. I was always so excited. It was like a playland. It was like, “What could I do that would be fun that I want to do?” I was like, “Let’s sled from the upper bowl.” I called Little Giant. They built me this enormous ramp from the upper bowl all the way down to the floor. We did it for the draft.
I remember going up and looking down and I looked over at Luke and said, “Luke, this might be a really bad idea,” and he was like, “I’m glad you’re doing it.” We jumped on and it was such a fast, fun ride, though. It was so cool. We slid all the way across the cement. We had a mat there and I crashed into the mat because that’s how fast you were going. I loved it so much. I looked over at Craig Bolerjack and I’m like, “I’m doing it again.” I ran back up the slide. It was so fun.
Tell us about your philanthropic efforts. Living here in Utah, it seemed like anytime there was a significant opportunity to touch kids’ lives or to raise money for a novel charity, the Jazz Bear would show up. We always said, “The Jazz Bear is here,” and the Jazz Bear would show up, but I wanted everybody to know Jon Absey showed up who happened to be the Jazz Bear. There’s a big difference. Tell us about where you grew to love charity and service before yourself. Did you learn that from your parents? Did you learn that from your siblings beating the crap out of you going, “Someday, I’m going to never do this?”
Coming from a farm, I don’t know if it’s those types of values, but if you can, you help others out. When I got out here and started doing the job, I felt more blessed that I had a job and a vehicle that could do so much. I felt like I needed to give back. The fans and the team were so accepting of the character and I appreciated that. I knew that I needed to give back to show my gratitude.
As I said, I loved being able to play and have fun and push the envelope, but the charity side of things is what motivated me and what started making the job worthwhile. People like you and Andy Chudd were a huge part of that. I started getting those calls and I never thought people would want me to come out so much because I made such a mess all the time when I’d show up.
I was out doing appearances a lot of times to supplement my income. I turned all those down and this is where the team supported me. I said, “If there’s a conflict between a charity event, sponsor event, or paid event, I want to do the charity event.” I was doing about 325 appearances a year, and they were 99% charity. If there was ever a conflict between a charity or a sponsor who needed me or something like that, I’d always default to the charity. Thankfully, the team let me do that.
We’ve had Andy Chudd describe what the money is used for the other part of the Job Absey charitable conglomerate, but talk to us about the origins of the Mascot Bowl. Do you have this fraternity or do you keep in touch with one another as mascots off-season? Is it more of a professional association? Give us the inside scoop of the Mascot Bowl.
Even though I’ve been gone for a while, I’m still in touch with everybody. On the way, I was talking to Bob Woolf. He was the old Phoenix Gorilla. I was talking to him because we may be trying to do some stuff together and then the same with Rocky out in Denver. I still stay in touch with all these guys and that’s what I love is that we’re a tight brotherhood. We all talk about the way our teams are either the team or a fan treating us, or this has happened, so we all stay in touch.
Mascot Bowl started strictly because I always wanted to do something that was very family-friendly and that any family could afford. I wanted to be able to entertain people without having to spend as much as it was back then to go to a game, and also now. I thought it would be fun. When I started with the Shop With Bear, it used to be Bill Childs. It was Child’s Christmas if you remember. I would jump on board with them and that’s where it all started.
When Bill stepped away, then I tried to raise the money. I was getting it through Karl Malone, John Stockton, all those guys would write me checks and they would cover it. That era changed. It was different. Players didn’t write me those checks like it was. It was hard to get money because I never liked talking to people about who I was. It was tough. I thought, “Let’s take that idea of an entertainment event and use it to raise money to take kids shopping.”
It was nice that mascots around the country would support me. It’s humbling to know that these guys will take time out of their careers, days, and years to go out and sweat like crazy and get hurt for a charity they don’t even do anything with. I love them for that and they still come to this day. That’s where it all started as just an idea to raise money to be able to take kids shopping.
The first time in my life that I ever got a chance to go into the locker room and watch these guys put on their suits, describe to us how you can see through with the head and, in that process, keep your balance and have situation situational awareness, so you don’t fall over or how do you climb a ladder? How do you navigate yourself through this little teeny window? How big is the window? Do you see like 180 degrees? Teaches the inside look of a head of a mascot.
Like there are three different types of mascots, there are a whole bunch of different types of vision when it comes to a head. Some guys in the cheaper suits look through the neck. The Phillie Phanatic is one and it’s not a cheap suit, but that’s technically where it goes because it limits your ability a lot. You got other guys that look through the mouth like the Denver Broncos. There are other guys that can look through their eyes, but they’re screened almost like your microphone, just those little holes, and then they have painted in their eyes.
The thing that I was fortunate about is my eyes and I got it from the Phoenix Gorilla. They formed the mask to fit my face so that it fits perfectly right around my eyes. My vision was my eyes. I didn’t have to see through a screen. The only thing I had is I had a nose that dropped my lower peripheral. I remember when Greg Ostertag came to the team, his son was running up to me and I didn’t see him and I kneed him so hard and he went flying.
I looked and I saw this kid sliding across the floor and I was like, “He’s going to start crying,” but he got up, came running back over. I looked at Greg and I was like, “You got a tough kid. That kid took a knee. I thought he broke a rib.” That’s about it. I was fortunate that I had a good enough vision that if I could do something out of the suit, I could do it in the suit. It was a little bit harder, but I could figure it out.
Athletes should be approachable. They aren’t above anybody just because they get a bigger paycheck.
You said something very intriguing about the difference between professional athletes nowadays and the days of old. What do you think about that shift from “Service before yourself. We appreciate the fans. We’re here for you” to “It’s all about me. I don’t care about appearances. Give me more money?” As I teach in my world of culture creation and leadership and sales, if you come from money, you will leave for money.
People think they have to give someone a bonus to increase performance and yet your experiences know when you have service before yourself, you elevate everyone around you. Give us an inside glimpse of when you think that shift occurred and where it occurred from, “I’m so grateful to be a professional athlete. I’ve dreamt my whole life to do this,” to entitlement.
I do talk about this to some people. Back when I started and then all the way up through the ’90s, we were fortunate enough to have two finals and they were amazing. God bless their souls, Stephen and Minnie, they were this older couple that would always come down to the cage and bring Luke and me drinks and cookies. It was awesome. They were like the grandparents of the cage.
This is back when you could stand on the side of the court and the players would talk to you, I remember one time seeing Adam Keefe up in the stands talking to people. It was such a different time. I remember Stephen and Minnie going out one night and they had asked Greg Foster if he’d wanted to come over for dinner. He said, “Yes,” and he showed up. That’s the players we had back then. That’s the way the sports were back then as well.
They were approachable. You weren’t above anybody because you got a bigger paycheck. When you think about it, these athletes are playing the kids’ games. They’re playing a game that we played when we were six. Rules don’t change or anything. The only thing that’s changed is getting a salary. What happened is sports teams started glorifying these guys so much and paying them such big amounts of money, and then what they did was they put a bigger wedge between the fans and the players. That’s so wrong. I would love to see it go back to where a fan could get an autograph or talk to a player.
I remember Gordon Hayward was there before I left and he said he didn’t like the fans that close to the court. They moved everybody three rows back. I hated it. I couldn’t believe they allowed it. That was one of the moments where I was like, “I’m going to show him.” I would grab people and haul him out on the court because it was like, “This is what makes fans, fans,” being able to interact and come on the court.
I’m not a fan of a team that I don’t know anybody on it. I’m a fan of a team in that the players appreciate me being there and spending that hard-earned money to come to watch them play. I was talking to a season ticket holder sitting down the front, and he commented, “They’re raising our ticket prices. I’ve been to a number of games where the stars aren’t playing. They’re resting them on the bench now.” Do you remember John and Carl or any of those guys?
They played every minute.
Yes. Now, it’s such a different culture. That’s why I started liking college because they’re out there playing for the love of the game. That’s why I like a lot of these minor league sports teams like the Warriors here and Utah Grizzlies, those are players that they want to elevate, but they still understand that it’s those fans in the seats that are making us have the ability to play and hopefully get to their goal.
I read a lot of speeches for celebrities and I got a call from Danny Mantle, one of the four sons of the famous Mickey Mantle. I got a chance to interview him and go to Dallas and meet his mother, who was still alive and go to the mausoleum and pay tribute to the great Mickey Mantle. In those days, Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956 and the Yankees wanted to trade him because he was getting paid too much money. He was 1 of the 3 highest-paid professional baseball players in the entire league. Duke Snider, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle all made $150,000 a year, and they were the top-paid players.
Dick Butkus, the guys that are from Meyer that I grew up idolizing, played for the love of the game and had a second career or another job in the off-season so they could pay their bills. They played for the right reasons. I grew up in avenues in Salt Lake City, Utah, Karl Malone built his house up there and it’s in my mother’s neighborhood, down the street on the same street as my mom.
When they moved in, my sweet mother, visualize her, the youngest of nine children raised by a single mom on a farm in Southern Idaho. She’s just a good old girl. She bakes a cake and goes to knock on the door. Kay Malone answers the door and my sweet mother says, “Hi, I’m Ruby Clark. We lived down the street and I wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood.” To your point, Kay Malone invites my mother in, gives her a tour of her brand-new house, and takes her on a tour of the entire room that Karl built with plexiglass cases of every single member of the dream team with autographs, shoes, jersey, shorts, everything.
My mom calls me when she gets home. I’m like, “Why didn’t you call me?” Why couldn’t I be your bodyguard? Why didn’t you take me? To your point, Karl and Kay loved the neighborhood. He was famous in our neighborhood because little kids would come home, have a lemonade stand, and Karl would pull up and pay a hundred dollars for a couple of glasses of lemonade and bring them home. “Mom, look. This man pulled up in this car.” They said, “What did he look like?” They’re describing this huge superstar kind, teddy bear.
You have that same reputation. You are always so generous and went out of your way. You always had time for everybody. As we wind down, give us an inside glimpse of what happens when you raise the money at the Mascot Bowl and what happens when we team up with the fire department. Take us back to the day when the buses would show up and the fire department had their lights and sirens go on.
Teach us about that concept and maybe pay tribute to the great Mark Eaton, who participated with you in a little bit of a way. That was my first experience before I came with you. Andy was with the big Mark Eaton and it was the same thing going to Walmart and doing the thing. Describe what happened there.
Mark Eaton, the name and a man that we all miss. Going back to what you were talking about with your mom, I remember back when we would be shopping, and sometimes, we’d always go over. This goes to show the people what Karl Malone, Mark Eaton, and Mark Atkins, how to look out for others. I remember one time we were over by like $5,600. Do you remember Roxanne?
She was one of my dearest friends. When she passed away, I cried so hard.
I love her. She got on the phone and came over and it was Kay Malone on the phone. They had said, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll cover it.” That was amazing. There were a number of times that we had gone over. Brenda Hoskins is one of Mark Eaton’s great friends. Mark would always hang out and Brenda would walk over and say, “This is the situation,” and Mark would pull out a credit card and he’d cover the $2,000 that we were short. That is a testimony to what guys they were. Mark Atkins is the same thing, showing up at the event and wanting to help any way they can.
It’s so fun because we used high schools and we like to have kids get involved. When they’re involved, they get to see all the planning and stuff come together. They get to get out there and pull it off. A couple of months later, they’re the ones who get to take these kids Christmas shopping. It’s like a full circle. I always like what the kids say afterward. I love when you see these high school kids with these younger kids that don’t have the iPhones and all this other stuff, that humanity comes out of them. I love seeing them be humbled by these kids.
I remember this little girl was over by the candy bar section and she grabbed a candy bar and she looked up at the two kids that were with her and she’s like, “Am I done?” I’m like, “No, you got way more money to spend,” because we always try and give the kids each $100. She grabbed another one and she goes to me, “Am I done now?”
It’s moments like that you realize these high school kids are getting to see what reality is. Not for everybody, but for some. When they get done and the stuff that you can hear them talking about, it’s nice to know that hopefully, they learned something from this. There’s something as well to this more than taking kids Christmas shopping. There’s also that lesson that gets learned through doing this for these high school kids.
This will be generational. When they get married and have children, they’ll pass it on to say, “We need to get involved in a charity. We need to do something for the underserved.”
Being successful isn’t about having a big bank account. It’s about knowing that what you’re doing is on the right path.
What’s amazing though, is for a while now, I had kids that we’ve taken shopping come and volunteer. Years later, they’re adults and coming to give back because of what it did for them. The other cool thing is that when these kids get out in their buses and we’d have nine buses full of kids and their volunteers that would go with them, Elden Farnsworth would load up the Sorenson Center with firetrucks. I’d always ride in the bucket and I’d freeze. It was one of those things that Brenda would always be like, “Jon, don’t.” I’m like, “No. I’m going to do it.” To me, it’s a tradition and I’m a big tradition guy. I was like, “Nothing is going to stop me.”
One time, this big snow storm was happening, Santa Claus, I can’t say his name, he always showed up and ride in the bucket with me. I remember he looked at me and he’s like, “I’m not doing this again.” We were both freezing, I’m uncovered. He’s covered in snow. I’m almost ready to tap out. I’m like, “No, I can’t do it. We got to go.”
We’re coming off California Avenue and take that left on Redwood. We’d be in the front and I’d look from the fire truck all the way down Redwood and we were like 30th south and you could see the last vehicle turn in the corner because we had nine buses, like eight fire trucks, all these cop cars, a whole bunch of vehicles in tow.
All celebrating kids who couldn’t have a Christmas and wouldn’t have the means with their parents, you provided that for them.
It’s amazing when you put a number of people or that many people together what you can accomplish.
Last question, Jon. How do you want to be remembered? You’re in the Mascot Bowl, Mascot Hall of Fame, and YMCA Hall of Fame. It’s so cool to be a prophet in your own country. We always say, “A prophet is not a prophet if a man is not a prophet in his own country,” but you are. You’re so well-respected, but how can you take it to the next level and how can we support you?
Thank you very much for that. I appreciate that. Being a mascot was great. It was great to have that vehicle, being the bear. When I was done, I was worried that I wouldn’t have that vehicle and I wouldn’t be able to do charity work as I did before. That was my push. “I need to know that I can do this on my own,” and to tell you the truth I love it more this way because now I get to talk to people and get to know people. Before, I would show up, meet people, and I’d go, but I never felt so connected as I do now with people, with children and their parents, because now I get to talk to them and see them.
Honestly, how do I want to be remembered? I want to know that I put a footprint on this planet like you. You’re going to agree with me on this, but to me, being successful isn’t about having a big bank account. Hopefully, when I pass, I have a full church and then I know that I was successful. I know what I was doing was on the right path.
It’s interesting as Jon retired as our Jazz Bear and a new person took over the costume, you realize that it’s more than a costume. It’s not the same Jazz Bear. With all due respect to any mascot out there, the person inside the suit makes the character come alive and makes the difference. There’s a difference between a costume and someone who’s inside the costume that uses that vehicle or character to express who he is. That’s what you’ve always been able to do. Everybody could see that Jazz Bear and not just wonder what this amazing human being must be like, but now you get a chance to see the stud muffin hunk of burning love that was inside that suit.
You’re so important to our community, and you always will be. There could be ten new Jazz Bears in that same suit, and there will never be another Jon Absey, so thank you. We honor you. We love you. We admire you. I am a better man, human being, father, and husband who have had a chance to hang out with you. There will be many more events and years to come if I have anything to do with it.
God bless you. Dan, I can’t thank you enough for having me on. For everybody out there, something that you did, Dan, is you have the people like the old players and how everybody was so nice. They allowed you to come close to them. Nowadays, you have people and they keep you a distance, but for who you are and for how everybody respects you and for what you’ve done in your life. I feel blessed that you’ve let me into your life. You’ve let so many other people in your life.
It’s funny because when you talk about people with your stature and what you’ve done, you don’t always hear it. I wouldn’t be able to call you and say, “Dan, how are you doing?” You reply back. I love you because everything you say and do is you mean and live it. I appreciate that. I’m always tearing pages out of my book when I watch you because I love how you have allowed me to be part of your life and everybody else to be part of your life and how you give back to the communities, so thank you.
The message of this show is a simple reminder, we become the average of the five people we associate with the most, which means you need to find a mascot in your life, but more importantly, if you were a mascot, you must be the same offstage as your onstage. You have no credibility. You must be the same person in your house as you are outside of your house, the same person on the field or on the court as you are off the court and vice versa. We have no respect, no credibility, and please download and share this episode as a simple reminder that Jon Absey is exactly the same in person as he is in that suit.
That’s what made you the Mascot of the Year five times and the mascot forever more. Number one in the hearts and souls of every Utah Jazz fan who ever lived and will continue to live. They will watch the old videos of your amazing antics, your bravery, your courageousness, and your borderline brain damage as you climb these 95-foot towers and repel from the ceiling, and hug the lonely fan that needed a little bit of love that day. Thank you. We’ll be forever grateful.
Thank you, Dan. I appreciate those kind words and for you letting me come on.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. There you have it. God bless.
About Jon Absey
Jon Absey has been named Mascot of the Year in the NBA five times and Best Mascot out of all sports nationwide twice and, just recently was given an award for the best video by a mascot out of all sports nationwide. He has been inducted into the YMCA Hall of Fame, the Utah Summer Games Hall of Fame, and the Mascot Hall of Fame.