The return of Kobe Bryant this season is very clearly the NBA's biggest Achilles tendon-related story. However, the league received more sad news this week related to one of its greatest heroes. I speak, naturally, of the Toronto Raptor, one of the world's finest mascots and main subject of arguably the finest GIF the internet has ever seen. On Wednesday, news broke that the performer had torn his Achilles tendon at a community event in Halifax last Friday. I will let Grantland's Zach Lowe explain why that was so terrible, because he expressed it beautifully:
My in-laws live in Toronto, and my sister-in-law is a season-ticket holder, so I’ve seen the Raptor perform for years and years, dating back to long before I covered the NBA as a profession. He is easily one of my five favorite mascots in the league, and it’s not a stretch to say that over the last half-decade or so of lethargic Raptors basketball, the Raptor was the very best thing going on during game days at Air Canada Centre. The inflatable Raptor — generally portrayed by the same person, as is the case with most mascots — is a legend. Fans never tire of the bit in which he devours a cheerleader, or a security guard. The Raptor is also super-daring in the inflatable costume, even Rollerblading down the arena steps toward the floor in a bulky outfit that includes a 50-pound blower inside. You try doing that.
But the popularity of the inflatable Raptor has almost overshadowed the regular Raptor and all the brilliant stuff that guy does all over the floor. The Raptor is manic. He is a whirlwind of activity. My wife barely even watches games when we go together; she cannot take her eyes off the Raptor.
His injury, then, was legitimately sad news. For those who wondered how such a thing could possibly happen, we now have video of the moment. As we see in video made available by ESPN, our furry friend injures himself while doing a series of flips in front of an assembly of children. Watch the clip above, and please keep in mind that there's a real person inside that goofy costume.
It would be a little ridiculous to compare a mascot to Kobe, one of the greatest players in the history of basketball. However, it's worth noting that the Raptor, like Kobe, managed to walk off under his own power after snapping his Achilles. That takes toughness, a sense of honor, and commitment to the craft.
It's a reminder that the work of a mascot, while based in comedy and fun, can be taken entirely seriously. The Raptor is a real performer, and we'll miss him while he's gone. Here's hoping he finds his way to a full recovery.