Tales from Press Row - When Hugo Tried to Prank Me

July 13, 2011
When Hugo Tried to Prank Me

I hadn’t even been working with the Hornets for a week, yet Hugo had already targeted me as his next victim.

Not long after reporting for my first day as a Hornets employee in November 2005, Michael Zerrillo, who played team mascot Hugo the Hornet prior to retiring in 2007, approached my desk. While graciously welcoming me to the organization, “Hugo” also extended a friendly invitation to join him on the court during an upcoming in-game skit.

“I'm going to be dunking during one of the timeouts,” he explained. “All you have to do is stand under the rim, hold a basketball above your head and stand there. I'll run up, jump off a trampoline, grab it out of your hand and dunk it. Real easy. What do you think? Do you want to do it?”

After his ultra-friendly welcome, my first thought was, “Wow, that’s very nice that they would ask a new employee to do that.” But my second thought – since I’m relatively shy and don’t like being the center of attention – was, “I don’t want to be standing on the court of an NBA arena with 19,000 people watching me.” So I politely declined Hugo's offer.

Hugo quickly moved on to asking another brand-new Hornets employee if he’d be willing to do it. This time the answer was a quick yes. The eager co-worker – we’ll call him “Tom” to protect his anonymity – thought it would be fun, perhaps a cool story to tell someday, that he once helped Hugo dunk during. Well, Tom definitely ended up with a great story out of it – but certainly not the one he was expecting.

A couple weeks later, I was sitting in the media section during a Hornets vs. Bucks game. During a second-quarter timeout, I spotted Tom walking onto the court from the baseline. It was time for Hugo’s dunk.

Just as Hugo started to run up to do his high-flying slam, the PA announcer interrupted by saying, “Hold on Hugo! A simple dunk off a trampoline? That's not exciting enough! I think we should blindfold the guy holding the ball!” Wait a second, I thought to myself, I don't remember this being part of the script...

So a couple of Hugo’s assistants blindfolded Tom, instructing him to be as still as possible and to continue holding the ball above his head so that Hugo would be able to grab it and dunk.
But as soon as the blindfold was fastened, Hugo immediately picked up his trampoline and ran off the court. As Hugo was departing the playing floor, he waved his arms wildly to the cheering crowd, beckoning them to continuing yelling encouragement. They obliged, which convinced the completely unaware, blindfolded Tom that Hugo was about to make his approach. Unfortunately for Tom, NBA timeouts only last about two minutes. As Tom still stood under the rim – dutifully holding the ball above his head – the horn sounded, signaling the end of the timeout. It was time for players for both teams to return to the court and resume the game.

At that moment, as you looked out onto the floor, you witnessed a hilarious scene: five Milwaukee Bucks players, five Hornets players, three NBA referees ... and a blindfolded guy standing under one of the baskets, conspicuously holding a basketball above his head.

After what seemed like forever, with the 10 players trying to figure out what to do, eventually – mercifully – one of the refs trudged over to Tom. The ref tapped him on the shoulder and said “Uh... hey man, you can take the blindfold off now.”

When Tom did as he was told and peeled off the blindfold, he was understandably startled by what he saw: 10 NBA players staring at him and 19,000 fans cheering and laughing.

I have to admit, I was among the many in attendance who laughed loudly when I recognized Hugo’s prank. Especially after I remembered that if I’d been a little more outgoing, it would've been me getting laughed at by the entire arena. The best part was that, even though I didn’t personally participate in the skit, I still got an entertaining story out of it.

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