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The Bear facts: The Utah Jazz 16-year mascot, Bear, balances life of court jester, charity king

Published: Sunday, April 11 2010 12:57 a.m. MDT

Bear jumps off a firetruck at a West Valley Walmart last December. The manic mascot took nearly 400 needy children on a Christmas shopping spree.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — He speaks, and with a slight Minnesota accent — just not in public. He grew up on a farm, went to school at Moorhead State, knows what it feels like when a bursa sac bursts, knows what a bursa sac is, served in a risky military position in the Gulf War.

And, yes, he and Mama Bear have three little bears.

That you might not have known about the Utah Jazz's mascot, Bear.

You do know, perhaps even cheer or fear, how he makes a habit and a living out of jumping on a plastic sled and sliding face-first at scary speeds down steep stairs at EnergySolutions Arena.

Over the years, you've also witnessed Bear launch his furry self through rings of fire to dunk basketballs, rappel from the rafters or do the splits (on purpose).

You've watched him goof off with referees and players, spray funky materials on people, use opposing fans as skit props, land hard on his undercarriage, rev up his loud motorcycle, display much more athleticism in a 00 Jazz jersey than the only Utah player to wear that number (Greg Ostertag), and literally go to great heights to both entertain and freak out thousands of onlookers.

You've seen the Hall of Fame mascot do a whole lot of wacky stuff in action.

So, would it shock anybody to learn that one of the NBA franchise's most cherished assets — the guy who leads the crowd in mass pandemonium and does the "Y-M-C-A" while dangerously standing 20-plus feet in the air — admit that he was something between courageous and crazy when he was a cub?

Didn't think so.

Sure enough, long before he increased the worth of Silly String's stock value, Bear got a kick out doing logic-defying and dangerous acts around — and on top of — his family's farm in Minnesota.

As a kid, the little daredevil knew exactly where his dad stored the ladder and the car keys, and he wasn't afraid to put them to use.

When his parents weren't looking, of course.

"I remember," Bear fondly recalls, "almost once a week climbing up our house, or the warehouse or the barn, or climbing the garage or a tree."

The climbing conquests weren't the only way he drove his parents wild. He'd also sneak into their cars and drive around in a nearby field.

All before turning 11.

Bear laughs about having no supervision in his youth.

Go ahead, cringe.

"They were just not able to keep up with me," he says of his dearly departed parents. "I was pretty OCD, ACD, AC/DC, ADD, all that stuff. I was just pretty hyperactive."

Was?

Just so happens he's made a career out of taking those wild antics to another level. His mischievous farm-boy fun proved to be hands-on training.

"I have the capacity now and the job," he explains, "to act like a 10-year-old and get paid for it."

Sure beats the sanitation gig Bear jokingly tells some people he has in an effort to maintain his cherished anonymity.

Bear didn't grow up thinking he'd become Bear.

In college, he worked in a gymnastics gym, even though he admits to having more farmer in him than gymnast. One day at work, somebody from a new Continental Basketball Association team called the Fargo Fever popped in and asked if anyone would be interested in becoming the North Dakota squad's mascot.

The athletic Moorhead State student couldn't resist the adrenaline rush or the cash: $25 per game. "Being a poor college student, I was, like, '25 bucks!?' Man, I'll do it."

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