Discover more from North Carolina Rabbit Hole
The story behind that GIF of Hugo the Hornet getting smacked in the face.
How scared/angry was the dude who buckled to his knees after an inflatable mascot lunged at him? I tracked him down to find out.
Want to read stories like this sooner? Subscribe to the North Carolina Rabbit Hole for free.
The Charlotte Hornets are BACK. Now, usually when you say this, you mean only that the Charlotte Hornets have resumed playing basketball. This is because — since they were revived as the Bobcats back in 2004 — they have not been “back” in any competitive sense. They are 508-771. They have never advanced out of the first round of the playoffs. They won SEVEN GAMES in 2011-12. They meme’d poor Paul Silas.
Well guess what? The Hornets might actually be back! Like, back back. Really back. They drafted LaMelo Ball. He had a flashy first preseason game on Monday night, thereby transforming into a vessel for all of my hopes and dreams. Then they signed Gordon Hayward, who they tried to bring in a few years ago. This time it worked! Although, there have been warning signs:
In short, the Hornets might actually bring me true joy this season, instead of Starter jacket-infused nostalgic feels. So, it’s worth looking back on the only Hornets-related item that brought me consistent happiness before now: This GIF.
There are other great Hornets/Bobcats GIFs out there. There is Lance Stephenson rising up into frame like the Undertaker. There is Kemba Walker celebrating after a 3-pointer that he thought he made, Nick Young style. There is Gerald Henderson hitting a woman in the face with an errant pass. And, if you want to go truly old-school, there is an inflatable Hugo the Hornet blimp crashing into the stands.
But this one? This one has all of the elements of a perfect GIF gag. From the setup (Look out! Somebody warn him there’s a human in that blow-up mascot!) to the action (Boo! CHRIST! Haha! He fell!) to the reaction (Guy quickly recovers, realizes he still has a blunt object in his right hand, uses it as weapon) to the aftermath (Guy coolly walks away as Hugo slowly falls on his face). Above all, this works because we all want to be this guy. It takes near-impossible fortitude to transition from mortifying embarrassment to Boss Mode in less than three seconds.
When I first saw this GIF years ago, I tried to figure out when and where it took place. At first, I thought it happened in Charlotte. But if you REALLY squint, you can see there’s a sign advertising fan ballots for the 2009 NBA All-Star Game. Plus, Hugo has a shock of hair that’s yellow — a team color that was only added after the original Hornets left Charlotte. That, and the decorations in the background, put this GIF’s genesis at or around Christmastime 2008, during Hugo’s exile in Louisiana. From there, I found a video that showed the whole bit, then looked at a few malls in the New Orleans area that had a Forever 21 store right next to a Macy’s. There was one. I emailed its general information account, asking if they knew who this guy was.
“You know that was staged, right?” said Terry Brazley, the guy in the GIF. He was 56 when I talked to him back in 2015. Before that, he was the food court manager at the Lakeside Shopping Center in Metarie, La. for 32 years. Not long before Christmas 2008, the marketing manager for the mall asked him if he’d play along with a bit for a video to be shown during the timeouts of New Orleans Hornets games. He did. Convincingly. “I acted,” he said. “It was a big act.”
There was already a clue that Brazley was in on it. Earlier in the video, you can see him hanging out in the background (bottom right in the photo below), watching as other shoppers are genuinely frightened by Hugo, who shudders to life as they pass by.
Brazley was the only person in the video who knew what was going to happen. He knew to act scared, but didn’t know how, exactly, until the precise moment when Hugo lunged at him. His knees buckled. He grabbed on to his cart. And then, he took a roll of trash bags in his hand and smacked Hugo in the face. That wasn’t planned. That was a reflex. Then Brazley kept going. He didn’t know the guy in the costume. He didn’t stop to find out if Hugo was okay (he probably was).
The video made Brazley a minor celebrity at his mall in Metarie and at basketball games, although when I talked to him, he had never been to see the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) play. But the video itself mostly faded from memory until seven years later, in 2015, when the Internet made it into a GIF that popped up in a lot of places online. It still circulates around from time to time, even getting the Rex Chapman #BlockOrCharge treatment earlier this year:
Brazley’s smack even spawned a sequel. The New Orleans Hornets put out a similar video two years later, with the same, albeit more meta, climax:
Now, if all of this sounds a bit familiar to you, it’s because I’ve told this story before. After I talked to Brazley in 2015, I wrote up a quick narrative and pitched it to a few places. Nobody bit. So I cut bait and posted it on Kinja, which was Gawker Media’s open-to-all blogging platform. Then, I told a friend at the company about it. After that, Deadspin put it on its home page, where it got a modest number of views. Gawker Media’s not-so-great new owners nuked Kinja last year, but I grabbed the story before it went away and held on to it. Sometimes, you have to save an important piece of investigative journalism from going quietly into that good night.
If nothing else, just knowing the story behind the GIF just makes me smile. When I talked to Terry Brazley, he told me that people still came into the mall, seven years after the video debuted, and asked where they could find him. He was still proud of the smack, he said. “That was my own touch.”
h/t former mayor of Charlotte Ben Swanson (@CardboardGerald)
I, Jeremy Markovich, am a journalist, writer, and producer based outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. If you liked this, you might like Away Message, my podcast about North Carolina’s hard-to-find people, places, and things. Season 4 was all about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Author avatar by Rich Barrett.
If you enjoyed this edition of the North Carolina Rabbit Hole, share it with your friends and mash that subscribe button below.