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Grievance Filed Against Suns Mascot

March 27, 1999 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) _ The NBA Players Association has filed a complaint on behalf of Sacramento Kings player Oliver Miller against the Phoenix Suns for a skit the team’s mascot The Gorilla did making fun over Miller’s weight.

``For an obese, black ugly ape to portray a professional African-American basketball player was very offensive,″ Miller’s agent, Jeff Blakely, said.

Harvey Shank, senior vice president for corporate sales for the Suns, issued a statement Friday saying the skit ``was one in a long line of 18 years worth of parodies of coaches and players performed by the premier mascot in all of team sports.″


``There was no malicious intent in what The Gorilla did,″ Shank said. ``It was simply spoofing a professional athlete whose livelihood is made by his athletic prowess. We are certainly sorry if this affected him detrimentally at all, and we wish him well in controlling any weight problem he may have.″

It wasn’t known whether the apology would satisfy Miller, who hasn’t ruled out a lawsuit, Blakely said.

The skit was performed during a timeout of an Feb. 9 game between the Kings and Suns at America West Arena.

The Gorilla came onto the court about double his normal girth, wearing a Kings’ No. 8 jersey with Miller’s name on it.

After several weight-related antics, The Gorilla tumbled to the floor, couldn’t get up and had to be rolled off the court as the crowd roared. Even some of the Kings players laughed.

Blakely, who witnessed the skit, said Miller was mortified, especially because his children and in-laws were in the crowd.

``I saw Oliver during the incident and I could tell it was very demoralizing, very demeaning,″ Blakely said. ``It hit him very hard.″

Blakely has said that the incident worsened Miller’s condition, causing him to become even more overweight. Miller, listed at 370 pounds but probably heavier than that, is on the Kings’ injured list with back spasms.

Blakely also said it seems odd for a team in the NBA, in which most players are black, would have a black gorilla as a mascot.

Suns forward Cliff Robinson, who is black, said he doesn’t see The Gorilla, or the Miller skit, as racist.

``I find what he does to be quite funny,″ Robinson said. ``I didn’t think it (the skit) was racist. At the time, everybody laughed.″