At the beginning of the 2021-2022 NBA season, fans began to notice that Rocky, the beloved mountain lion mascot of the Denver Nuggets, seemed a little different. The mascot's patented backward half-court shot was falling much less often than it had in the past. And Rocky's energy just seemed to have changed.
It was no wonder: Kenn Solomon, the man inside the Rocky suit since 1990 — the year the mountain lion was born — and a 2008 Mascot Hall of Fame inductee, had retired, handing off Rocky's paws to his successor.
Solomon was a tough act to follow. As one of the most electric entertainers ever to grace an NBA game, Solomon certainly goes down as an obvious choice for the mascot Mount Rushmore. He's also one of the greatest backward half-court shooters ever — even when garbed in mountain lion gear.
Kroenke Sports and Entertainment has always been skittish to talk about the people inside the suits of Rapid Man, Bernie, Wooly, Gunnersaurus and Rocky, and so they failed to reveal publicly — despite its being quite the lovely public relations layup of a story — that Solomon had handed off the large paws of Rocky to his real-life son, Drake Solomon. Drake had worked for the Nuggets as an entertainer who dunked from a trampoline during breaks in play. Westword broke the news of the Rocky switch in November 2021.
However, the story of Kenn Solomon didn't end there. With eight more lives remaining, he couldn't sit still.
Now, Kenn can be spotted in Ball Arena at Nuggets games, but not in the Rocky suit (which, by the way, is 5'10" with a tail length of three feet). The OG Rocky and the real-life father of the man currently gracing the Rocky suit is now serving as an omnipresent assistant to the mascot during Nuggets games.
Neither Kroenke Sports and Entertainment nor Kenn Solomon returned requests for comment on this story.
But on the night of January 9, when the Nuggets easily beat a Los Angeles Lakers team that was without both LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the story was easy to see: The Solomon family patriarch greeted fans sitting in seats both courtside and also near the tunnel where Rocky comes out during intermissions. He wore a headset just like the one that his other son, Cade, wears as Rocky's chief handler during games. Meanwhile, Kenn's third son, Garrett, has been working as Hooper, the mascot for the Detroit Pistons.
It's definitely a family affair.
During the game between the Nuggets and the Lakers, Kenn took on a similar role to Cade's, helping Rocky navigate the floor and participate in various stunts. For example, both Kenn and Cade helped guide an inflatable tower with Rocky hidden inside to half-court. As soon as the tower inflated, Rocky burst out.
Sporting a purple-dyed soul patch, Kenn was also there right next to Rocky as he attempted to drain a backward half-court shot during the fourth quarter of the game. Like a coach teaching a player how to perfect a jump shot, Kenn was either providing verbal guidance to Rocky or, at the very least, serving as a calming presence. Sadly, though, Rocky didn't end up hitting the half-court shot that night.
But although the mascot is not as good — yet— at nailing the shot as Dad was, Rocky appears to be improving over the course of this season. And Nuggets fans surely want to see their mountain lion cub continue to improve, since it's going to be a long season. After all, the Nikola Jokic-led squad looks poised to make a run at an NBA championship.