He's Definitely Not Elton John's Typical Rocket Man

By: Emily Haggstrom Issue: Sports Section: Collaborator Profile

But When it Comes Down to the Final Seconds…He’s Clutch

Rocket Man

It’s only actually been 46 minutes but the heat is sweltering. Like a summer day in the desert. Your heart is beating in your chest and in your head. Screams echo around you from every direction, but you can’t escape it. It’s holding you there. You writhe and you jump and you squirm. Sweat starts to drip down your face. More screams. It’s starting to get crazy but you can’t speak. You can’t form words. Your body just feels heavy, trapped in with the heat. Your motions start to become exaggerated, ugh…more heat; it just won’t end. You need water. You tell yourself, “just two more minutes.” Then the screams start again, and the noise. It’s electrifying. Sweat continues to fall and all of a sudden, you forget the noise. Forget that you can’t speak and you jump up and down since it’s all you can do. Because the score is 102-102 with 2 minutes left and a home court advantage. The crowd is up on their feet exhilarated, the guys on the bench are clenching their towels up around their eyes and the players on the court are panting in exhaustion trying to win the game. You’re the 6th man; it’s up to you to rally the team and the fans. You’ve gotta’ be Clutch in the last minute. Go, Go, GO!

1995 proved to be the pivotal season that turned the tables for the Houston Rockets organization and inspired the idea for the future mascot Clutch. Houstonians who have seen a Rockets basketball game are sure to know who Clutch is, and even if they aren’t interested in basketball they probably still know him well. Standing tall at 6’ 8”, Clutch, the Rockets loveable obese teddy bear is a huge presence at all home games and a Toyota Center staple. While players have come and gone throughout the seasons, Clutch is always there giving out hugs and performing high jinks on the court and in the stands.

One thing for sure is that it isn’t easy being Clutch. Nobody knows this better than Robert Boudwin. Why? Because he is Clutch. Boudwin is a self-proclaimed class clown and center of attention. He is almost enthusiastic to a fault. The amount of energy that he exudes regularly as Boudwin is unbelievable, so one can only assume it doubles ten-fold when he is in character and on the court. He genuinely loves his job. And I mean really loves his job; so much that it becomes him (literally in Boudwin’s case), causing him giddy childhood excitement and sparking a tone that makes you feel like you could soar to the moon. It’s infectious and people across America have caught his fever.

It is evident through the amount of accolades and awards he has won, especially his 2009 Mascot Leadership Award, a distinction voted on by his peers. The honor is awarded to the mascot who acts as a leader within the profession, throughout their community and goes above and beyond to help their fellow colleagues by exchanging best practices and sharing ideas. He’s also been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame and voted first ever National Basketball Association (NBA) Mascot of the Year.

Everyone wants a piece of the fearless furry leader and he makes himself completely accessible to any and everyone.

Everyone wants a piece of the fearless furry leader and he makes himself completely accessible to any and everyone. However, no one enjoys time with the large teddy bear more than the kids at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, who are partners with the Rockets organization. Clutch along with his tireless trainer, visit the kids and distribute complimentary books, written by Boudwin himself, that tell the tale of Clutch’s experiences at the hospital. Together they make bedside visits to meet the children individually, hear their stories and give them the chance to be led into Clutch’s world of screaming fans, hilarious shenanigans and warmhearted hugs.

Boudwin’s leadership expands further into the community where he is regularly scheduled to make appearances at elementary schools across the greater Houston area, promoting education and drug awareness. Because children love and respond well to Clutch, Boudwin has used his platform as a conduit to inspire and motivate them to build their futures. Originally schools had approached him to do the visits and more or less steered him in the direction of topics that were critical to youth in the area. As the requests continued, message-filled appearances began to develop out of necessity. “At that time we thought, 'We needed to do something here, as opposed to just showing up and throwing out T-shirts.' We needed to figure out how to deliver a message,” he said. Boudwin and his trainer started creating customized shows that highlighted the importance of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills; the Just Say No program that coincides with anti-drug week; a character building show to discourage bullying; and a show to promote healthy lifestyle choices, to name a few.

Beyond the classroom and out in the community, Boudwin teams up with Rockets players and various local organizations to plant trees and promote green week. Clutch even goes green for the event. During NBA’s “Green Week” the usually grey bear dons a fuzzy green suit instead to leverage support for the leagues efforts to raise money and awareness regarding environmental issues. Most recently Clutch has partnered with Republic Services, a waste management company, to teach kids the importance of recycling. Boudwin uses Clutch as a vehicle to educate and entertain children while instilling a sense of responsibility in them.

Boudwin uses Clutch as a vehicle to educate and entertain children while instilling a sense of responsibility in them. He feels by adding the aspect of fun it reinforces the messages he delivers.

And be sure that Boudwin is full of fun - riding Ferris wheels for 24 hours straight, spending 112 hours or 4.6 days on the roof of the Toyota Center in support of a Rockets playoff berth, and running a 5K in his 19 pound Clutch suit to promote health and fitness! At Rockets home games he performs improvisational stunts reeling through the air on rollerblades or off trampolines, or running through the crowd acting like a giant loveable cheerleader - he never stops moving. He is the Rockets biggest fan. Although the game is only 48 minutes long the whole experience can last hours. Mascots like Clutch are perfect tools for these franchise brands. Without them, teams would struggle and the organization would appear less in the community. It’s a value the players can’t create when they are on the road full time. Clutch reaches out to the community as an interactive billboard for the organization living, breathing and teaching Rockets basketball.

Though Clutch and Boudwin are a great team, nothing can take away the experience the players bring. “Nobody’s cooler than Yao Ming,” he says, “He’s such a large personality physically and personally. Kids are in awe of him.” So while the players, cheerleaders, mascot and entertainment staff all play crucial roles, none would be as strong without the other. “The Rockets organization is a brilliant example of teamwork and leadership. When the players step up, Clutch steps up, and the front office really works hard to make sure the players know they have fans behind them,” Boudwin says. So while the players are leaders on the court, setting an example of teamwork, Clutch leads the fans in the seats.

So while the players are leaders on the court, setting an example of teamwork, Clutch leads the fans in the seats.

Through collective teamwork and combining their diverse leadership roles, the Rockets organization is a competing force within the NBA franchise system for the work they do on and off the court. “Our owner Les Alexander started with a vision 15 years ago. He wanted to add value to the game and to the fan experience. He put the resources behind his vision and I’m thankful that I got lucky enough to come into this situation and I’m thankful that he provides me regularly, the on-going resources to do so. Whether it’s support internally, the time during the games, or the support financially he is the man behind everything in this organization.” And while Alexander gave the Rockets organization a solid vision, he gave its mascot a stage to perform on; but it’s Boudwin that really makes Clutch shine.

“I love this job. I love it. It’s not just what I do, it’s who I am. I eat breathe and sleep this stuff,” he pauses and then chuckles to himself, “It’s a little bit of an obsession. It’s not just what I do to pay the bills.” With that Boudwin hangs up the phone and he’s off again; doing what he loves, being the Rockets 6th man.

For more information or to schedule Clutch for a future event please call 713.758.7347 or visit www.rockets.com.