The Celtics' dunking leprechaun didn't land his dream job by chance
As team mascot Lucky the Leprechaun, Damon Lee Blust has been launching himself into his work at Celtics home games since the 2003-04 season. (Globe Staff Photo / Erik Jacobs)
At 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, the shortest member of the Boston Celtics dunks more times than any of his teammates. But instead of dribbling, he catapults off a mini-trampoline and soars through the air, executing an acrobatic flip en route to the hoop.
Still airborne, he catches the ball from a teammate, slams it, and suspends from the rim while the crowd cheers wildly. Victory again!
However, the score at the TD Banknorth Garden remains the same. For this is team mascot Lucky the Leprechaun, assisted by the Slamrocks dunk team, a circus-like trio of talented gymnasts who perform during timeouts at Celtics home games. Lucky also leads the cheers throughout the games, revving up fans. To Damon Lee Blust, who morphs into Lucky at game time -- wearing black velvet knickers, gold vest, bow tie, and bowler, all plastered with green shamrocks -- the mascot's name perfectly captures his feelings about his job.
''I wake up every day, look at my watch, and say, 'It's real,'" says Blust, now in his third season with the Celtics. At 30 years old -- yet looking far younger -- Blust did not come upon this impish job haphazardly. When he was 3, he started doing handstands on the top stairs of his parents' house, and when he frightened his mother, he'd face forward by the edge and say, ''Look, Ma, even scarier!"
''My mother said, 'This kid's gonna kill himself; I've gotta get him some formal training,' " he says, revealing an easy, warm smile and twinkling blue eyes.
She enrolled him in gymnastics classes at the YMCA in his hometown of Lancaster, Pa. Excelling quickly, he soon switched to a privately owned gym. By age 7, he began competing, and at 9, Blust made his first of what would become many newspaper headlines, winning his first all-around title in the United States Gymnastics Federation state championship. He would go on to win 10 more times and once came in third place in the federation's East Coast Region 7 championships.
At ages 11 and 13, he was one of the top 50 young gymnasts in the country selected to train at the United States Olympic Training Center.
Then something happened to the award-winning gymnast. Hormones. Girls. Rebellion. He wanted to spend less time around gyms and more time being a regular teenager, he says. He got a girl-friend and started attending more parties and fewer gymnastics practices. The other athletes edged past him for the top spots and, ultimately, he lost his chances for a full gymnastics scholarship to college. He also lost his ticket to the Olympics. His gymnastics career had, as he puts it, tumbled. ''No pun intended," he says, the devilish smile surfacing again.
After a few foundering years, Blust righted himself by coaching competitive cheerleading, dabbling in college, and working as an engineering surveyor. Finally, at age 21, he tried out for and won a job with the Bud Light Daredevils, a slam-dunk acrobatic team that performs all over the world. And he never looked back.
''Once I got the job with the Daredevils, I knew I could go on to be a mascot," he says, recalling the moment he came upon a new goal. Problem was, he'd selected ''a profession as difficult to land as an Olympic gymnast," he says.
What helped propel Blust, he says, were inherited traits. He's as driven as his mom, Linda, a former professional ice skater with the Ice Follies and Ice Capades, and as passionate as his dad, Gerry, a former semipro football player.
After about two years with the Daredevils, Blust left to work as a mascot for several teams: the Harlem Globetrotters (as Globie); the University of Memphis men's and women's basketball teams (Scratch); the Indiana Firebirds, an Arena Football League team (Spike); the Indianapolis Indians minor league baseball team (Rowdy); and a brief period with the minor league hockey club the Philadelphia Phantoms (Phlex).
He finally achieved his dream job -- one that would feature his gymnastics background -- when a boyhood gymnastics friend, now the Philadelphia 76ers mascot, told him about the Celtics opening. While Lucky had been a Celtics icon for over 50 years in a Leprechaun costume, the Celtics organization had a new plan for the 2003-04 season: an unmasked character who dazzles fans with acrobatic dunks. The job had Damon Lee Blust written all over it.
First on videotape and then in person, Blust demonstrated his remarkable athletic skills and high-energy style, and he soon secured the job, starting part time as mascot. His job, now full time, now also involves coordinating the mascot program.
Rich Gotham, executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Celtics, says ''Lucky has proven to be very popular, particularly with young fans. He's been a valuable part of the Celtics' efforts to entertain and connect with fans, both in the arena on game nights and in the community."
Blust, who lives in Newton, and his Slamrocks practice their flips, twists, and dunks several days a week in a gym at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (one Slamrock is a graduate of MIT and was on the gymnastics team). The goal is to take ''acrobatic dunking to a level no one's ever taken it," Blust says. ''I want to be the Larry Bird of my era."
He certainly pushes himself like the Celtics legend. As a gymnast, Blust once scored a 9.9 from a judge, but he always wanted to achieve the perfect 10. The first time he performed at a Celtics game, he felt he'd done so well that ''I'd finally gotten my 10, and it just happened to be jumping off the mini-trampoline at a basketball game."
To stay in shape, Blust lifts weights and does cardio workouts four or five times a week when not performing at games. As part of his job, he does dunking demonstrations or attends community events, and he participates in the Celtics' ''Read to Achieve" program and other public-service activities. Lucky also makes ''select" appearances on request and has his own ''Land of Lucky" webpage (www.nba.com/celtics/mascot).
Among his many young fans, questions about the players often come up. Yes, they're nice. Yes, they're cool. They're regular guys. And, Blust adds, ''They're as amazed at what I do as I am at what they do."
Mindy Pollack-Fusi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.