Would I let my children sleep with a stuffed stringy-haired codger like Ben Franklin? Or do I prefer they cuddle nonhuman furry friends?

All politics is local, even contests pitting a Founding Father against a top-heavy hound and a 7-foot moose. So when contemplating which costumed creature should next represent the Philadelphia 76ers, I admit my misgivings involve merchandise:

If I'm invariably going to spend $29.99 on a Sixers Pillow Pet, which of these plush playthings is least likely to give my kids nightmares?

Snicker or snarl, but mascots mint money and endure long after pro players get arrested or traded. What a sports organization puts on a bobblehead sends a message to the masses. Halftime routines set a tone for a team and a town.

"Disney, a mammoth entertainment company, was built on the back of a tiny little mouse," notes Dave Raymond, the original Phanatic. "A mascot can be your most powerful revenue producer. It entertains whether you win or lose. It doesn't cheat on its wife."

Well, Big Ben had an illegitimate son, but should colonial indiscretions keep the supersized statesman from bringing electricity to center court?

Also in the running: B. Franklin Dogg, a pooch that can poach, and Phil E. Moose, described on www.nba.com/sixers/mascotfanvote.html as a big-time baller stoked to end his career dancing and prancing around the Wells Fargo Center.

Fans gasped at the unoriginal Hobson's choices, trash-talking the cartoonish contenders on Twitter. No one likes any of these mascots, but that may not matter. Each tweet generated more buzz about the team than anything in years.

RIP Hip-Hop

Mourn not the passing of Hip-Hop, the rabbit on 'roids sent to pasture by the new Sixers owners as the ink dried on the $280 million purchase deal. He looked more like the beastly bunny from

Donnie Darko

than a harmless hare. Mascots should draw you close. Hip-Hop repelled.

"Bravo for getting rid of the muscular rabbit," notes Peter Madden, who runs the Philadelphia marketing and branding firm AgileCat. In his 'do rag and shades, Hip-Hop, we agree, was "frightening."

"In the pros," Madden says, "you want a mascot to be friendlier, cleaner, less ironic, more go-team, go-city."

Madden suspects Big Ben has the edge, because "Philadelphians are so provincial" and no moose roam these streets. Whoever wins must "make kids and old people smile."

(Or keep them grinning, since the Sixers already gave families an early Christmas present by pricing more than 100,000 seats at $17.76 or less for home games in January.)

Last week, the team's CEO placed the mascot selection in fans' hands. This being a Philadelphia election, best to presume the winner was anointed behind closed doors long before the first vote was cast.


Seeking insight into whether moose, man, or mutt could drag the Sixers back into relevancy, I call Raymond, who these days calls himself "Emperor of Fun and Games."

Raymond was a Phillies intern in the 1970s when his boss asked him to put on a giant green costume and run around Veterans Stadium.

Now 55, the original Phanatic runs a company that solves mascot identity crises for pro teams and universities. After the Sixers, er, fans, pick a winner, he will personally train whomever wears the mask.

"It isn't what the costume looks like," Raymond demurs when I bring up fan criticisms. "It's what you do with it, who you make it."

Raymond dislikes "human costumes" ala Big Ben Franklin, saying "they look creepy." He professes no preference for paw or hoof. Because they hate change, NBA fans will hate whomever wins, he knows, but not forever.

"Kids," he says, "will like a mascot if it's soft and furry and cuddly." Adults will need convincing, a backstory about the beast, and maybe a halftime hug.

"Just like a crazy uncle or family pet," he says, "you grow to love mascots as you get to know them."