Each mascot has its factor. Some dunk. Others flip. As for Ellie the Elephant, the mascot for the New York Liberty ladies’s basketball staff? She twerks.
Amelia Bane, 33, stated she was blown away the primary time she noticed Ellie at a Liberty recreation in 2021. Ms. Bane, a video editor and a bunch of “Let the Girls Play!,” a comedic W.N.B.A. podcast, stated she recorded a video of the elephant, who has usually carried out alongside the Liberty’s dance troupe, the Torch Patrol, and despatched it to a good friend.
“You’re not going to imagine this elephant that’s simply completely throwing ass,” Ms. Bane recalled telling her good friend. (Whereas recounting the story, she excused herself for her colourful language.)
“I don’t ever need to go to the toilet throughout a recreation,” stated Ms. Bane, who lives in Brooklyn and is planning to decorate her toddler because the mascot for Halloween. “As a result of even when the sport isn’t on, Ellie is on.”
The creator Fran Lebowitz stated she was stunned to see the mascot when she and a good friend went to see the Liberty — who’re enjoying the Las Vegas Aces in Recreation 3 of the W.N.B.A. finals on Sunday — at Barclays Middle in Brooklyn this summer time.
“I fail to grasp what the elephant has to do with Brooklyn,” Ms. Lebowitz stated. “As a result of to me, it’s the Republicans which are symbolized by an elephant.”
Of Ellie’s dance expertise, she added: “She did appear to be, I assume, superb for an elephant.”
The Ellie Impact
Ellie has been a fixture at Liberty house video games since 2021, a yr after the staff relocated to Barclays Center from its earlier house, the Westchester County Middle in White Plains, N.Y., a smaller area the place they’d been enjoying since 2018. Earlier than that the Liberty, who’ve been part of the W.N.B.A. because the league debuted in 1997, performed house video games at Madison Sq. Backyard.
However this yr, after a collection of trades and draft picks resulted within the Liberty turning into a so-called superteam, Ellie’s fame has grown because the staff has played its way into the W.N.B.A.’s championship round for the primary time since 2002.
Jillian Steinhauer, 38, a journalist in Brooklyn, in contrast Ellie to members of the Fly Ladies, the in-house dance troupe from “In Residing Coloration,” a sitcom from the early Nineties.
“She’s simply so good,” she stated, “and he or she’s carrying a freaking elephant costume.”
Throughout a halftime efficiency on the opening night time of the Liberty’s 2023 season in Might, Ellie danced to a medley of hits by the rapper Lil’ Kim, who grew up in Brooklyn. She was carrying a black caped leotard, black thigh-high boots, sparkly sun shades and a luminous, golden-brown wig tucked behind her big ears.
At a efficiency the yr earlier than, Ellie channeled Mary J. Blige whereas grooving to a supercut of Ms. Blige’s hottest songs in a brown wig with crimped, 48-inch-long locks that flew by means of the air each time Ellie snapped and shook her head.
Criscia Lengthy, the senior director of leisure for the Liberty and the Brooklyn Nets, stated these wigs have been such a success that they impressed a brand new coiffure that Ellie debuted this season: a 72-inch-long braid that falls to her ft.
Ms. Lengthy added that, every season, Ellie has obtained a brand new pair of custom-made Nike sneakers for her Barclays Middle performances.
“We needed to step it up with Ellie’s foot recreation,” she stated.
Ellie has proven off her footwear whereas performing her signature dance transfer: the Ellie stomp.
Throughout the fourth quarter at house video games, the world’s lights go darkish and a highlight seems on a huddle of different dancers. “Headsprung” by LL Cool J begins booming by means of the world’s audio system, after which Ellie leaps over the dancers and lands on one foot with a thunderous stomp. The Jumbotron digital camera somersaults and shakes because the dancers fall to the bottom, seemingly knocked unconscious by the aftershock.
“The Ellie stomp completely brings the group collectively,” stated Rachel Kaly, a 28-year-old comic in Brooklyn.
She added that Ellie’s braid, customized sneakers and costumes — which have included a pink bikini worn at a Barbie-themed recreation — have made the elephant “sort of a vogue icon.”
Keia Clarke, chief government of the Liberty, stated that the W.N.B.A. has historically focused households because the league’s main viewers. Ellie, she added, “opened up a special lane that I feel we weren’t utterly anticipating from a fandom standpoint.”
The Evolution of Ellie
Ms. Clarke stated that selecting an elephant to switch the Liberty’s former mascot — a scruffy blond canine named Maddy, after Madison Sq. Backyard — had nothing to do with the Republican Get together.
Ellie, she stated, is a homage to the elephants that the circus founder P.T. Barnum paraded across the Brooklyn Bridge, in 1884, to exhibit its stability after its completion a yr earlier. Her title is a nod to Ellis Island.
An elephant, an animal that may symbolize energy and resilience, additionally appeared becoming as a result of the Liberty arrived in Brooklyn after its two worst seasons on file, Ms. Clarke stated. (The staff is owned by Clara Wu Tsai and Joe Tsai, a married couple who additionally personal the Brooklyn Nets; Mr. Tsai is a founder and the chairman of the Chinese language tech conglomerate Alibaba.)
“For Brooklyn,” Ms. Clarke added, “We knew Ellie wanted to have the ability to dance.”
“Once we thought of Brooklyn and its music and its tradition, dancing completely needed to be part of it,” she stated.
Ellie was chosen after auditions have been performed with the assistance of a mascot marketing consultant. Ever since, Ms. Clarke stated, she has continued to shock audiences together with her capability. Ellie is “a particularly gifted dancer in lots of, many alternative genres,” she stated.
Ms. Lengthy, who was a captain of the New York Knicks’ dance troupe earlier than she began working with the Liberty and the Nets, stated she has been stunned by Ellie’s strikes at “each single recreation.”
“We simply hold attempting and throwing extra issues” at her, she added. (Ellie is paid for performing with the Liberty.)
Watching Ellie dance is barely a part of her attraction, in accordance with followers, numerous whom stated they’ve additionally been charmed by her character. In interviews for this text, Ellie was described as “welcoming,” “hilarious,” “joyful,” “fierce,” “fly,” “mischievous” and “the lifetime of the social gathering.”
Mike Zakarian, 38, who hosts Team Hold!, a comedic sports-video collection on YouTube, stated that the way in which Ellie walks is nearly extra eye-catching than her dancing. “She stomps round like one thing is about to occur,” he stated. “It attracts your consideration.”
All the eye he has paid to Ellie, although, has not helped Mr. Zakarian determine the individual contained in the mascot’s costume. And he isn’t alone.
“I’ve had so many conversations like, ‘Is Ellie a person? Is Ellie a lady? Is Ellie of their 30s or of their 20s?’” stated Mr. Zakarian, who lives in Queens. “‘Is there’s a world during which Ellie was a working again in faculty? Or perhaps a Division 1 cheerleader?”
He has had conversations with a number of folks in his YouTube movies about Ellie’s identification, he stated, and whether or not there’s “a crew of Ellies” that rotate acting at video games.
“I want a podcast,” he stated. “A ‘Serial’-esque breakdown of who’s Ellie?”
Who Is Ellie?
In an interview on Monday afternoon at Barclays Middle, Ellie, who was accompanied by Ms. Lengthy, didn’t converse. (Ms. Lengthy had beforehand declined to touch upon Ellie’s identification.)
However Ellie, who was carrying a white Liberty jersey and a pair of white-and-turquoise sneakers, one in every of which had “equality” painted throughout its toe field, did reply some questions by gesturing.
Is she the most effective dancer within the W.N.B.A.? She shrugged bashfully.
Does she really feel the love from the group when she comes out? She vigorously nodded sure.
Is the Liberty going to win the championship? One other vigorous nod. (On the time of publication, the staff was down 0-2 within the best-of-five finals.)
Is she single? Ellie threw her head again as if she was laughing, then opened her arms huge.
Ms. Lengthy supplied to interpret her reply. “She’s for the followers,” she stated.
Throughout the interview, Ms. Lengthy additionally addressed one rumor concerning the mascot.
“There’s just one Ellie,” she stated in response to hypothesis that a number of folks would possibly rotate carrying the elephant costume. “There’ll solely ever be one Ellie.”