Dunk team coach, former NBA mascot pays it forward

Dave Eberhard, far right, poses for a family photo with his daughter Sadey, far left, wife Rachelle, son Owen, daughter Adalye and sons Clay and Jonathan. (Dave Eberhard)

David “Dave” Eberhard worked tediously at his desk, managing the marketing plans for BYU sports teams. He mumbled aloud his thoughts and schedule for the day, not noticing how audible it was to those around him. He needed to head to dunk team practice right after his next meeting.

When he arrived at practice, Eberhard trotted across the court, picking up the pace as he approached the miniature trampoline. His feet met the trampoline, launching his rotating body through the air before slamming the basketball through the hoop. Now, it was time for the BYU dunk team members to try. Eberhard, however, needed to head home to read bedtime stories to his 2- and 3-year-old children.

Eberhard helped his wife bathe their two youngest children before gathering his family for prayer and tucking his five children into bed. He cleaned the house, did laundry, completed other household chores and spent time with his wife once the kids were asleep to finish off his day of business, basketball and bedtime stories.

Dave Eberhard facilitates the lighting of the Y on senior night against New Mexico State Nov. 17, 2018. (Tyler Rostedt)

This day is typical for Eberhard, who assumes many roles at home and at BYU. He is a full-time marketing coordinator for BYU Athletics, a volunteer coach for both Team Cosmo and the BYU dunk team, a husband and a father to five children.

Before working at BYU, Eberhard was a professional NBA mascot and dunker. Jon Absey, who was the Utah Jazz Bear for 25 years, dunked with Eberhard for the Jazz.

“He motivated everybody on the dunk team, plus he’s one of the original guys,” Absey said. “He’s the guy who created the dunk team for the Utah Jazz.”

The Jazz dunk team became Eberhard’s home base between other career ventures in the NBA and around the world. He took a job with the Milwaukee Bucks as a professional mascot before returning to the Jazz.

“He came back and continued to dunk on our dunk team and was probably one of the better dunkers of the whole crew,” Absey said. “To this day (he) is probably still one of the most athletic guys I know.”

Dave Eberhard does a trick on the Great Wall of China in 2004. Eberhard formed a dunk team that performed around the world. (Dave Eberhard)

Eberhard finished his degree at UVU and created his own entertainment company while dunking for the Jazz. He traveled alone for a year as Thrilla Gorilla, a mascot he created to start his company. He became lonely, so he formed a dunk team that traveled the world to perform in countries like Mexico, Canada, China, England and Spain.

After these adventures, Eberhard returned to being a professional mascot, this time for the Miami Heat. According to Absey, Eberhard was the first mascot in the Heat franchise to do a backflip in a suit.

Eberhard shared one of his favorite memories from his time as a professional mascot.

“I love to hug people,” Eberhard said. “I remember this one in particular, this lady who was up on the upper concourse level. I gave her a hug, and the connection there was like this lady needed this hug.”

Dave Eberhard, left, sits in suit as Burnie next to Stuff the Magic Dragon during his time as the mascot for the Miami Heat, 2006. (Dave Eberhard)

Eberhard described the woman as an older lady and said he felt she was alone and had been reaching out and looking for something, causing him to act out of character.

“I usually don’t talk in character, but I did it this time,” Eberhard said. “I said, ‘Hey, I want you to know that you are loved,’ and she started crying. I was kind of emotional on the inside as well. She looked at me and was like, ‘I can’t tell you how much I needed that.’ It was just such a tender moment.”

Eberhard returned to the Jazz again after working for the Heat and still remembers the exact day he began his career as a marketing coordinator at BYU: Aug. 13, 2007. He continued to dunk with the Jazz until 2012.

Cosmo’s Dunk Team

Around the 2009-10 basketball season, Eberhard started the student dunk team Cosmo’s Dunk Team because of his experience with acrobatic dunking. He said the number of acrobatic students greatly increased as the program grew. He thought the students and fans would enjoy dunking, so he tracked down some trampolines and mats to start practicing.

Dave Eberhard soars toward the basket while dunking for the Utah Jazz in 2009. (Dave Eberhard)

“The guys were having fun with it, and they got better and better,” Eberhard said. “Eventually, we had opportunities to perform halftime shows or little shows off-campus and stuff. It just kept snowballing into more requests and more opportunities.”

BYU alum Travis Carter joined the dunk team in Fall Semester 2013. Carter was a member of the team until he graduated in 2018 and still finds opportunities to be involved.

“They’re going to China in May, and they have approval for alumni to go as well,” Carter said. “So, I am going with them … and I practice with them like once a week for that show.”

Carter followed in Eberhard’s footsteps and began dunking for the Utah Jazz before graduating from BYU. He is still a member of the Jazz dunk team and hopes to become a professional mascot one day.

Travis Carter dunks at halftime of the BYU vs. Gonzaga basketball game Feb. 28, 2016. (Travis Carter)

“I plan on dunking as long as I can, and being a professional mascot eventually … is definitely my dream career,” Carter said. “Dave influenced that a lot. Him talking about what he did in the NBA and everything made me realize that was something I really wanted to do.”

However, becoming a professional mascot can often cost a person’s identity. A former BYU student and former Cosmo also mentored by Eberhard is an example.

“My grandparents and aunts and uncles don’t even know about this job,” the BYU and Cosmo alum said about his current professional mascot position.

The alum said Eberhard helped him network in the professional league, which helped him land his job. He was invited to two other professional mascot tryouts that didn’t work out before finally securing his current role. He is under strict confidentiality clauses with his profession and, therefore, must remain anonymous.

“(Eberhard) showed me the possibility of making my talents and hobbies into a career,” the alum said. “I didn’t only have to influence people like this for college, but I could then carry this on and influence people and bring smiles to faces for my full-time job.”

Dave Eberhard stands with Cosmo at the 2018 BYU vs. New Mexico State game. Eberhard is a volunteer coach for Team Cosmo. (Tyler Rostedt)

Both Eberhard and the alum emphasized that having an influence on others through service is at the heart of being a mascot. The alum shared a special experience he had as Cosmo while caroling to children at the Provo hospital.

“I was in suit because everybody else was good at singing, and I can’t carry a tune,” the alum said. “It was such a cool experience to stand there and just listen to fellow BYU students sing to these kids one at a time in their rooms … It was amazing to be a part of … and silently observe. It was one of the only times I’ve cried in suit.”

Eberhard said the service aspect is what he loves about Team Cosmo and the dunk team. He wants to expand the team’s positive influence on children.

“For me, I love this because it is a way to give back, to serve in the community, to help people,” Eberhard said. “I am trying to magnify even this opportunity and other ways to help fill a need of a lot of children out there that I know are hurting or needing help or even just need more life skills.”

Cougar Strong

Cosmo and the dunk team have become involved with Cougar Strong, a program involving student athletes attending K–12 schools to promote physical, mental and social strength. Cougar Strong Volunteer Coordinator Tom Gourley said the student athletes talk to the 700–1,000 students for about 20 minutes about these topics before giving 20 minutes to Cosmo and the dunk team to perform and entertain the children.

“That combination has been very, very successful,” Gourley said. “The teachers and administrators at the schools just can’t thank us enough for leaving a good message with the kids as well as being very entertaining.”

BYU student and dunk team member Andrew Baird dunks at a Cougar Strong assembly at Foothill Elementary in Orem. Dave Eberhard, far left, is seen giving him a thumbs-up. (Lisa Baird)

Eberhard said he hopes to further the program by building a kid-friendly website to help teach life skills and study habits. He also wants to involve professionals, such as psychologists and those who are good at influencing others, so the message of the program is clearer to the students.

“I want this to be a program that is looked at by the government who says, ‘Wow, this is amazing. I can’t believe what’s happening to your kids and what you’re doing for your kids. We want to implement this worldwide, or throughout our nation,'” Eberhard said. “I want it to be so well thought-out that other people can adopt it and take it, that it’s a no-brainer because it helps people.”

While he doesn’t dunk as much as he used to, Eberhard still finds time to balance his responsibilities as a coordinator, coach, mentor and father. He said he seeks to give back what has been given to him.

“I didn’t have a lot growing up,” Eberhard said. “I recognize the hand of the Lord in my life, and I have been very blessed. So, I love to give back. I love to build what has been built in me.”

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