Long-time Jazz Bear speaks out for first time since firing

Jan 15, 2020, 1:47 PM | Updated: 1:48 pm

jazz bear jon absey...

"Jazz Bear" Jon Absey, performing during the Utah Jazz game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at what was then-called EnergySolutions Arena on November 5, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

The man most basketball fans knew as the Jazz Bear for more than two decades is talking about his time in the suit, and why he was fired.

Jon Absey wore the Jazz Bear suit — well, there were nine of them — for almost 25 years. Until October 2018:

I was told they were going in a different direction. That was all I was told.

The Jazz Bear unmasked

Incidentally, he was also fired from his very first job as a mascot for the CBA for all those stunts he tried out.

“They thought I was either going to kill myself or kill a fan,” he said.

Absey is telling all in a new podcast called “Return to Real.” It’s the first time he’s spoken about his time in the costume since his firing.

A farm boy, Absey picked up that first mascot job at Morehouse State College for $25. One thing led to another, and he was asked to try out to be the Jazz mascot in the early 1990s.

Absey then worked more than 800 home games as the Jazz Bear. He didn’t try to be anyone else. Or act like someone else in the suit.

“I was just me. I put it on, I walk like I walk. I just did the stuff that everybody thinks about doing, but can’t,” he said.

Absey did handstands on a 23-foot tall ladder, rappeled down from the ceiling, and slid down the stairs.

No fear

He said he never feared anything he could control.

“When I put on the suit, a lot of fear went away,” said Absey.

But then he got on a bull at the Days of ’47 Rodeo.

“I remember hitting the ground, and just running. I jumped up on the bars, and then it was that ‘aha!’ moment. I went, I get it! But that’s the scaredest I’ve ever been,” he laughed.

A physical toll

Over time, the job took a toll. Absey counted up 150 stitches or staples, 10 surgeries, and 27 torn ligaments or muscles over time. But he can still do the splits at age 52.

He thought he would retire from the Jazz. But he said he realized everyone could be just one management change from being let go.

jazz bear jon absey

“Return to Real” host Neil Anderson laughs as former Jazz Bear Jon Absey recounts a run-in with legendary Utah basketball coach Jerry Sloan. Photo: Becky Bruce, KSL NewsRadio

Now he has much more time with his wife and 3 daughters. He also does a lot of charity work. And he can interact with the kids as himself now. Before, he says, he hid under a mask.

He says he feared that people only liked him because he was the Jazz Bear, but now he realizes that’s not so.

“I miss it. I miss the fans, but honestly, there’s a part of me that enjoys being home on the weekends,” he said. Because his whole career was spent working nights and weekends, and sacrificing his family and his body.

“My success is watching my children grow up,” concluded Absey.

Absey’s full conversation with “Return to Real” host Neil Anderson is available now. Subscribe and listen free anywhere you listen to podcasts. 

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.


NHL announcement...

Adam Small

How an NHL team helps Utah for the 2034 Winter Olympics

An NHL team is officially coming to Utah. How will the new franchise help a possible 2034 Olympics in our state?

3 days ago

The Delta Center shown...


League approves new NHL team in Utah, owned by Ryan, Ashley Smith

The NHL Board Of Governors approved the establishment of a new hockey franchise (previously Arizona Coyotes) in Utah by Ryan Smith.

4 days ago

photo of the Arizona Coyotes on a rink...

Kyle Ireland, KSL Sports

Coyotes express thanks for Arizona, look forward to support of Utah

Multiple Coyote players shared thanks for their time in Arizona and looked forward to the move to Utah with optimism.

4 days ago

SLCPD is reminding anyone in the city this weekend to be mindful of travel impacts during the Salt ...

Devin Oldroyd

Salt Lake City Marathon will cause travel impacts, SLCPD warns

SLCPD is reminding anyone in the city this weekend to be mindful of travel impacts during the Salt Lake City Marathon.

4 days ago

new byu head coach kevin young...

Sam Herrera and Emma Keddington

LISTEN: BYU welcomes new head coach

BYU is welcoming its new head coach for men's basketball, Kevin Young. Young comes to the university from the NBA.

4 days ago

students celebrate utah sports championship, international students in question with utah rules...

Amy Donaldson

Utah proposes ban on some international students in high school sports

A proposed new rule before the Utah High School Activities Association would bar international students from playing varsity sports in the state next year. 

5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.


Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Long-time Jazz Bear speaks out for first time since firing