The Secret Life of Joe Bruin
Published Oct 1, 2008 8:00 AM
Rushing into the posh eatery 30 minutes late, I trip over a hot starlet and her agent before spotting my quarry. Even in fluffy, soft, luscious new fur, he manages to look square-jawed and rugged.
His entourage sits on either side, murmuring quietly and checking their iPhones as he bends his ear to them.
"Sorry," I offer, "traffic was a snarl in the Cahuenga Pass."
He gives me a gracious, forgiving nod.
My hand fumbles as I switch on the recorder. Reporters rarely get to peek into the everyday life of Joe Bruin. Sure, everyone sees him cheering on the field or waving to the kids from the court. But what happens after the game?
I nervously jump in with a question: "A woman back at the office wanted me to ask about you and Josephine ...?"
Joe's people suddenly fall silent and still. Joe tilts his head wearily, checks his watch and looks to the woman at his right. He rises, graciously pats my shoulder and then leaves the building without a word. Most of his entourage follows, but the woman remains seated.
She clears her throat. "Joe and Josie are tremendous friends and a great support to each other," she says, smiling patiently, "but they don't discuss their relationship with the press."
"Should I not have asked?"
"Oh no," she says, patting my hand reassuringly. "He's used to the questions. He left because he's on a tight schedule today. But I can help you with your story."
As it turns out, Joe and Josephine have busy personal-appearance schedules. Joe headed off today to rub elbows with executives at a corporate convention. Later in the week, he'll wish a young Bruin fan the best at her Bat Mitzvah, help alumni raise scholarship funds at a dinner and greet guests at a retirement party.
When the weekend rolls around, Joe will drop in at a wedding reception, where he's been asked to cut in on the bride and groom's first dance. Once, Joe even led the UCLA alumni, staff and student contingent in Los Angeles' gay pride parade.
"Is there anything Joe won't do?" I ask.
"He'll attempt to be at every event he can, so long as it has UCLA flair," she says. "But we do sometimes draw the line. Joe was asked to come to a funeral once, but he said no. We just didn't think it was appropriate for the mourners."
She adds that Joe has a good reason for keeping himself so busy. "New threads don't come free." Proceeds from personal appearances helped buy Joe and Josephine six badly needed new suits, which premiered during last year's basketball season.
Outfitting a Bruin can be expensive, but worth it. "They just look amazing, especially on TV." That's important as Joe has been asked again to compete in Capital One's annual mascot challenge, which includes Web and television appearances.
New fur is just one of the expenses Joe and Josephine incur as they go about their busy, spirited and increasingly high-profile lives. In fact, Joe and Josephine are taking their places with more established stars. Over the past five years, Joe, Josephine and the UCLA Spirit Squad have been invited to appear at cultural festivals and parades in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
"Hands down, Joe is the most popular mascot," Joe's assistant says. "They go crazy for Joe in China; he steals the show. He's as popular as Mickey Mouse."