Every mascot has its thing. Some dunk. Others flip. As for Ellie the Elephant, the mascot for the New York Liberty women’s basketball team? She twerks.
Amelia Bane, 33, said she was blown away the first time she saw Ellie at a Liberty game in 2021. Ms. Bane, a video editor and a host of “Let the Girls Play!,” a comedic W.N.B.A. podcast, said she recorded a video of the elephant, who has often performed alongside the Liberty’s dance troupe, the Torch Patrol, and sent it to a friend.
“You’re not going to believe this elephant that’s just absolutely throwing ass,” Ms. Bane recalled telling her friend. (While recounting the story, she excused herself for her colorful language.)
“I don’t ever want to go to the bathroom during a game,” said Ms. Bane, who lives in Brooklyn and is planning to dress her infant as the mascot for Halloween. “Because even if the game isn’t on, Ellie is on.”
The author Fran Lebowitz said she was surprised to see the mascot when she and a friend went to see the Liberty — who are playing the Las Vegas Aces in Game 3 of the W.N.B.A. finals on Sunday — at Barclays Center in Brooklyn this summer.
“I fail to understand what the elephant has to do with Brooklyn,” Ms. Lebowitz said. “Because to me, it’s the Republicans that are symbolized by an elephant.”
Of Ellie’s dance skills, she added: “She did seem to be, I guess, very good for an elephant.”
The Ellie Effect
Ellie has been a fixture at Liberty home games since 2021, a year after the team relocated to Barclays Center from its previous home, the Westchester County Center in White Plains, N.Y., a smaller arena where they had been playing since 2018. Before that the Liberty, who have been a part of the W.N.B.A. since the league debuted in 1997, played home games at Madison Square Garden.
But this year, after a series of trades and draft picks resulted in the Liberty becoming a so-called superteam, Ellie’s fame has grown as the team has played its way into the W.N.B.A.’s championship round for the first time since 2002.
Jillian Steinhauer, 38, a journalist in Brooklyn, compared Ellie to members of the Fly Girls, the in-house dance troupe from “In Living Color,” a sitcom from the early 1990s.
“She’s just so good,” she said, “and she’s wearing a freaking elephant costume.”
During a halftime performance on the opening night of the Liberty’s 2023 season in May, Ellie danced to a medley of hits by the rapper Lil’ Kim, who grew up in Brooklyn. She was wearing a black caped leotard, black thigh-high boots, sparkly sunglasses and a luminous, golden-brown wig tucked behind her giant ears.
At a performance the year before, Ellie channeled Mary J. Blige while grooving to a supercut of Ms. Blige’s most popular songs in a brown wig with crimped, 48-inch-long locks that flew through the air whenever Ellie snapped and shook her head.
Criscia Long, the senior director of entertainment for the Liberty and the Brooklyn Nets, said those wigs were such a hit that they inspired a new hairstyle that Ellie debuted this season: a 72-inch-long braid that falls to her feet.
Ms. Long added that, each season, Ellie has received a new pair of customized Nike sneakers for her Barclays Center performances.
“We had to step it up with Ellie’s foot game,” she said.
Ellie has shown off her footwear while performing her signature dance move: the Ellie stomp.
During the fourth quarter at home games, the arena’s lights go dark and a spotlight appears on a huddle of other dancers. “Headsprung” by LL Cool J starts booming through the arena’s speakers, and then Ellie leaps over the dancers and lands on one foot with a thunderous stomp. The Jumbotron camera somersaults and shakes as the dancers fall to the ground, seemingly knocked unconscious by the aftershock.
“The Ellie stomp totally brings the crowd together,” said Rachel Kaly, a 28-year-old comedian in Brooklyn.
She added that Ellie’s braid, custom sneakers and costumes — which have included a pink bikini worn at a Barbie-themed game — have made the elephant “kind of a fashion icon.”
Keia Clarke, chief executive of the Liberty, said that the W.N.B.A. has traditionally targeted families as the league’s primary audience. Ellie, she added, “opened up a different lane that I think we weren’t completely expecting from a fandom standpoint.”
The Evolution of Ellie
Ms. Clarke said that choosing an elephant to replace the Liberty’s former mascot — a scruffy blond dog named Maddy, after Madison Square Garden — had nothing to do with the Republican Party.
Ellie, she said, is a homage to the elephants that the circus founder P.T. Barnum paraded across the Brooklyn Bridge, in 1884, to demonstrate its stability after its completion a year earlier. Her name is a nod to Ellis Island.
An elephant, an animal that can symbolize power and resilience, also seemed fitting because the Liberty arrived in Brooklyn after its two worst seasons on record, Ms. Clarke said. (The team is owned by Clara Wu Tsai and Joe Tsai, a married couple who also own the Brooklyn Nets; Mr. Tsai is a founder and the chairman of the Chinese tech conglomerate Alibaba.)
“For Brooklyn,” Ms. Clarke added, “We knew Ellie needed to be able to dance.”
“When we thought about Brooklyn and its music and its culture, dancing absolutely had to be a part of it,” she said.
Ellie was chosen after auditions were conducted with the help of a mascot consultant. Ever since, Ms. Clarke said, she has continued to surprise audiences with her ability. Ellie is “an extremely talented dancer in many, many different genres,” she said.
Ms. Long, who was a captain of the New York Knicks’ dance troupe before she started working with the Liberty and the Nets, said she has been surprised by Ellie’s moves at “every single game.”
“We just keep trying and throwing more things” at her, she added. (Ellie is paid for performing with the Liberty.)
Watching Ellie dance is only part of her appeal, according to fans, lots of whom said they have also been charmed by her personality. In interviews for this article, Ellie was described as “welcoming,” “hilarious,” “joyful,” “fierce,” “fly,” “mischievous” and “the life of the party.”
Mike Zakarian, 38, who hosts Team Hold!, a comedic sports-video series on YouTube, said that the way Ellie walks is almost more eye-catching than her dancing. “She stomps around like something is about to happen,” he said. “It draws your attention.”
All the attention he has paid to Ellie, though, has not helped Mr. Zakarian identify the person inside the mascot’s costume. And he is not alone.
“I’ve had so many conversations like, ‘Is Ellie a man? Is Ellie a woman? Is Ellie in their 30s or in their 20s?’” said Mr. Zakarian, who lives in Queens. “‘Is there is a world in which Ellie was a running back in college? Or maybe a Division 1 cheerleader?”
He has had conversations with multiple people in his YouTube videos about Ellie’s identity, he said, and whether there is “a crew of Ellies” that rotate performing at games.
“I need a podcast,” he said. “A ‘Serial’-esque breakdown of who is Ellie?”
Who Is Ellie?
In an interview on Monday afternoon at Barclays Center, Ellie, who was accompanied by Ms. Long, did not speak. (Ms. Long had previously declined to comment on Ellie’s identity.)
But Ellie, who was wearing a white Liberty jersey and a pair of white-and-turquoise sneakers, one of which had “equality” painted across its toe box, did answer some questions by gesturing.
Is she the best dancer in the W.N.B.A.? She shrugged bashfully.
Does she feel the love from the crowd when she comes out? She vigorously nodded yes.
Is the Liberty going to win the championship? Another vigorous nod. (At the time of publication, the team was down 0-2 in the best-of-five finals.)
Is she single? Ellie threw her head back as if she was laughing, then opened her arms wide.
Ms. Long offered to interpret her answer. “She’s for the fans,” she said.
During the interview, Ms. Long also addressed one rumor about the mascot.
“There’s only one Ellie,” she said in response to speculation that multiple people might rotate wearing the elephant costume. “There will only ever be one Ellie.”