When you think of LeBron James, what’s the first animal that comes to mind? Is it a lion, on account of the Lakers star’s self-proclaimed nickname of “King?” Is it a goat, for his status as arguably the greatest of all time?
Or is it a giraffe, after two Instagram artists went viral earlier this year upon the discovery of their account, in which every photo posted by LeBron is re-imagined with him photoshopped as cartoon giraffe, LeRaffe James?
No, I’m not kidding, they’ve done the above for most of James’ posts since July 10, 2019, with each one taking an estimated “two to four hours” for the creators of the account, one who asked to be identified by the pseudonym of “Maso Rich” and his creative partner, artist Leo Arilla.
“We turn them out pretty quickly. We try to get everything posted within 24 hours of LeBron posting,” Rich said in a phone interview last October, the day his account really began to take off. After a post on the Lakers subreddit took their account “from about 1,500 to almost 4,000” followers in October of 2019, It has now reached over 147,000, being featured on various news outlets, with LeRaffe himself even being featured in the background of ESPN’s “Pardon The Interruption.”
But I’m sure the question most had when they became aware of the LeRaffe James account was not “how long does this take” or “how many followers does the account have now?” No, what you really want to know is probably similar to what I called Rich to ask that day: Why would you do this, and why would you pick a giraffe?
“Giraffe because basketball players are tall,” Rich said. “Why LeBron? There’s a couple answers to that. One, LeBron is the most famous basketball player. Two, I am from Miami and my love for basketball stems from the Miami Heat, and when LeBron was there, it was the best years of basketball.
“Another reason why I chose LeBron is because he is a role model. This is a person who is looking out for his communities, looking out for the people in the world, he does not get caught up in the media doing bad things. He’s always a family man. This is a man that is exemplary.”
But then, I asked Rich if he knew about the Lakers’ history of being linked to the tallest mammal that currently walks the earth.
“I was not aware. I had no idea,” Rich said. “Like I told you I chose giraffes because basketball players are tall.”
Rich isn’t alone, as not many are aware of the urban legend of the Lakers giraffe logo, and the quest to determine whether or not it’s real.
Like LeBron, I too have also been compared to giraffes. For a lot longer than he has, in fact; it’s probably the only thing I’m more successful at than him. Unlike LeBron, it’s not for the flattering reasons Rich listed above. I have a long neck, a fact that became apparent when I used to do livestreams for this very website (no, I didn’t quit because people started calling me a giraffe in the comments). It’s a comparison I’ve mostly embraced. Giraffes are fascinating, and it’s good for everyone to be able to laugh at themselves. Plus, the various, creative ways I’ve been photoshopped are pretty hysterical.
This admittedly self-indulgent personal anecdote has a point, I promise. Because of the comparisons over the years, I’ve become well-versed on two things: giraffe facts (did you know the giraffe has the largest heart of any land mammal?), and that a mysterious giraffe head version of the Lakers logo exists on the internet, and no one seemed to know whether or not it’s actually official.
Take a look, it’s gloriously retro.
But while the Lakers are obviously cowards for not just replacing their actual logo with this, there is also some level of debate about how legit the giraffe is. Reddit user LeoLaker actually did a long dive into the history of the elusive logo and his quest to discover the origins of it two years ago, chock-full of tons of information on where the logo has shown up during history, that essentially boils down to what I don’t think is a stretch to call of the greatest paragraphs ever written in the history of human civilization:
Something to note: the Lakers have never had an official mascot. The closest we’ve gotten is a guy named Dancing Barry who was paid $200 per game to dance during the fourth quarter of games from 1983-1989 along with Jack Nicholson and the rest of our celebrities. Others say the Laker Girls are our mascot since we were the first NBA team to have cheerleaders. Giraffes have never been mentioned or referred to by the Lakers in any way outside of this logo.
Whether or not this logo is “real” — as in whether the Lakers used it or not — has always been conjecture based on its appearance on some Fleer basketball cards from the 1960s and an old scan of it popping up in an ad promoting a game between the Lakers and Syracuse Nationals in the same decade.
But after considering a few theories on why this logo was so sparsely used and has been potentially erased from history, LeoLaker ended his post on a bittersweet note.
“So now the consensus is that at this point, it’s just an Internet ‘inside joke’ type of thing,” LeoLaker wrote. “Unfortunately, however, besides these few internet references and various pieces of photographic evidence, the Giraffe does not exist, at least not in the minds of mainstream society and not according to the Los Angeles Lakers or the NBA. But I love it.”
The debate over the logo’s legitimacy hasn’t stopped it from developing a bit of a cult following, though. A couple of graphic designers have made attempts to modernize the design, a group of Redditors did a “group buy” of some shirts with the logo on it together and yes, someone even photoshopped me onto it at one point. Now it’s become (inadvertently) combined with LeBron to great social media success, so maybe it doesn’t need to be official to be real for those of us who love the urban legend.
Still, even if all that is true, the question still begs asking: Was it ever a real logo used by the team, and if so, will they ever use it again?
Sadly, a Lakers spokesperson said that the logo has never been official. However, that denial doesn’t mean it won’t ever be.
I've heard whispers that the Lakers have looked into bringing back the giraffe and putting it on some gear (although not jerseys, sadly). It’s not clear how the pandemic, NBA shutdown, restart, championship and possibly shortened next season will affect those discussions, but this year, the giraffe logo was probably as close to being real as it’s ever been.
But whether it ultimately ends up on a shooting shirt, some limited edition merch, or anywhere else, the continued quest for truth about the Lakers Giraffe has proved it has staying power. It’s official in the hearts and minds of obsessive weirdos like myself, and in the end, isn’t that all that matters?
There is also love for it inside the Lakers’ facilities. Earlier this year, like those Redditors before them, a few Lakers staffers posted photos on their Instagram stories of shirts they’d also done a group buy of, proudly holding up that awkwardly smiling giraffe logo on a t-shirt like a player displaying their jersey at a press conference. The giraffe’s decades-long long migration across the planes of Instagram, Reddit, Photoshop and word of mouth had finally come to an end in El Segundo. Unfortunately, I didn’t screenshot the posts and they have since expired into the social media ether. Like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster, this mythical creature is sometimes hard to capture on camera.
But whether it’s ever officially acknowledged or not, the logo had actually made it in the building, a lot closer than most urban legends ever come to reality. Maybe that’s as real as it needs to be.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.