If there’s one thing that unites basketball fans in these fractured times, it is an unyielding love of Red Panda. The acrobat, whose real name is Rong Niu, has delighted spectators for years with her halftime performances, juggling bowls and plates and flicking them up atop her head with her feet, all while balancing on a rather tall unicycle.
But the basketball world is reeling this week after receiving some awful news out of San Francisco: Someone either stole Red Panda’s unicycle from a baggage-claim area at the San Francisco airport or grabbed the suitcase it was in by mistake.
This is obviously a terrible thing. For one, the custom-built unicycle is worth $25,000. For another, without the unicycle there’s no Red Panda, because who’s going to pay much attention to a plate-flipping woman who walks on two feet like some boring normal person.
“She’s heartbroken,” her agent, Pat Figley, told KTVU on Wednesday. “It’s like her baby was kidnapped. She’s had that unicycle for 30 years.”
But on Friday afternoon, the Golden State Warriors stepped in with a move that will be viewed as heroic by anyone who enjoys a quality halftime show: The team is buying Red Panda a new custom-built unicycle.
“Their generosity is just amazing,” Red Panda’s agent, Patrick Figley, told Bay Area News Group. “This cloud has been lifted. She was thrilled. She’s really really appreciative. The Warriors are a great organization.”
On Wednesday, the San Francisco Police Airport Division released surveillance photos to KTVU showing a man with a beard and ponytail rolling away luggage on a cart. Police say the man walked into the baggage claim area at the airport and took a black roller suitcase containing Red Panda’s unicycle from the baggage carousel.
Meanwhile, the college basketball world has united in support of Red Panda.
Red Panda is back on the road with a backup one-wheeler, KTVU reports, but it’s a poor substitute, apparently.
“She’s doing horribly,” Figley said. “She’s dropping bowls. She’s just not used to it. The one that was stolen was custom built for her.”
ESPN’s Seth Greenberg took note of Red Panda’s struggles during Wednesday night’s North Carolina-Clemson game. He seemed unaware of the tragedy that has befallen her.
The third sentence is true, at least.
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