Delaware County’s Bill Roth—past Olympic hopeful and alter ego of former Sixers mascot Hip Hop—rises to a new challenge
by Bill Donahue


For 14 years Bill Roth was “the man behind the mask” as Hip Hop, an acrobatic, muscle-bound rabbit who faithfully served as mascot for the Philadelphia 76ers till last year, when new ownership came in and decided to part ways with the character.  


As Hip Hop, Roth used his gymnastic expertise and charisma to entertain the throngs during Sixers home games. He also made as many as 350 appearances away from the arena each year, to children’s hospitals, fitness events and other events built around the character. Roth’s list of accomplishments, however, far exceeds his time as an emissary for two pro sports teams. (He also worked for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.) This former Olympic hopeful and five-time national gymnastics champ was the first male to have scored a “perfect 10” at a U.S. championship event, and he also has gymnastics moves named after him.


Roth, a Temple University graduate, has since become head coach and co-owner of Delco Training Center in Woodlyn. Even though his high-profile alter ego is no more, he couldn’t be happier. Suburban Life caught up with him and the rest of his gymnastically gifted family at their gym in Delaware County. The 41-year-old spoke about the pluses and minuses of his fame-cum-anonymity, Hip Hop’s demise and how be rebuilt himself in the aftermath. 


Suburban Life: You’ve had quite a journey. Where did it begin?

Bill Roth: I was coached by my dad [in gymnastics] till I left for college and went to Temple University on a full scholarship. I was training for the ’92 Olympic Games and had to have two major surgeries that year. First, I tore my pectoral tendon while warming up for a competition. Then I blew my ACL. I recovered from the surgeries and stayed at Temple, training and gearing up for the ’96 Olympics. … After ’96, when I didn’t make the Olympic team, I got a job with the Atlanta Hawks doing acrobatics and dunking off a mini trampoline. That opened the door, because [then-new 76ers owner] Pat Croce came in looking to revamp things. I auditioned for the job and wound up getting it.


SL: I imagine there were plenty of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively.

BR: To be clapped and cheered in front of 20,000 people, there’s nothing better. To be booed in front of 20,000 people, it’s a humbling experience. To go from competitive gymnastics to becoming the character, to go from being recognized to now not being recognized, doing all these things [as Hip Hop] but nobody knows it’s me, it was tough. But I have so many wonderful memories of going into children’s hospitals, putting a smile on a child’s face, seeing the parents tear up, having a parent come up and say, “Thank you for doing that.” … It took every ounce of me not to break character and say, “You’re welcome.”  


SL: Was the experience of being Hip Hop much different than what you thought it would be?

BR: My job was seven days a week at any time, with appearances late at night, early in the morning, preparing for the games. When I had it, it was a wonderful job, especially because my family could be a part of it; the mini [Hip Hop] character was my daughter. Last year, when Blake Griffin won a dunk show by dunking over a car, we did a spoof of that with her on a trampoline. … It’s the memories like that that made the job worth doing and putting in the extra time.  


SL: Physically you look like you could still be out there winning medals. What’s your secret to fitness?

BR: When I was [Hip Hop], in my mind and in my heart, it was worth getting up to go work out because that’s what my job depended upon. Doing that for so many years without major injuries is commendable. I’m an early riser, and now when I work out it’s to care for myself so I can spot and care for these gymnasts. I need to be sure that I can save them. Just yesterday a girl fell off the high bars, but I was able to grab her and make her safe from being injured. There’s a trust factor you cannot break.


SL: When you found out the Hip Hop part of your life was coming to an end, was it a punch to the gut or more like, “It’s time for the next chapter”?

BR: Absolutely it felt like a punch to the gut, but I had two choices to make: to trust that this was another door God was going to shut and another was going to open; or I could say, “I’m so upset and this is horrible,” and go the other way. My wife truly helped me. When you get punched in the gut and someone cares and loves you, and you have that someone to dust you off and walk with you, it makes the process a little easier to go through.


Will I miss Hip Hop? I’m not going to miss performing, but I’m going to miss the people I came into contact with. The same way I got the job is the same way I lost the job. Pat [Croce] was the new owner when I came on, and this time it was down a new road when a new owner came in. God has a new door for me to walk through now. It’s always been a life dream of mine to have my own gym. Looking back on it now, I’m glad it happened.