“With the third pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select Juno, the otter from the Oregon Zoo.”
No, those words will not be uttered from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s mouth on June 22. But the zoo has released a cute video that makes you go, “what if?”
The zoo said staff trained Juno to put a ball through a plastic basketball hoop several years ago to help exercise her elbow joints. That exercise was done in a training pool, out of public view.
“Now, thanks an assist from the zoo maintenance team, Juno slams it home in a custom-made hoop mounted to the rock wall of her habitat. Zoo guests lucky enough to catch one of her training sessions can see some exciting basketball action — no NBA Finals tickets required,” the zoo said in a statement along with the video.
Juno is still young at age nine, but the zoo says moving her front limbs will help keep stiffness and arthritis at bay.
“Juno loves to play basketball,” said Nicole Nicassio-Hiskey, the zoo’s senior marine life keeper. “She gets so excited whenever we bring the ball out for her training sessions. And she’s good too!”
Here are more details from the Oregon Zoo website:
Sea otters are known for their playfulness, which Nicassio-Hiskey thinks gives Juno an advantage on the court. During their daily training sessions, care staff bring two small basketballs along. If she chooses to, Juno can pick one up in her front paws and dunk it into her special basket. She also “dribbles” the ball by swimming around the hoop with it. She ends each session with some of her favorite fresh seafood.
Juno is part of a marine mammal basketball dynasty. Years ago, Oregon Zoo caregivers trained sea otter Eddie to dunk as a way of exercising the aging otter’s arthritic elbow joints. Eddie, nearly 21 years old when he died in 2018, was one of the oldest known sea otters in the world and earned worldwide fame for his dunking skills.
Juno and the two other sea otters at the Oregon Zoo — Lincoln and Uni Sushi — are rescue animals, orphaned off the coast of California as tiny pups and brought to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s rescue and care program for rehabilitation. Unable to be paired with a surrogate mom, they were deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.