Danc­ing usher at Hor­nets and Knights games hopes fans will feel the joy, too

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - BY THÉODEN JANES

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There doesn’t seem to be a good rea­son for Jim Ko­bos to be danc­ing at this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment, much less to be hav­ing so much fun do­ing it.

The team he works as an usher for — the NBA’s Char­lotte Hor­nets — is los­ing by two dozen points to the Dal­las Mav­er­icks. The 16,000 or so peo­ple in up­town’s Spec­trum Cen­ter are grow­ing more list­less with each Hor­nets turnover, and many of the home-team fans in the lower-level sec­tions (with the best view of Ko­bos) look as if only a mir­a­cle could cheer them up.

Yet in nearly ev­ery break in the ac­tion, the 56-year-old guy in the dark suit with a nametag that says “Jim K.” takes a des­ig­nated spot on the land­ing, faces the crowd and starts a one-man dance party, while the arena DJ blasts ev­ery­thing from disco to Di­plo. Yes, it seems a lit­tle crazy — partly be­cause ab­so­lutely no one else in his vicin­ity is danc­ing, but also be­cause of the way he’s danc­ing: as if ev­ery­thing he ever learned about cut­ting a rug came out of a Jane Fonda work­out video, circa 1986.

Rest as­sured, it seems a lit­tle crazy to Ko­bos, too.

“If you’d have told me 10 years ago I’d be do­ing this, I would have looked at you and said, ‘No way,’ ” he says.

But that was be­fore.

THE BIRTH OF A SIDE HUS­TLE

Since 2008, by day, Ko­bos ( pro­nounced “KOH-biss”) has worked out of an of­fice at Ar­rowPointe Fed­eral Credit Union in Fort Mill, S.C.’s Re­gent Towne Cen­ter, in a job with a ti­tle that doesn’t sound like an ac­tion-packed thrill ride: He’s the co-op’s direc­tor of as­set li­a­bil­ity man­age­ment, in­vest­ments and risk mit­i­ga­tion.

He has no back­ground in per­form­ing arts, and in fact as a younger man was pretty shy — the last per­son you’d ex­pect to be the first one on the dance floor at a party.

Ko­bos says he didn’t ap­ply to usher for the Char­lotte Knights (back in the Triple-A team’s last sea­son at the old Fort Mill sta­dium) to crank up the fun in his life. He and his wife ac­tu­ally needed the ex­tra in­come: They were brac­ing for four sons in col­lege at one time, and he had some med­i­cal ex­penses loom­ing.

Mainly, he’d suf­fered from back prob­lems since the early ’90s, when he her­ni­ated and par­tially tore a disc after fi­nally get­ting around to re­mov­ing an ap­ple tree from his yard that was dam­aged by Hur­ri­cane Hugo in 1989. Other chronic pains stemmed from di­a­betic neu­ropa­thy and in­guinal her­nias.

On top of that, Ko­bos had also let a seden­tary life­style get the best of him, he says, and woke up one day weigh­ing 265 pounds. So when his boys started pres­sur­ing him to do some­thing about it, he de­cided to find an aer­o­bics class, since he’d loved them when he was younger.

He quickly learned Zumba was the clos­est thing. So Zumba it was.

“My first goal was not to fall down,” he says of the classes, where he of­ten stood out as the only male.

“I al­ways had rhythm, but I was not a dancer. Even­tu­ally, I dis­cov­ered ... if I couldn’t do the steps, I would just walk in place. And then after a few

months, my goal was I wanted to be go­ing left when ev­ery­body else was go­ing left, and then go­ing right when ev­ery­body else was go­ing right, so I wouldn’t knock any­body over.”

As he was busy keep­ing his body mov­ing, the Knights went on the move, too — into up­town’s BB&T Ball­park in 2014, where, sud­denly, ush­ers had to fig­ure out how to deal with sell­outs of 10,000plus fans.

And in a sport like base­ball, Ko­bos says, with­out con­stant ac­tion like bas­ket­ball, a full-house crowd might not get to re­lease all the en­ergy it builds up. He could feel that hap­pen­ing.

He saw it as the per­fect ex­cuse to come out of his shell.

DANC­ING THROUGH LIFE

“So I started do­ing a lit­tle bit to help en­hance their ex­pe­ri­ence,” Ko­bos says of his first few games at the new sta­dium. “And it just sort of built from there. I would try things, and some­times they worked, some­times they wouldn’t.”

One thing that worked par­tic­u­larly well: Breaking into salsa- or merenguestyle steps from his Zumba class when the sta­dium DJ played mu­sic. Maybe that’s be­cause it’s hard not to be en­ter­tained by the sight of a mid­dle-aged man danc­ing like he just stepped out of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

Since he started Zum­baing and ush­er­ing, he’s lost about 40 pounds. Yet at times, it’s been tough. In 2015, he had a prob­lem us­ing his left leg — couldn’t lift it — and found out he had some arthri­tis in his knees and hips be­ing caused by his back in­jury. He had surgery, but it wasn’t a cure; his doc­tor said he prob­a­bly would ben­e­fit from a spinal fu­sion down the road.

At some point, he de­vel­oped a limp, and got to where he couldn’t get more than around the block with­out need­ing to stop and stretch. Some­times just stand­ing for a few min­utes hurt.

But he kept on danc­ing through the dis­com­fort.

And in 2017, a Hor­nets staffer ap­proached him at a game and en­cour­aged him to ap­ply to be an usher for that team. So he took his act to the NBA, too.

What do his bosses at the arena think? They love it. With a caveat.

“Peo­ple watch him dance, and I think a lot of ‘em think the same thing: ‘ What?? What is this white guy do­ing?” says one of Ko­bos’s su­per­vi­sors, Theo Good­man, laugh­ing. “But I mean, he is doin’ his thing, and folks en­joy it.”

Good­man says he sta­tions Ko­bos be­tween Sec­tions 115 and 116, at the bot­tom of the aisle steps that lead to the floor, be­cause he says that side of the arena is “my fun side.”

Still, he con­cedes that not ev­ery­one finds Ko­bos en­ter­tain­ing.

“Some of the se­cu­rity peo­ple, you know, they’re a lit­tle more stoic. Some of them don’t like what he do,” Good­man says, “so they’ll ac­tu­ally kind of whis­per stuff to me. I just al­ways say, ‘Hey, look, as long as he’s do­ing his job first, I don’t mind if he dances. As soon as he stops do­ing his job, then ... I’m gonna whis­per in his ear, ‘Al­right, now look, I need you to get fo­cused, OK?’ ”

Good­man can’t re­call a time he’s had to whis­per in Ko­bos’s ear.

So Ko­bos keeps danc­ing — even when he sees stray fans mock­ing him.

“Some peo­ple might look at some old, bald­ing, over­weight, ex­tremely hand­some and good­look­ing old guy,” Ko­bos says, flash­ing a smile, “and they’ll film me, and they’ll put me on (so­cial me­dia), and yeah, make fun of me. But look, if you want to laugh at me, that’s fine. ... Be­cause if they’re laugh­ing, they’re cap­tur­ing a feel­ing of joy. And I take that as I am help­ing that per­son have a great ex­pe­ri­ence.”

That’s all he wants: to show peo­ple a good time, the best way he knows how.

So de­spite his back pain and his other as­sorted ail­ments, he keeps danc­ing.

He keeps invit­ing young chil­dren to come down to dance with him, and they keep hap­pily oblig­ing. He keeps get­ting tapped on the shoul­der and turn­ing around to find some­one telling him how much fun they have watch­ing him. He keeps hop­ing peo­ple will feel the joy he’s put­ting out there and pass it on to oth­ers.

Be­cause he says his danc­ing has taught him that love is en­ergy, not emo­tion, and that peo­ple need it.

“I used to joke when I was a teenager that I wanted to be a phi­lan­thropist when I grew up. As it turns out, I don’t have money to give away to ev­ery­body — but I do have some­thing more im­por­tant to give, and some­thing that’s...

“Fun.”

Théoden Janes: 704-358-5897, @theo­den­janes

JEFF SINER [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

JEFF SINER [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

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