By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"I had a 300-foot tower that Batman and Robin would rappel down," he says. "It was an eleven-minute show, but it was awesome."
After about a year of this, fate intervened when an acquaintance got an offer to audition in Tennessee for a Malaysian tour with the Budlight Daredevils. Ricky had seen the group on television doing their synchronized somersault dunks off trampolines. "I was glued to the screen," he says. "To be able to fly through the air and see the basketball rim down there -- that is just awesome."
He finagled an audition, and that same day bought a video camera and made an audition tape for both of them. It didn't take long for Ricky to learn how to jump off the trampoline, do the somersault, catch the basketball, and dunk the ball in the hoop. "That came pretty easy to us," he relates, "since we were [already] acrobats and gymnasts."
Even though the job did not pay very well, the apparent camaraderie among the Daredevils and the promise of traveling to Asia excited him.
"Now I had not gotten the job," he recalls, "but in my mind, I was already on my way to Malaysia. I was going to get it, no matter what it would take."
With no guarantee Ricky relinquished his apartment, sold all his possessions, and set out for Tennessee. Then he walked into the audition and saw his competition. "These guys were prime, college-educated performers," he recalls. "They did perfect triple twists and I thought, Oh my God. I'm not going to get the job."
To add to his difficulties, he had recently pulled a leg muscle and had a sore knee. Still he did his best. When the Daredevils offered him the job (in no small part because of his personality, he believes), Ricky broke into tears.
After a season performing in Asia, he scored a gig doing the Indiana Jones Stunt Show in Belgium. He played a witch doctor named Wahunda. The part required him to do a ritual dance and then breathe fire as giant torches above him spat twenty-foot flames. For the role Ricky gave himself the odd haircut he still wears. He lived in Europe for three years before coming to Miami to join the Heat in 1997.
For the Heat he, along with the team he's trained, mostly performs trampoline basketball. This season when he suggested the dunks be combined with his fire-breathing skills, the Heat laughed at him, dismissing it as a crazy idea and far too dangerous. Undaunted, he secretly performed the stunt before a professional photographer to show it could be done. Once the lawyers were convinced it was safe, the Heat got behind the stunt. Until very recently, that is.
Back in Miami, Ricky hopes his team will start to win again. He frets that Heat players don't have the proper team spirit. The lack of camaraderie could be a result of Riley's unwillingness to settle on a permanent starting five. "Riley goes with what works," notes Ricky. "It's definitely time for the players to step up. It's all about confidence, and they just don't have it right now."
He contrasts the prevailing attitude on the team with his own positive outlook: "I guess I am just happy to be alive. I remember what it was like to travel in the Third World, and I think we should be grateful."
His bosses at the Heat are effusive in their praise for Ricky's prowess as an entertainer and person. "Ricky's unique background, coupled with his talents, skills, and rich island personality, add flair, spice, and richness to his feats that your performer next door could never re-create," extols Michael McCullough, Heat executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "He's a fearless daredevil with a Mohawk and ballet skills -- literally -- with a zest for life that pierces right through any costume -- even gladiator armor."
When performing, Ricky's outlook is contagious. Even as Burnie the mascot, he draws fans in, pretending to steal their belongings and doing anything to get a reaction. It's an attitude the Heat players could learn from. "They need to play the game like it's fun," he contends.