Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sweater Already, Mom's Spaghetti (2 of 3)

In Post 1 of this series (timed to coincide with Mark Cuban's rather painful appearance on Monday Night Raw), I reviewed the plagiarized origins of DeShawn Stevenson's "I Can't Feel My Face" gesture — namely, from WWE star John Cena. The Ickey Shuffle it ain't. This was part of a larger project to show the ineluctable connections between pro basketball and pro wrestling. My co-blogger H.O.S.S. was skeptical that this was anything more than obscure anecdotes. Thus, herein I will provide further examples.

I think the affinity of ballers for wrestling (and vice-versa) arises because, for one thing, the participants are selected for their physically freakish qualities. Many top wrestlers are former college basketball players: Kevin "Diesel" Nash at University of Tennessee, Paul "Big Show" Wight at Wichita State, Mark "Undertaker" Callaway at Angelina College, Glen "Kane" Jacobs at Union College. Let us not forget about the curious case of Jorge Gonzalez, a 7'6" center on Argentina's 1988 Olympic basketball team. The Atlanta Hawks drafted and signed Gonzalez, but when he couldn't crack the squad (hard to believe, when their centers in 1989 were Jon Koncak and 34-year-old Moses Malone), Hawks owner Ted Turner, not wanting to waste a corporate asset, offered Gonzalez a job in another of his Atlanta-based businesses, World Championship Wrestling. Gonzalez made his pro graps debut in 1990 as "El Gigante", a fan favorite allied with other heroes including Sting and Lex Luger. Gonzalez eventually made his way to Vince McMahon's Connecticut-based World Wrestling Federation (now called WWE after they lost a 2002 UK lawsuit over naming rights to the World Wildlife Fund), where Gonzalez faced the aforementioned Undertaker at Wrestlemania IX in 1993. Undertaker/Callaway is about 6'10"; behold the height of Gonzalez! And oh yeah, he's wearing a painted costume; that's not his real muscles.

Wrestling's knack for showmanship can also be useful in a hoops setting. At New Orleans Hornets home games, a ghostly, exuberant wail – “Wooo!” can be heard over the P.A. speakers when the Hornets, particularly Chris Paul, make a morale-busting basket. At the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, the same Wooo rings out when LeBron James makes a free throw. Whence this Wooo? A savvy wrestling fan would recognize this as the signature exclamation of Ric Flair, a longtime wrestling star who finally retired in 2008 at the age of 59. The Hornets’ Wooo! tradition began back when they played in Charlotte, Flair’s adopted hometown, and they took it with them to the Bayou. (Flair is such an icon in North Carolina that he has seriously considered running for governor.) Flair actually did the pregame introductions for a Hornets game (in New Orleans) in the spring of ’08 (start at 1:00 of the video), Apparently someone with the franchise is a REALLY big wrestling fan, as the sound system in the New Orleans Arena also plays the Undertaker’s funeral dirge at the end of Hornets wins. (I wonder whether the Hornets pay a licensing fee to WWE for the use of these sound effects, as it is surely not fair use.)

The sound effects for LeBron James's free throws are not accidental. James, who came of age in the late 1990s during pro wrestling's biggest boom period ever, may be the biggest wrestling fan in the league. Rumors swirled wildly in Hollywood trade journals earlier this year that LeBron, like his teammate Shaq, would sign up to host Raw. Why do you think James named his crew of high school buddies the "Four Horsemen"? Is it likely that LBJ is a fan of eschatology and has been spending his Sunday mornings at church with the Revelation of St. John? Could it be that James reveres the legacy of 1920s Notre Dame football? This second option, at first glance implausible, actually is a touch more likely, as James's high school team, like Notre Dame, is nicknamed the "Fighting Irish". However, the reference is fairly obscure. It is more likely that James et al. were aware of the wrestling alliance known as the Four Horsemen, involving the aforementioned Flair, Arn Anderson, and a rotating crew of other henchmen, which ruled the NWA and WCW in the 1980s and '90s. (Wikipedia lists other uses of the term Four Horsemen, including U.S. Supreme Court Justices and NASA scientists, but I would bet my butt that James took the name from wrestling.)

Ex-Atlantic Coast Conference centers are also notorious wrestling mavens. Rasheed Wallace famously paid for wrestling-style championship belts for his teammates after the Pistons won the 2004 NBA title. Tim Duncan also attended a WWE event in 2006 and was photographed with Flair and Shawn Michaels. "I watch it all the time," he said.

Shaq’s July 2009 Raw appearance that I mentioned in the earlier post this week was hardly his first foray into the squared circle. O’Neal appeared in Hulk Hogan’s corner for a WCW match vs. Flair in 1994. In 2006, Shaq agreed to stage a “confrontation” with a steel chair against a wrestler named Carlito (video here), and he was photographed visiting the whole WWE wrestler roster at an event in 2008. Though I can’t find a link, Shaq has also been quoted saying that he is pals with Undertaker/Callaway and they share conditioning tips for keeping old bodies in top form.

Back in 1998, Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman made headlines when, one month after Rodman’s Bulls denied Malone his last earnest chance at a title in the NBA Finals, the two power forwards donned wrestling tights, teaming up with Diamond Dallas Page and Hogan, respectively, at WCW’s Bash at the Beach event. A few days prior to the pay-per-view tag match, Malone proved his wrestling merit by delivering a Diamond Cutter (fast-forward to 2:35 of the video in the immediate prior link and watch for 20 seconds) to Hogan’s crooked crony Curt Hennig. Also, the video below shows the tag match with Rodman:

Dwight Howard admitted in this blog post to being a huge wrestling fan — no surprise given his child-like jocular personality.

So let's see. Between O'Neal, James, Duncan, Wallace, Malone, Rodman, and Howard, that's 6 MVP trophies, 3 DPOY awards, and 14 NBA championships, all agreeing that rasslin' is where it's at!

But enough regurgitation of trivia. In the final post of this series, I will attempt to explain what, exactly, consistently draws my two favorite athletic genres together.


H.O.S.S. said...

Is Bhel Atlantic aware that Lil' Wayne has a track called "I Can't Feel My Face"?

Is this also a wrestling reference?

Bhel Atlantic said...

According to Wikipedia, "recording started in 2006 and ended in 2008" for that track. I don't know if Mr. Wayne was inspired by Cena's 2005 album "You Can't See Me", but at the least we cannot accuse Cena of borrowing from Wayne. Also, there is no evidence that Wayne introduced the "wave your hand in parallel in front of your face" gesture, so we can only infer that DeShawn Stevenson took it from Cena.