Wednesday, February 3, 2010

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

In December we discussed the deep and long-standing ties between pro ballers and professional wrestlers. I promised to, but have not yet, explain what draws these two troupes of athletes together. Here are some thoughts, although I withhold any representation of analytical seriousness.

To be sure, wrestling is at best only a niche interest for NBAers. I could write an equally footnoted post about NBA players who produce jazz music or players who own a controlling interest in a fashion design LLC. Still, there must be something about the feverish combustibility of staged combat that lures these greats of the court into the wooly cinema of clotheslines, moonsaults, and powerbombs.

As I detailed in a series of posts last season about second-generation basketball players, many wrestlers are scions of long wrestling lineages. Hennig, Johnson, Cena, and other top guys like multi-time WWE champion Randy Orton are all sons of wrestling personalities from an older era. Jericho’s father played in the NHL for the New York Rangers. Like a Stephen Curry or a Kobe Bryant, many ballers grew up in the game and can relate to athletes who know their craft as a whole way of life.

During the Tim Donaghy scandal three summers ago, cynical NBA fans joked that the league had become a lawless Wild West, or perhaps a “fixed” World Wrestling Federation, with David Stern playing the role of Vince K. McMahon. As Stern wisely noted, if he wanted to create new stars and fix particular contests, he would have favored the Suns over the Spurs in 2005 and 2007. Still, this did not explain questionable refereeing accompanying L.A. over Sacramento in 2002, Miami over Dallas in 2006, or Cleveland over Detroit in 2007. Why did Kobe, Dwyane, and LeBron receive so many foul calls in pivotal games? Perhaps NBAers feel at home in a setting where competitive outcomes are pre-determined.

Perhaps the greatest reason why basketball players relate to grapplers is that both are, as one essential characteristic, larger-than-life freaks of nature who put their bodies on public display for paying customers. Unlike players in MLB, NFL, and NHL, pro hoopers expose much of their body and all their face, allowing paying fans to see their joy, their pain, and all their tattoos. There must be some collegiality among carnivalesque performers who discard their modesty, or else feel a grudging pressure to ignore it, as part of the trade they love.

Like basketball, wrestling is full of an preening, often-homophobic, and misogynistic ethos. (I will not touch upon the dozens of wrestlers who have died before age 50 from long-term drug abuse, as I think that issue is sui generis.) Men who revel in an analgesic, martial culture surely feel at ease together. (This argument would suggest that wrestlers might also enjoy hanging out with pro football players. ... And they do! All-Pro NFL defensive players such as Kevin Greene, Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, William Perry, and Steve McMichael have all signed up to wrestle for WWF/E or WCW.)

Back to the LeBron James — DeShawn Stevenson dispute, I would not be surprised if the whole thing were a pre-arranged gimmick meant to drum up interest. It bears all the hallmarks of a typical pro wrestling feud: two guys take issue over some trivial perceived slight, they entourage it up by bringing in more powerful allies, and then they escalate for no good reason.

No comments: