The nuclear winter. This is what so many NBA fans, writers and even personnel are referring to this lockout as.
We've covered our NBA lockout thoughts ad nauseam on MAMBINO. There's really nothing left to say. Both sides think that they're more right than the other. Each have pointed fingers, proclaiming they want a deal done, and every single ounce of their beings wishes they could be on the court right now. It doesn't matter if I believe them or not at this point. I've accepted that we will not be having NBA basketball this year. Following the 2004-2005 NHL season, the 2011-2012 NBA season will be only the second full season of North American sports to ever be canceled in the 100+ year history of the 4 major professional sports. Congratulations, gentlemen. You made history.
But let's not drink that half-full glass. Let's look at it, and fill it up to the brim. We here at MAMBINO HQ have some ready-made alternatives for those of you hungering for another waste of time to completely invest your emotions in, despite the fact that you have no true impact on the outcome.
The answer here is the WWE. It's the nuclear winter, after all. Why not eat those twinkies?
Being a lifelong professional wrestling fan, I know that for every offseason and All-Star break, there will always be the WWE to fill that sports void in my life. As the WWF catchphrase said about 10 years ago, "We Have No Offseason."
Professional wrestling is not a perfect comparative to professional basketball. However, there are a lot of qualities inherent in the NBA, its game and its players that would make even the truest hoopheads apt to take up Vince McMahon's trained traveling circus.
1) Basketball can be played one of two ways: with finesse, grace and coordination (think Magic Johnson's passing, Ray Allen's jumper, or Kareem's sky hook) or through a brutally bruising and physical game (think LeBron's moves to the rack, Shaquille's post game or Bill Laimbeer's elbows). The best basketball players will combine a little bit of both for what the experts would consider the perfect type of game.
Wrestling is no different. Stone Cold Steve Austin, one of the greatest wrestlers to ever live, said that in order to be a true champion, you had to look like you could kick someone's ass. Look like. A great wrestler has to have enough finesse, grace and coordination to make the moves look crisp but painful. He has to be big and tough enough to use his power to throw another man's dead weight around the ring, and yet also have enough toughness to throw himself around the ring and make his opponent look like Andre the Giant. The professional wrestling skill set is similar to professional basketball - precision and control, matched with a certain amount of physicality.
2) Who are the most popular players in the last 10 years? Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Howard are amongst them. You know what all these fellows have in common? They all had characteristics that made them pop towards the audience. They each were either incredibly charismatic, freakishly proportioned or, in many of their cases, both.
The WWE is no different. Aside from the natural athletic talent it takes to succeed as a professional wrestler, there is a certain level of "freak attraction" needed to become noticed by an audience that constantly clamors to be amazed. For every Shaquille O'Neal, whose incredible skill was buttressed by an even more overwhelming personality as well as physical size, there is a Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Batista, or John Cena, each of which had the charisma to match their massive frames.
3) As much as the NBA is based on actual competition, sometimes (hell, most of the time) the dramatic nature of the league could be easily mistaken for the scripted chaos of professional wrestling.
Let's take a look at the past year and a half:
-LeBron James, drafted by his hometown (home state, really) Cleveland Cavaliers, spurns his small-market, blue collar, and superstar-less team on national television to join the glamorous Miami Heat, along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
-After a season of rumors and negotiations, Carmelo Anthony gets traded to the New York Knicks, helping the team get to the playoffs for the first time in nearly 8 years.
-The Memphis Grizzlies overcome a decade of terrible basketball and zero playoff wins to beat the 1-seeded San Antonio Spurs as an 8-seed, ultimately going on to ride a suddenly indomitable Zach Randolph to win a triple overtime thriller against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
-5 years after an epic June collapse against the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and coach Rick Carlisle make it back to the championship round against Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Pat Riley yet again - only this time, creating an epic comeback of their own.
-Blake Griffin dunked over a car.
And that's just the last 18 months. Between the personalities involved and the dramatic nature of the game itself, sometimes it seems like fans of the NBA are tailor-made to fall hopelessly addicted to the grips of Vince McMahon and his wrestling empire.
After days of pondering, I've come here to help, my friends. For those of us spurned by the NBA like a girl that I used to date in high school and then got back together with after college only to have her reject me because I wasn't "good enough to make her happy, ever," I have a solution for you. I've examined many NBA cities and identified the key components that make up their fan bases, styles of team play and characteristics of the cities they hail from. Trying to keep all three of these distinct traits in mind, I have found the most appropriate WWE Superstar for the fans of these NBA franchises to adopt. By following these warriors of the squared circle, I think that you, my dejected hoophead brethren, will find that the qualities you appreciate most about your various NBA allegiances will be excellently represented.
First, let's get this out of the way. I couldn't match up fan bases to each and every NBA team. Charlotte, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Minnesota and Denver each wane in popularity (not to mention in team personnel) within their respective regions from year to year, so much so that I couldn't really identify a characteristic or style of play. For example, what would you say exemplifies the "Charlotte Bobcat Way?" I know how to categorize a typical hateful and bile filled Philadelphia sports fan, but seeing as there might be none left, how could I categorize a 76ers fan? The Clippers? I just didn't think that their putrid existence merited a mention on this exorbitantly well-thought out post.
Since the entirety of this post would have gone to about 9,000 words, let's break it down division by division. Stay tuned loyal MAMBINO followers - we'll get the entirety of the league done in the next few weeks. First up, the Atlantic Division.
WWE Comparative: Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan is a 5'10" wrestler, fighting in a company full of champions well over 6'. He hails from Aberdeen, Washington, a place best known for being the hometown of Kurt Cobain, with its most productive industry still being fishing and timber. Bryan's bearded face wears all those descriptions on it and the miles he's travelled to become one of the best wrestlers in the world. He would be most accurately described as a blue collar worker, whose pursuit of perfecting his craft is tireless. He has travelled the entire globe, winning titles in every federation he has wrestled in. His style lacks flash and his character is middling at best, but his best asset, unlike many of the other behemoths he fights alongside, is his skill set in the ring. He never quits, fights til his last breath, all while staying humble and grounded. He is the personification of the Boston Celtics.
New Jersey Nets
WWE Comparative: Zack Ryder
At this point, fans of the team from the Garden State just want to be entertained and be shown a relatively decent performance for trudging out to Newark to see a pitiful team play. They know they're losing their team to Brooklyn in 10 months. Time isn't on their side.
Zack Ryder was a professional wrestler going absolutely nowhere. He was about to be sent home by the WWE. Ryder hadn't been used on TV, he didn't have the WWE creative team coming up with future ideas for him, and as a well-muscled, good looking guy whose athletic ability never matched up with any type of character development, he was dangerously close to becoming a personal trainer on Merrick, Long Island, New York. He was trapped in a near no-win situation. Like many men and women employed by WWE, his likeness and character was controlled by the company. Without TV time, there was no way for him to develop his character and become an indispensible (literally) asset to the company. So Ryder, knowing how close he was to being terminated, took his career into a nosedive, with his hopes pinned onto the minute chance that a random current would pick him up and he would be able to ride it upwards.
Ryder, whose twitter feed and youtube pages are WWE monitored, took to the internet and started filming weekly vignettes called Z! True Long Island Story. After being saddled with an extraordinarily played out "Jersey Shore" character, Ryder took what he was given, and unlike many other WWE never-wases, owned it in its entirety. In these completely asinine but completely brilliant short videos, he showed the small corner of the hardcore WWE audience that paid attention to a lower card faceless nobody that he had charisma and talent beyond the athleticism and physique you could find at any local wrestling academy. He was funny, charming and clever. He came up with his own material, filmed and edited it and most importantly: made people care.
I'm mostly making this comparison for the Nets because Ryder is doing a Jersey shore gimmick and is at least entertaining, even if he never makes it to the main event. But here, in the case of the Nets, it's your last season Jersey. The franchise as you know it is about to be terminated. You have nothing to lose in a losing battle. Take what you have, and own it.
WWE Comparative: Evan Bourne
The Jays haven't made the playoffs in 20 years. In that time, Carlos Delgado, Roy Halladay, Roger Clemens and Vernon Wells have come and gone, but they have arguably never seen anything like Jose Bautista. The young core of the Jays hasn't made their future look this bright since the name "Pat Hentgen" was relevant. So when I asked who Toronto's favorite Blue Jay was, I expected Bautista's name to be first, followed by some of their young players like Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind, Ricky Romero or Brandon Morrow. So who would it be?
John McDonald? John effing McDonald?
John McDonald is a 37-year-old career backup utility player. He has 21 career home runs, a .238 batting average and gets on base 27.5% of the time (translation: he sucks). He played for parts of 7 seasons with the Jays at nearly every infield position for exactly zero playoff teams and the same number of relevant September games. At that point, he wasn't even on the team anymore. He had been traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks a few weeks beforehand.
Although I was trying not to let my inner blogger reveal itself in front of a guy I just met, I couldn't hide my incredulousness. John effing McDonald? Really?
What our freelancer described for us is that people in Toronto aren't drawn to flash or even skill. They just want the guy who plays the grittiest, tries the hardest and sometimes gets the job done. That's it. Apparently, winning isn't the most important athletic quality in Toronto. It's style of play, but without the zest that most audiences crave for. That might explain why the Leafs haven't won a cup since 1967.
Evan Bourne does have a lot of flash, but the truth is, he's not going anywhere in the WWE. He's allegedly 5'9", but I would lean more towards a towering 5'7". Bourne is in fantastic shape and works incredibly hard. He is the type of worker that you could put in there with a broom and he would throw his body across the ring so hard that the broom would look like Shawn Michaels. He is tough, gritty, underappreciated, and going nowhere. Perfect for T-Dot.
New York Knicks
NBA Comparative: CM Punk
The New York crowd is always the most fun and vocal in all of sports. Regardless of what the popular conception might be, the NY audience will always speak their mind with the fullest of volumes and harshest of tones. For example, the NBA Draft is entertaining to me as a NBA nerd, but to the lay-fan, the Madison Square Garden crowd reaction makes a 4-hour affair infinitely more interesting to watch. As with hoops, the NY wrestling crowd echoes the same sentiments; they cheer for who they want, appreciate hard work and love the more "real" the drama is. As Derek Jeter once said, there is no more rewarding of a response than to get New York to cheer for you.
CM Punk is the personification of the New York basketball audience. The crowd loves him because he speaks his mind and takes orders from no one. He is hard-edged and intelligent, hard working and confident. For every opinion he voices on the microphone, he has an equal measure of fight in him to back up all of his braggadocio. It's hard to hate a guy who plays by his own rules, tells you to shove yours and does nothing but back it all up. CM Punk says he is the best in the world. CM Punk is New York City. Makes perfect sense to me.
And that's the Atlantic Division. Check out later in the week when we'll examine the Southeast, including a very MAMBINO-like guaranteed cheap shot at the Eastern Conference champs, the Miami Heat.