"The only time this much havoc had been wreaked by this few a number of people, you need to go all the way back to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!" -- Arn Anderson
And with that seemingly throwaway line during a wrestling promo, one of the most entertaining factions in the history of sports entertainment was born.
I know that not everyone reading this is a fan of professional wrestling, so I'll spare you the detailed history lesson, as entertaining as it may be. However, just know that in wrestling circles, the Four Horsemen (at least a few iterations of them) were the standard bearer for many years in terms of entertainment value, in ring and on the microphone. There was a strength in numbers that made them natural villains (wrestling fans all booed them at some point), and yet deep down, we were in essence cheering for them insomuch as we wanted to see them on every card and every show. They were that good.
So what does this have to do with NBA free agency? Well, quite simply, amidst the vaunted Free Agent Class of 2010, factions are forming, alliances are being whispered about, and conversations are taking place as we speak. The buzz reached a fever pitch this week with discussion of a possible Free Agent Summit meeting, where I would assume the top free agents would gather for a "five families" style meeting and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would eventually hug amidst applause and lingering tears from Sonny's demise on the causeway.
Rumors of such a meeting have since been squashed by Wade's representation, with Henry Thomas (who conveniently enough represents Wade AND Chris Bosh, more on that in a minute) saying that there was never a meeting mentioned per se, but instead there would be "conversations" between a handful of the top names as to what their plans are and where said plans might intersect for mutual benefit.
And herein lies one of the major problems with the NBA right now -- the same thing that David Stern built the rise of the league upon back in the 1980's (marketing and star power of marquee players) is what is turning people away, or at the very least confusing them as to how best to follow his sport. We're 24 hours away from the NBA Finals, a Finals that by the way includes arguably the two most prominent franchises in the history of the sport, and all the talk is about which lottery or fringe lottery teams have cap space to sign which free agents (many of whom couldn't get their teams into the conference finals, much less the NBA Finals). LeBron is doing Larry King interviews, Dwyane Wade is calling summit meetings maybe/sort of, and Amare Stoudemire wants in on the party.
ESPN has gone so far as to create an actual NBA Free Agent slot machine that you pull and see where free agents land, maybe the most pointless waste of time ever. It's come to this.
So as we ready ourselves for the NBA Finals (a topic I'll tackle tomorrow), I want to try and put this year's free agency class in terms that at least some of my followers/listeners/readers can understand. Comparing the NBA free agents to Sopranos family members is do-able (the summit as a mob sitdown has true potential), but honestly the most apropos cross-genre analogy I can make, where a group of stars is actually bigger than the "sport/entertainment outlet" within which they "play" is the NBA free agent Class of 2010 as members of professional wrestling's Four Horsemen.
So if you're a wrestling fan, you'll enjoy this. If you're a basketball fan, you'll enjoy this. If you're a fan of neither, I'm not gonna lie....you'll enjoy this.
So here we go...WOOOOOOOO....
Any analysis of this crop of free agents has to start with the identification of the true Horseman, the top dogs, the "big font size" names on the billboard. Most wrestling fans agree that the first-ever iteration of the Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson with James J. Dillon in their corner) was the best one. Go ahead and check out this video, read on, and then go back and check it again after I've laid out who is whom amongst the NBA free agent crop....
Analysis: The unabashed leader and perceived grand prize of this year's free agent class. Can make even the most ragtag bunch of misfits and never-been's into a 60-win team. A worldwide brand in nearly every sense of the word, even if you don't follow basketball you know who LeBron James is.
Horsemen comparison: Ric Flair -- jet-flyin', limo-ridin', kiss-stealin', wheelin'-dealin' son of a gun. If there were a draft of former Horsemen, Flair would be the runaway number one pick. Like LeBron in this year's class.
Analysis: Clear-cut second marquee guy, if LeBron is top dog inarguably (and some might even argue, I get it), then Wade is that easily the number two guy in this class. Even with a title, may still be underrated in some respects.
Horseman comparison: Tully Blanchard -- solid number two to Flair's number one. Technical, fundamentally sound. Bonus comparison points for each one having experienced serious marital strife.
JOE JOHNSON/CHRIS BOSH
Analysis: While both are viewed as top-tier free agents, the fact of the matter is that neither have achieved anything truly substantial on his own as the best player on his team. Both viewed more as "best options to pair with one of the big names" as opposed to a big name who can be "the guy."
Horseman comparison: Ole and Arn Anderson -- Johnson as the older, more grizzled veteran and Bosh as the enforcer works for me. Comparison bonus -- Bosh has been linked with Wade in Miami as much as anyone, so you have the reprisal of the WWF Brainbusters (Tully and Arn) in 1989 if they both wind up in Miami (which would cast Henry Thomas as Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, I suppose).
Analysis: If you don't know who "Worldwide Wes" is, don't feel bad. It probably just means you're not an NBA player, potential NBA coach, or involved with the sneaker business. Basically, Wes is a guy who pulls way more strings than a guy whose resume consists of "played high school basketball against Milt Wagner" and "sold shoes" should. Whatever ends up happening this free agency season, his fingerprints will be on it somewhere.
Horseman comparison: James J. Dillon -- the behind-the-scenes manipulator of the Horsemen. That's all you need to know.
Now go ahead and watch that Youtube clip again, and insert the NBA players in as their wrestling counterparts and try not to either (a) laugh, (b) nod your head, (c) shake your head knowing I'm right, or (d) all of the above. You can't do it....try....
As for a thumbnail analysis of the rest of the Class of 2010, well here you go....
AMARE STOUDEMIRE: One-trick pony (offense, offense, offense) who basically invited himself to the summit, thereby crashing the party of the original Four Horsemen uninvited. He's allowed in the team picture, but an "outside the top four" guy. (COMPARISON: Lex Luger)
CARLOS BOOZER: Solid performer with a noteworthy pedigree (former Duke Blue Devil) who hasn't been a fixture on a title contender. If he's your best guy and your splashiest off-season signing, hopefully your city has baseball and football. (COMPARISON: Barry Windham)
YAO MING: If Yao chooses to opt out (he has yet to indicate his plans), then he becomes the biggest free agent on the market in a literal sense. Big, plodding, injury prone. This is an easy one... (COMPARISON: Sid Vicious...
...especially the injury part -- WARNING, video is gruesome...)
MATT BARNES: A scrub by any comparison to the other names on the list, Barnes is a journeyman who is choosing this offseason to try and cash in on averaging 8 points a game by opting out of his deal. Obviously, he doesn't realize that he's Matt Barnes. (COMPARISON: Paul Roma, the centerpiece of the worst iteration of the Horsemen ever.)
KWAME BROWN: Steve "Mongo" McMichael. Next.
DIRK NOWITZKI: Like Yao, Dirk would need to opt out of his deal. If he does, there's been no mention of his being part of the figurative summit proceedings. This would lead me to believe that maybe the summit views him as the "enemy," complete with the mop of blonde hair. (COMPARISON: Dusty Rhodes...which would make Nowitzki's psycho skank girlfriend "Baby Doll"...see below)
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KOBE BRYANT: Not a free agent, but the only one on this list still playing basketball this season, which ultimately makes him better than all the Horsemen on this list. No one on this list can come close to Kobe in terms of winning and winning big. I hate to say it, Kobe Bryant is "Stone Cold" Steve Austin....
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show", and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.