The game of basketball has really changed over the last couple of months: Players are being accused of throwing shade at one another on an article of clothing. Some players are using alternate Twitter accounts to defend their primary one. Of course both those things pale in comparison to the growing sentiment of the general public that everyone is cheating. Oh wait, none of those things speak directly to how the actual game of basketball is played, just the metadrama behind it.
You know what other “sport” is powered by a swath of hot air and endless drama, professional wrestling (okay, it’s sports entertainment). Just think about it a second: There is always someone you’re rooting for and someone you’re rooting against. What someone says and how they say it greatly outweighs what they actually do. Most importantly, there is an overabundance of folding chairs in every arena.
What ties the two together? The fact you probably know the people I am talking about in each and every one of those references in the first paragraph, and if you’re a wrestling fan (why wouldn’t you be?!), then you probably were able to slot a ton of names into the scenarios I just outlined above. Both basketball and wrestling are at there best and worst when their biggest names and/or larger than life personalities are involved (Lavar Ball appearing on a recent WWE broadcast is almost too perfect).
By now you might be wondering what any of this has to do with the Pittsburgh Panthers. That’s a reasonable question given that Pitt has traditionally avoided being caught up in a lot of off the court theatrics, and there’s a pretty simple reason: The Panthers don’t traditionally have a Hulk Hogan, “The Rock”, or even a John Cena. So who does this team have? Dean Malenko, played by senior forward Ryan Luther.
Okay, none of you know who that is. That’s because Malenko never came out of the tunnel accompanied by catchy entrance music. He never spent five minutes engaging all the fans looking to slap his hand (there weren’t that many Malenko fans) while occasionally pointing at his opponent with a menacing look on his face. He didn’t jump on the mic and goad his opponents very often, and if he ever engaged in backstage antics, they were probably so cringe worthy that I forced them from my memory. Malenko was all business.
In the ring, the announcers would laud Malenko for how he methodically took a part his opponents. It was usually a bevy of targeted strikes towards a knee or elbow that ultimately led to his submission finisher (basically Bret Hart’s Sharpshooter). At this point, you don’t need to be a wrestling fan or know anything about Malenko to see where I am going with this.
Luther is the basketball version of Malenko. There’s nothing fancy about his game. He does what is asked of him, plays within himself, he does all the little things that help the team. By the way, none of this is meant as a slight, quite the opposite. While Pitt certainly needs top-tier talent to compete in the ACC, they don’t need a bunch of off the court distractions and on the court flare.
Malenko was never the headliner for a pay-per-view or the “face” of the now defunct WCW, but he enjoyed a decent career and one that wrestling purists enjoyed. Like Malenko, Luther might not grab any headlines with thunderous dunks or deep triples, but perhaps the best thing he can leave behind is a work ethic and an all business approach to help guide the next iteration of young talent.