I have a passionate love for superheroes and comic books (sorry, we are supposed to call them ‘graphic novels’ now) that has extended years beyond its expiry date, which should’ve been sometime in my teens. No matter. Superheroes are ageless, and thus, so are superhero nerds.
But bringing it back to my favourite professional sports association, I realise that NBA players – in terms of their freakish talent and personalities – are a little like superheroes, too. They are colourful, larger than life, they carry the hopes of millions of fervent supporters, and they can be more-than-capable of some super-stuff every once in a while. Just like the myth of superheroes has drawn them out to be idolised as the perfect human beings, NBA players are idolised as perfect basketball players. A couple of years ago, Marvel Comics and ESPN presented NBA players as superheroes, too.
With these thoughts in mind, I bring you my list of top 10 superheroes and the NBA players who most match them. Which one of these ‘Superballers’ would you pick to come and save the day (or your favourite team)?
1. Batman = Kobe Bryant Starting off with the ‘Dark Knight’ himself. DC’s Batman is one of the most-loved and popular superheroes in the world, and Christopher Nolan’s excellent Dark Knight Trilogy has made his greatness even more relevant to the new generation. But in his fictional city of ‘Gotham’, Batman is a far more polarising character, working on both sides of the law as long as he can ensure that the right thing – or what he believes is the right thing – gets done. This makes him loved by some and hated by others. While his alter-ego Bruce Wayne is a rich, loud, and show-off millionaire, Batman is a darker personality, quiet, and ruthless.
Who else could he be but Kobe? Like Batman, many people view Kobe in extremes – either he is loved or hated. But also like Batman, Kobe continues doing what he has always done ruthlessly and efficiently. He doesn’t have the greater ‘powers’ of some of the others, but he works harder than most to stay relevant even when he gets older (like the Batman in Frank Millers’ novels). Kobe is stubborn and wants to win just his way – shooting a lot and not passing to Gasol – sticking to his own code. While off-court Kobe is popular and friendly, his on-court alter-ego is dark and cold. Now, can’t you just imagine an angry Kobe screaming: “I’m the goddamned Black Mamba!” while he hits a clutch game winner?
2. Captain America = Kevin Durant It’d help if you imagine Durant in a ‘Team USA’ jersey right now. Captain America’s mythology is usually of an old-school, goody-two-shoes patriot who does no wrong and has no dark-side. That said, Captain America is a pure badass when it comes to knocking down bad guys, and he does using his peak strength, stamina, and intelligence – despite originally being a frail soldier.
Reminds you of someone? Durant is the ultimate offensive basketball soldier, capable of scoring in every which way, and dominating all types of bad guys (Lakers, Spurs, whoever) despite his rather lanky frame. He is also the ideal poster-boy of the ‘good guys’ of the NBA, a star with no ambiguity to his goodness.
3. Daredevil = Dwyane Wade No, Wade isn’t blind like this Marvel Comics character, and I know Wade was nicknamed after a different superhero – The Flash – in his younger years. But he isn’t the same speedster that he used to be, and so, he becomes a new hero. Like Wade, Daredevil has been the ultimate underdog, overlooked for bigger names, but still coming up on top from time to time. Daredevil is known for his high-flying antics and excellent athleticism. He is nicknamed ‘the man without fear’.
If there’s one thing that defines Dwyane Wade’s style of play and his hunger to win, it’s fearlessness. Wade is a daredevil on the basketball court, putting the fear of danger aside to dominate in any which way possible. Hampered by injuries at various times in his career, Wade doesn’t give up like the Daredevil and keeps coming back for more.
4. Flash = Derrick Rose If you know your ‘Flash’ mythology, you’d know that there were many who donned the world’s favourite red (with a dash of yellow) suit, from Jay Garrick and Barry Allen to Wally West and Bart Allen. The same way, I feel that the mantle for the NBA’s speedy-strong ‘Flash’ should pass soon, from Dwyane Wade previously to his fellow Chicagoan Derrick Rose. The Flash is capable of unnaturally super-speeds which he uses to run around, confound, and beat the bad guys.
Look at Derrick Rose in those awesome red Chicago Bulls colours, racing down the court like a blur, and you realise that he is the NBA’s new Flash. Although the Flash’s super-power can at times seem a little one-dimensional, he is able to utilise it to do a lot of other things well, like thinking and healing at a faster speed. Rose has used his speed to make himself a better scorer and better at creating offense for his teammates. He is injured now, but we’ll be hoping that he recovers with super-speed, too, so that he can bounce back like Barry Allen did in Final Crisis.
5. Green Lantern = Kevin Garnett I’m going to keep this one simple. The Green Lantern is the name of multiple superheroes who wear green, really like those ‘power rings’ that make them super, and defend the universe. The Green Lantern persona has been passed down from Alan Scott to Hal Jordan, to John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and Kyle Rayner.
In the NBA, no NBA franchise has won more of those ‘rings’ than the green Boston Celtics. So I’m going to assume that the ‘Green Lantern’ persona has also been passed down to various Celtics who have defended Boston basketball, from Bill Russell and Bob Cousy to Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, down to Paul Pierce, and now, Kevin Garnett. Although he was not always a Celtic, KG fits in surprisingly well with the mythos of this legendary team, and in my book, is the man who is entrusted with the current power ring.
6. Hulk / Bruce Banner = Ron Artest / Metta World Peace Most of the time he is good ol’ Bruce Banner/Metta World Peace, a brilliant physicist/defender who is a do-gooder and plays his part in a super-strong team of stars called the Avengers/Lakers.
But don’t get him angry. You won’t like him too much when he’s angry. That’s when Banner/World Peace turns into The Hulk/Ron Artest, a one man wrecking machine who will punch through walls/punch fans and swat away bad guys / elbow James Harden. The Hulk is known to be resistance to mind control. Even his psychiatrist can’t always control Artest’s mind.
7. Iron Man = Dwight Howard I know Dwight donned the ‘Superman’ cape and tried to force that persona upon himself, but it’s a good thing that he has realised his true calling. After his switch to Lakers, Dwight also suggested that his nickname should be Iron Man, and it fits him perfect. Iron Man uses his powered-armoured suit to become a man-machine, an unstoppable, indestructible killing machine. He is known for his durability. His alter ego – Tony Stark – is a weapons manufacturer to the department for defense.
Dwight Howard is the NBA’s department of defense, having won three defensive player of the year awards already. Barring the most recent back injury that kept him out of action in the end of the last season, Howard has been the model of durability in the NBA. He is a physical specimen and almost a man-machine himself, with a body tough as iron.
8. Spider-Man = Rajon Rondo Spider-Man is Peter Parker, that awkward, underdog teenager who turns into a badass superstar once he puts on the spidey costume. He doesn’t always look physically capable of it, but has a way of surprising both opponents and accomplices with his ability. Despite his talkative, cheery exterior, there is an anger within Spider-Man, one that stems from the guilt of his uncle’s death. To defeat his opponents, he uses agility, his ability to swing large distances, and he always has a trick up his sleeve. He may be young, but at his best, he is capable of being one of the strongest super-heroes in the world.
As a young NBA player, Rondo was that awkward underdog, one that played fourth fiddle to the Big 3 in Boston. But as he learnt, he became more dominant, and soon, even as the youngest star on his team, he became the best Celtic. Rondo’s freakish athleticism, long arms, and his ability to swing around the court reminds me of Spider-Man, and the point guard always seems to have a sixth sense (or a spidey sense) on court, being one step ahead of everyone else when racking up those assists. Rondo is chatty on court but is known to be a determined fearless competitor, also showing some of that righteous anger that makes Peter Parker so dangerous. Spider-Man has to deal with mortality and every-day problems; Rondo’s problem is his jump-shot.
9. Superman = LeBron James One of Superman’s many nicknames is ‘The Man of Tomorrow’, as he epitomises the perfectly evolved, almost alien human being (and that’s because he is alien). He has superhuman strength, speed, stamina, invulnerability, sensory perceptions, intelligence, longevity… and he can fly. He’s super-fast like the Flash, super-smart like Batman, and super-strong like Hulk. Superman is the perfect superhero, so strong in every which way that it’s almost unfair. So unstoppable that it’s almost boring. His only weakness is the Kryptonite, an element which is a piece of his old world and which can cripple him off his powers.
When LeBron James joined the NBA in 2003, he may as well have been called the ‘NBA Player of Tomorrow’. Blessed with many skill-sets, he could play many positions and get you points, rebounds, and assists all with ease. He was super-fast, super-smart, and super-strong. Now in the prime of his career, LeBron truly has become the Superman of NBA players. From distributing to shooting to posting-up to grabbing rebounds and to running the floor, LeBron does it all. Until recently, his only kryptonite, like Superman, was a ‘piece of his own world’ – his mental fragility in clutch moments. We’ll see if a new championship will help LeBron permanently beat that one weakness.
10. Wolverine = Kevin Love Sorry, it just had to be done. They have little in common. Wolverine is angry and fearsome, Love is mellow, yet still fearsome. Wolverine is laced with a special adamantium metal skeletal structure that makes him strong and gives him his metal claws. Kevin Love is pretty strong, too.
But hey, Kevin Love is a Timberwolf, and he’s extremely likeable. The Wolverine is a likeable wolf too. So, there.