It’s springtime again. This means a number of things – warmer weather, fat people wearing tank tops, and oh yeah, the time hoops fans have waited all year for. Two words – Final Four. Caught up in all the hoop-la myself, I figured what a more perfect time to honor the one person from the wrestling world whose basketball skills still live on in infamy. No, I’m not talking about Mark Jindrak as WCW’s Basket Case. I could only be talking about Sean, the basketball boy wonder.
It was the fall of 1987. WWF newcomer Ted Dibiase was in the midst of his transformation into the Million Dollar Man. No longer good ol’ boy Ted, the red beans and rice lovin’ bumpkin from Omaha, Nebraska, this was a new man. He was instructed by Pat Patterson to more or less act wealthy, cocky, and arrogant, just like Vince McMahon himself, only turned up a few notches. Dibiase was first introduced to WWF fans through a series of vignettes where he tried to prove to the whole world that he could buy anything he wanted. Very often, he would pay people a few hundred dollars to perform degrading acts like kissing his bare feet and wiping the sweat off of his back. As bad as all those demeaning tasks were, they would pale in comparison to what was about to unfold on an autumn night in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
As fans sat through the usual four hours-plus WWF Superstars taping, Dibiase, with bodyguard Virgil in tow, made his way to the interview platform. The fans were in for a treat that night, as Ted said he was going to offer $500 to anybody who could bounce a basketball fifteen times in a row. Sounds easy enough right? You had to figure someone was going home $500 richer that night. DiBiase looked over the crowd until he found the right person to attempt the task. Security opened the gates and out would walk…..Webster himself! Emmanuel Lewis!
Just kidding. While he could have passed as the stunt double for any of the 80’s resident sitcom dwarfs, the person soon to be put to task on national TV was just your average 8 year-old, clearance Hulkamania t-shirt wearing brat. Wisconsin’s very own – Sean.
Could our lovable tiny-tot overcome the pressure and complete Mr.DiBiase’s dribbing challenge? A good way to judge how successful an athlete is going to perform is to view his pre-performance preparation and composure. Judging by Sean’s nervous, chronic fingernail biting and his “I just crapped my pants”, deer in headlights look of terror on his face, all the signs of an impending choke were in place. Being a gentleman, DiBiase allowed Sean a warm-up round of 10 bounces to get ready. And sure enough, he bounced the ball 10 times like a seasoned pro, and in the process perhaps laying the path for future b-ball youngsters like Kobe and Lebron to follow.
The crowd popped and was definitely behind their hometown youngster as he would now try to bring home the $500 prize. Fifteen bounces in a row to win the money. Sean started off the dribbling contest strong and consistent. Cue the bad Howard Cosell imitator:
1, 2, 3..he’s looking good.
4, 5, 6..is Sean’s last name Jordan?
7, 8..the crowd’s counting out loud, cheering Sean on.Is that a bead of sweat on DiBiase’s brow?
9..go easy Sean, you almost hit Virgil in the nuts with the ball!!
10, 11..get it together Sean, you’re all other the place.
12..damnit Sean, easy! You were half a misstep away from taking a face first
tumble off the side of the stage!!
13, 14..he’s got it back under control. Sean’s gonna do it!
Then disaster struck. Perhaps lost in Sean’s brief lapse of ball control was what DiBiase was doing while all this as going on. At the count of 14, perhaps jealous of Sean’s Jordan-like ability, or maybe wanting to switch the game to football, DiBiase leaped in and did his best imitation of New England Patriots kicker Adam Vinateri, booting the ball off the stage and thus leaving poor Sean one bounce shy of the 15 he needed to claim the money.
The angry hometown crowd erupted with boos, filling the arena. At the same time, seeing the complete bastardization of the game he invented in 1891, James Naismith turned over in his grave. With one swift kick, Ted DiBiase dashed the hopes of our young hero and cemented his place as the main WWF heel for years to come. Before he sent Sean on his way empty-handed, he was sure to yell at him his famous catchphrase, “if you don’t do the job right, you don’t get paid!”
In retrospect, despite the humiliation, for some people getting made fun of in a DiBiase skit was like rubbing a genie’s lamp. Rob Van Dam would kiss
Ted’s feet and become the whole F’n Show. Linda McMahon got down on all fours and barked like a dog and eventually had the WWF signed over to her. In a
perfect world, Sean would have used this as a springboard for a lucrative NBA career but sadly, it wasn’t to be. Sean was last seen moping off the stage into the arms of his mother, disappearing from the limelight forever.
While its been over 16 years since his fateful WWF debut, the legend of Sean still lingers today. Ted DiBiase, now a religious speaker, is always certain to tell the story of Sean to all the churchgoers who come to hear him speak at various events. In fact, he says one of the questions he is most frequently asked about is the basketball incident. And speaking to DiBiase about Sean two decades after the fact is where our story reaches a happy conclusion. He says Sean and his family were picked out beforehand and made aware of what was going to happen. And also Sean and his mom received more than just those two hideous, turquoise, clearance Hulkamania shirts (apparently Vinnie Mac had already given away all the snazzy Superstar Billy Graham clearance ones).
It seems Sean got his $500 after all. In fact he received the money before they even filmed the segment. $500 and fifteen minutes of fame for Sean. I’d say Sean made out ok.
To conclude the saga of Sean, I think a parody of the overdone Mastercard commercial says it best:
The cost of a 1987 WWF Event floor seat – $12.00
The cost of two complimentary clearance Hulkamania shirts for you and your mom – $13.90
The fact that you were immortalized in wrestling history long before you stopped wetting your bed – Priceless