By Josh Greene, Suns.com
Updated: March 23, 2010
With WrestleMania in Arizona, Suns.com takes a look back at an exclusive 2008 interview with WWE superstar MVP, who is a long-time NBA and Phoenix Suns fan.
Admittedly, there were none of the steel chair shots or any outside interferrence you'd almost expect when long-running rivals the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers battled it out Thursday night. But the one thing US Airways Center was not short on were MVPs in attendance with two-time award-winner Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Montel Vontavious Porter – better known as World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar MVP.
Making a personal appearance in conjunction with “WWE Friday Night SmackDown” moving to MyNetworkTV (check local listings), MVP took a few minutes to talk with Suns.com on his memories of past and present Suns squads, meeting Shaquille O’Neal, Raja Bell’s pro wrestling moves and the similarities between his profession and that of pro basketball.
Suns.com: You know, including you, that makes four MVPs in the house tonight.
MVP: (laughs) I’m with very exclusive company, so that’s fine with me.
Suns.com: First off, talk about the successful network switchover for SmackDown. The October 3, 2008, debut had the highest audience numbers in MyNetworkTV history.
MVP: We made the switch to MyNetworkTV, and we’re really excited about it. It’s a great partnership. The ratings on our first show on MyTV were huge. The thing that was really cool was that in the second week, our TV ratings actually went up. Now, I don’t understand much about the ratings industry, but I heard that’s pretty uncommon. Usually there’s a bit of a buzz and then a slip between a debut and week No. 2, but we did just the opposite.
Suns.com: Being the WWE’s “Ballin’ Superstar,” it’s safe to assume you’re an NBA fan, too.
MVP: With my schedule and lifestyle, I don’t get to follow the NBA quite the way I used to. I’m from Miami, but growing up there, we didn’t have a team. I was introduced to the Knicks at a young age, so they have always been my team, but my Western Conference team has always been the Phoenix Suns. Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle, Kevin Johnson, Paul Westphal, all those guys back then... I was a huge fan of those teams, and even now you guys have a hell of a squad. I love watching them. You look at the talent pool here now, and I don’t see a reason why the Suns can’t compete and have a realistic shot at winning it all in the really near future.
Suns.com: Getting back to a little Suns history for a second, any particular memories that stand out?
MVP: Barkley is an icon and he’s special, but Kevin Johnson’s slam dunk on Hakeem Olajuwon… that was one of the greatest moments in sports history, period. That was a 6-foot-1 KJ dunking on a 7-foot Olajuwon. Plus, KJ retired at the height of his game. He walked away and two seasons later he was still as good as anybody. I respect that.
Suns.com: The WWE just had their Cyber Sunday pay-per-view in this very arena a few weeks ago, and there are quite a few photos floating around with different wrestlers posing with Suns center Shaquille O’Neal who sat ringside for the show.
MVP: I’ve met Shaq a few times. He’s a real WWE fan. Shaq is amazing. He’s such a nice guy. My character is based on some athletes that haven’t accomplished anything but make a lot of money and feel like they can talk down to people and disrespect them. With Shaq, for all the things he’s accomplished, every time I’ve ever met him, he’s been so gracious and so humble. If anybody doesn’t have to be, he doesn’t. But he was incredibly cool. I've followed him ever since his days at LSU. I remember watching him as a man among boys a long time ago.
A lot of NBA players are our fans, and we’re their fans. It’s the mutual admiration society, but at Cyber Sunday, here’s Shaq, one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time, one of the greatest big men to ever play the game, the accolades go on for days – his kids know him as daddy, but they look at me and go, “Hey, that’s MVP! Oh, MVP, can we take a picture?” I’m thinking, “You dad is Shaq.” It was pretty amusing.
Suns.com: At 7-foot-1 and 325 lbs., Shaq can be pretty intimidating on the court, but let's say for one-night only, him vs. WWE Superstar Kane, no-holds barred…
MVP: Kane played basketball in college, as did the Big Show and the Undertaker, too. I’d like to see that team (laughs), but the only problem is I don’t know how Shaq would fair in the ring. I faced Kane in an inferno match. I know there have been some nights Shaq has been on fire on the court, but I’ve literally been on fire at the hands of Kane, so I don’t know how he’d deal with that.
Suns.com: You have a finishing move named “the playmaker.” Of course, the Suns have their own playmaker in the form of point guard Steve Nash.
MVP: Steve is breathtaking. Watching him is like poetry in motion. I’ve always been a fan of blue-collar players. I’ve never liked the glitzy, glamour guys. You can say I’m not a Kobe Bryant fan, at all. Whenever I’ve played pick-up games, I’ve tried to pattern my game after Steve. Just watching him play is like watching future Hall of Famer John Stockton, with the fluidity and the court vision. He’s just an amazing player.
I was walking down the hallway here with Cryme Tyme at Cyber Sunday, and we were saying you look at Steve and he’s this skinny little white guy who is a world-class NBA player, an MVP no less – from Canada (laughs). But really, he’s something to watch.
Suns.com: We’ve also got a possible future MVP here with Amar’e Stoudemire.
MVP: Amar’e can’t be stopped. His inside game is amazing, and he does whatever he wants to do. There’s no stopping him. I’m also a fan of Mr. Raja Bell. That was a WWE clothesline he gave Kobe in that playoff game a few years back. I loved it. As a matter of fact, I want his autograph. He can teach me some things about snatching somebody out of the air.
Suns.com: Your line of work sounds a little more extreme than hitting the hardwood and mixing it up against the NBA opposition. Or maybe not…
MVP: People put football players up there for being tough, but if you look at the schedule and the actual minutes played, NBA players are among the greatest athletes on the planet. There’s no question about it.
One thing pro wrestlers and NBA players have in common is passion. These guys played for free at one point. They’re fortunate, just like I’m fortunate that our passion was rewarded. I’m fortunate to “play” for the top organization in my profession, and they can say the same.
Suns.com: With the NBA being such an international product these days, the WWE is enjoying similar success overseas itself. You guys just capped off a pretty popular European tour.
MVP: It was cool. Domestically, our fans are great. Our international fans only get to see us once or twice a year, so their excitement is a little different when we show up. It’s like the circus coming to town, only it’s 100 times that. Coming into the airport and seeing all the fans there to greet you… it’s humbling.
Suns.com: The NBA has an initiative called “Read to Achieve,” which promotes the importance of childhood reading – something similar to a program the WWE endorses.
MVP: In London, we went to a school to promote the Wrestlemania Reading Challenge. One thing the WWE prides itself on is our desire to be involved in and to encourage children to read and do positive things. They watch us beating each other up on TV and want to emulate us, but we want to stress the importance of doing things of a positive nature, like reading. We’re also heavily involved in the Make a Wish Foundation. You ask any one of these NBA players what it’s like to meet a kid who’s in awe of you and can’t speak, it’s the same thing. When I walk into a school and kids do a collective gasp, it’s really something special for me.
Suns.com: Being here tonight, you must empathize with those kids. Some of the Suns you remember watching play are still working within the organization. Dan Majerle joined the coaching staff this season after a long broadcast career, and Cedric Ceballos is our gamenight emcee.
MVP: Tonight, I am a little kid. There’s Thunder Dan, and Ced just walked by, so I’m getting the chance to be a kid again.
Suns.com: Your rough upbringing is public knowledge, but how are you sharing those personal experiences with youngsters and helping educate them to choose their paths in life more carefully? What do you tell them?
MVP: Believe in yourself. No matter what anybody else does, you have to believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you what you cannot do. My whole life I had people tell me “you’ll never do that” or “you’ll never be that.” Things people said I’d never be able to do, I’m doing. I try and stress that to kids. A lot of inner-city kids have an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. I have to explain that there is hope. You have to believe in yourself, figure out what you want to do and don’t let anyone stop you from doing it. Make the sacrifices. It worked for me.