Francisco Lindor, Shinsuke Nakamura, and charisma: While We’re Waiting…

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Happy Wednesday, Blawg Pound. Today we’re going to be talking about an important attribute. It’s an attribute that your favorite — be it a favorite in sports, entertainment, sports entertainment, or something else altogether — most likely has. It’s an attribute that is impossible to quantify. It’s an attribute that exists in the same way that Justice Potter Stewart thought obscenity existed in his 1964 Jacobellis v. Ohio opinion vis-a-vis obscenity: You know it when you see it.

The attribute I am speaking of, friends, is charisma. One could drum up any number of definitions for what charisma is, and most would somehow relate to magnetism or charm. It manifests itself in all sorts of different ways, but the commonality is that a charismatic person is one from whom you do not want to look away. I saw comedian Hannibal Buress this past weekend at an impromptu standup show in Slavic Village; he has it. Recent Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Allen Iverson has it, as does his HOF classmate Shaquille O’Neal. LeBron James has it. Mark McGwire had it in the batter’s box, Arnold Palmer had it on the links, and James Brown had it on the stage. Donald Trump has it, god help us all.

Mark McGwire had charisma in the batter’s box, Arnold Palmer had it on the links, and James Brown had it on the stage. Donald Trump has it, god help us all

It’s a powerful, ineffable thing, this charisma. One of the reasons I’m so excited about young Francisco Lindor is that he has it. Charisma often reveals itself through the spoken word, but Frankie doesn’t need to say anything in order to catch your eye. His on-field production helps — 2-for-4 with a run scored on Opening Day is an auspicious beginning to his 2016 campaign — but I swear there’s something else there. Maybe it’s the smile, maybe it’s the grace with which he plays shortstop, maybe it’s the bounce in his step. The kid just has it. I suppose I could be imagining all of this because I like Lindor and he’s the most promising ballplayer we’ve seen in a while, but I think there’s something to this.

And this, sports fans, has all been a roundabout way of getting to the individual I really want to discuss. It has also been an attempt to hoodwink you into reading about wrestling. There’s a decent chance you stumbled upon some WrestleMania-related content over the past week and remembered, oh yeah, that’s a thing that exists. But WrestleMania does more than merely exist. It’s the Super Bowl of wrestling, and I say that with minimal hyperbole. It’s an occasion for all the wrasslin’ nerds from across the globe to come together and mark out as one.

Part of this past WrestleMania weekend in Dallas was Friday night’s NXT special. NXT is WWE’s developmental property, sort of like if the NBA D-League were somehow viewed as a purist’s version of basketball. NXT supporters are a fervent bunch. At its best, wrestling carries with it a tremendous sense of purity and respect. The performers do all they can for the crowd, and the crowd responds in kind. While WWE has to concern itself with mainstream appeal and finding a way to get on SportsCenter every now and then, NXT is just about wrasslin’.

The part of the story that relates to charisma is this: Friday night’s show marked the NXT debut for a gentleman named Shinsuke Nakamura, among the biggest stars in Japanese wrestling. (Yes, pro wrestling is a thing in Japan.) Nakamura officially signed with WWE in February and was slated to first appear at NXT’s “Takeover” event in Dallas. Diehards could find his past matches online, but this was the first look at Nakamura for most American fans, yours truly included. It was a big deal. He was to compete against Sami Zayn, a plucky perpetual underdog type considered the heart and soul of NXT, who was fighting his last match in the promotion before being called up to WWE for good.

And my god, if you wanna talk charisma, have a look at Nakamura’s entrance. The crowd anticipated a classic, and they got it from the moment he walked on stage. (Totally understood if you’re not into wrestling, but if you’ve read this far, give it a shot. It’s like a great ABA player defecting to the NBA, but with more strobe lights and presumably less cocaine.)

He’s all weird faces and exaggerated gestures. There is no wasted motion, from his face to his fingertips. Everything carries a purpose with it. I don’t know what any of it is supposed to mean, least of all his haircut, but I don’t have to. I know it’s something uncommon. I know it isn’t something that everyone can do. I know it’s something that takes talent. The crowd’s reaction offers helpful context — people don’t just chant HO-LY SHIT willy nilly, you know — but Nakamura could be walking in a cave a million years ago and you’d still be intrigued.

The point, assuming there is one, is that charisma is valuable for the same reason that diamonds and oil and stuff are valuable. It’s uncommon. Athletes needn’t have it to be good. But when they do, it’s great.