Big Show's Cineplex - "The True Giant" article
THE TRUE GIANT
Basketball was his life as long as he can remember. From the pre-teen days when Paul Wight often slept with a basketball in his bed, to the teenage night when he cut short dates so he could play a little pick-up at the local park. From the All-Conference career at King Academy in Aiken, South Carolina, to the times at Wichita State University when - thanks to his strength - he literally would break into the school's gymnasium to shoot around, completely oblivious to the fact it was the wee hours of the morning or that what he was doing was against the law.
Wight was your dictionary definition of a gym rat - complete with spare shorts and a t-shirt in his car, of course.
"From the time I was 6 or 7 years old, I just slept, ate and drank basketball," Wight said. "I was fairly intelligent, but would cut class in a heartbeat to play basketball."
"I had teachers ask me why I didn't devote more time to my studies and I always told them, 'I am not playing basketball to go to college. I am going to college to play basketball.' I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to the NBA. But, as life sometimes does, changes happen."
Wight was a prep standout. He earned all-class honors in his junior and senior seasons, and all-conference honors three times. He averaged 35 points, 22 rebounds and 10 blocks a game as a senior, leading King Academy to a Final Four showing. As a junior, he led the team to a runner-up finish in the state tournament.
Wight went to Northern Oklahoma Junior College after graduating from high school, where he played for mike Weiberg. He again earned all-conference accolades with a 14-point, 6.5-rebound average. NOC won the Western Division title in the Oklahoma Bi-State Conference, and Wight truly was the team's big gun.
Wight transferred to Wichita State in the fall of 1991.
"Has displayed good hands, good passing ability and a nice shooting touch," then-Wichita State coach Mike Cohen said.
Wight played 22 games for the Shockers, including 18 minutes against Creighton, 14 against Northern Iowa and 11 against Kansas, among others. He averaged 2 points and 2.3 rebounds.
"Coach Cohen was the closest thing to a father-figure you could have in a coach. Everyone on the team called him Papa. He was a great coach, a great motivator," Wight said. "The sad part is, that (season) was the first time I was ever exposed to the politics in college basketball. Wichita State wanted a wining program, as all the players obviously did as well, but the school watned it right away, so they relieved Choach Cohen of his contract mid-way through the season. So, for a lot of us who were tight with Coach Cohen, it was a very depressing way to finish the season." Many WSU players left before new coach Scott Thompson began his first season, including Wight.
He transferred to Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.
"I felt a little dejected over (Cohen's firing) and I just wanted to go somewhere I thought I could play a little more. I just didn't feel comfortable at Wichita State anymore," Wight said.
Injuries, though, slowed Wight's career with the Cougars.
"That was a very disappointing time. I probably was in the lowest depressional state that any athlete could ever hit," he said. "I definitely should have been a star, but I just couldn't physically. I was injured."
Basketball glory never returned for Wight. His memories - like playing in front of 26,000 screaming Syracuse fans at the Carrier Dome and fun summer camps with Xavier McDaniel and Harvey Grant, among others - were all he had left.
"The way I was built, I probably was 10 years too late," said Wight, who weighed about 320 pounds in college.
But certainly not too big for professional wrestling.
The now 7 foot 4, 450 plus pound Giant has slam-dunked The New World Order like Shaquille O'Neal dunks basketballs through the hoops every season. He's been a World Heavyweight Champion and a force within his sport unlike any newcomer in decades, maybe ever. Paul Wight never made it to The Show, but The Giant has become MVP.
"I was fortunate to meet several people who thought I might have 'the stuff' to make it in this sport. They took me under their wing and showed me the way. So far, my run in wrestling has been incredible," The Giant said. "For a while I could not understand why things didn't just happen for me (in basketball). But now, in retrospect, I think what happened to me was the best thing possible.
"I played my last season in 1992-1993 and, when I left college, I was very dejected. I really felt out of place. I spent time as a bouncer (at a bar), a bail bondsman, a used car salesman, a chemical salesman and other odd jobs. I didn't do too well as a used-car salesman. As soon as I came across the lot, they were running away, so it was hard to get customers.
"I had always been a big wrestling fan; I always loved the sport and knew everything about it. I just knew I could do it, that I could shine in wrestling. Sure, I walked into the sport blind, but feel I have done pretty well since."
Hey, he ousted Hulk Hogan on his first night and, only months later, The Giant defeated Ric Flair for the gold.
"I've been in the ring with Sting, Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage ... I have wrestled some of the greatest names in this sport, probably some of the greatest names this sport will ever see," The Giant said.
Yep, The Giant has come a long way since Mayo Sandwiches and hot-wiring his cable. He was recently married and this fall became a father for the first time. Plus, he's recently made appearances on several late-night talk shows.
"I'd say my life is doing a lot better," The Giant said, smiling. Obviously everyone has trials and tribulations in life. From a biased, one-sided view, my life has been totally crazy so far."
But he likes the path he's now on.