Imagine a superhero who believed in the power of society’s existing institutions. Instead of putting on the cape of a vigilante and heading mask-first into the dark of night, to places where neither the sun nor the law can reach, to beat the underworld within an inch of its life, imagine a super hero who used his or her extraordinary talents to, say, be the most productive worker at the local steel mill. “Let the police do their jobs,” he or she would say. “The world needs well-made steel girders, too.”
Wes Matthews took to calling himself “The Dark Knight” earlier this season in response to the perceived slight of the NBA leaving his name off of the All Star ballot – the undrafted Matthews is good at finding perceived slights. He seemed to choose the Batman imagery because Batman performs his heroism in the darkness, shrouded in a mystery that does not allow for any personal glorification, like All Star balloting. I suppose of any superheroes, Batman best mirrors Matthews in that the former is a superhero who lacks supernatural abilities and relies on intelligence and willpower, while the latter – even at 6’5”, 220 lbs – lacks the natural gifts of heroes like LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard.
But Wes is not invisible in the way that Batman is invisible. Wes is invisible in the way that factory workers are invisible, or in the way that Bruce Wayne – or more accurately, Clark Kent – is invisible. See, Wes is not a superhero. He is the alter ego of a superhero. He is the alter ego without the super ego, without the costume in the closet. He is Superman without the whole “Superman” part. He punches the clock, puts in his 40 hours, hits a few spot-up threes, plays tough defense, mixes in some bullying post-ups, pours molten steel into molds at a very high level, then goes out to some chicken-wire-windowed bar each night with the rest of the steel workers, slams his “shot and a beer, Dolores,” and occasionally smashes a pool cue across the face of injustice.
In basketball terms, Wes is an energy guy, despite playing without an excess of energy. Excepting a few brief moments of fire, his game is controlled and deliberate. He inspires his teammates not with thunderous dunks, but with the latent ferocity in his humility and dedication. He is a symbol of the honor in sacrifice. He represents “the true heroes” who eschew the chase for glory and riches to be but humble 3-and-D men, happily doing thankless work to advance the greater cause. Wes is Rosie The Riveter.
Yet when called upon, he is more than willing and capable of stepping away from the factory where he builds airplane wings and battles through high screens and taking up arms to head off across the Atlantic to halt the spread of fascism, or heading down into the post to heroically front Dwight Howard for 24 seconds. Wes Matthews is the American Dream—or rather, he is America’s dream for you.