Harlem Heat is headed for the WWE Hall Of Fame. I’m not here to break down the merits of WWE’s version of the Hall of Fame, but Harlem Heat made thousands of young black boys in the 1990’s feel something inside that watching teams like The Steiner Brothers or Road Warriors couldn’t. Don’t get it wrong, I was all in on The Steiners, but Booker and Stevie Ray felt like what I was familiar with.
Harlem Heat was intense, dangerous, and felt as authentic as they came. I once heard Booker T tell a story about yelling everything he had to say into the camera during their entrances because of course WCW wasn’t going to hand them a mic. It was brilliant because it was just raw energy coming from a man and team that was in the business to take what they wanted, and prove they could hang with anyone.
Personally, I loved the street element that The Heat brought because I felt like Booker and Stevie Ray were actual dudes I could run into at my barbershop, or in the park in my neighborhood growing up. They talked like my friends and I, and in retrospect, they were the injection of blackness that the white southern world of WCW was never ready for but learned to love over time. One of my favorite things to do is to go back to when Booker became a main eventer in WCW, and watch his entrances where he would have thousands of white fans all over the country raising the roof in full support of him after grinding for years in WCW. Flat out, just watching Harlem Heat made me feel good, and represented.
When talking about Harlem Heat, you cannot mention who they were without talking about race, and doing so for a team that started with the tag team name of “The Ebony Experience” would be a futile attempt to do so. However, if we didn’t, we could just point to the trophy case that includes 10 WCW Tag Team Championships, the style they brought to the game, the breakout star in Booker T that the team produced with Booker inheriting Stevie Ray’s legacy in the process, Stevie Ray’s intense promo style, and presence and list of incredible rivalries during their time.
They were at the center of several different controversies in their time in WCW. WCW, a company who was on the end of several racial discrimination lawsuits, once had the absurd idea to introduce Booker T and Stevie Ray as Kane and Kole; a pair of wrestling prisoners who would enter arenas in shackles being led by Col. Rob Parker. Somehow, this was even too racist for WCW, and they settled into the Booker and Stevie Ray personas they became famous for, being managed by Sister Sherri, as Stevie was the monster of the squad, and Booker was the in-ring talent that made it all click.
Of course, there was also the legendary moment where Booker T told Hulk Hogan he was coming for him in a way that only he could. Depending on who you are, it was one of the realest moments in wrestling history. You’ve watched it millions of times, so let’s watch it again.
Booker T looked like he thought his career was over. Luckily, this wasn’t an issue at all and Harlem Heat kept rising up the ranks. In later years, Booker publicly expressed his shame at the moment, but it’s something I bet cracks him up on the inside.
I don’t care that Stevie Ray wasn’t the smoothest wrestler I’ve ever seen. I don’t care that Booker won the championship in 2000 as the company was in freefall. I don’t care that they weren’t even from Harlem! I’m here to protect our legends incase no one else does. These were Hall Of Famers to me, whether Vince McMahon designated them with a unanimous vote or not. You cannot write the history of WCW without them, or under estimate their impact on African-American wrestling fans, and the wrestlers who’ve come up after them.
This past January, The Street Profits; Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins, showed up with gear that was a tribute to the singlets Harlem Heat rocked in WCW and I loved every second of it. Ford, with his high flying front flip dive over the rope, made me pause and remember when a young Booker T would finish dudes off with the Harlem Hangover. It really is great WWE is putting Booker T in for a second time, and I hope Stevie shows up with the Slap Jack, but Harlem Heat has been certified for a long out here. With that said…
Hogan better not induct them.