The MJ of Dwarves

Jahmani Swanson is the best little-person basketball player on the planet. And he's just getting started.

The next year in California, the Towers challenged the Statesmen at the National Games on their home turf. The Towers destroyed them.

In 2011, they blew them out for gold again, in Nashville, and a third time this year, in Dallas. Brown isn't shy about basking in the revenge. "There's a lot of animosity," he says. "The tables have turned. You gotta understand, we only get to play once a year against other little-people teams, right? So the competition is very heated, very intense. It's going to be a battle to the end.

"And guys claw to win these games, because there's another side to this," he says. "The dating side of the convention, which, you know—" he hesitates for a second. "It's like the lions in the jungle. People play for bragging rights. And now the Towers have dominated on the court, and I don't want to say it but . . ." He smiles. "We're seeing the fruits of our labor now.

Jahmani Swanson’s first official practice as a New York Tower, on Long Island.
Courtesy of the New York Towers basketball team
Jahmani Swanson’s first official practice as a New York Tower, on Long Island.
The Towers celebrate their three-peat in Dallas, July 2012. 
Justin Tompkins, back row, far left, Swanson, back row, second from right.
Courtesy of the New York Towers basketball team
The Towers celebrate their three-peat in Dallas, July 2012. Justin Tompkins, back row, far left, Swanson, back row, second from right.

"It gets pretty wild," Brown finishes. "It gets crazy."

Swanson and Tompkins went to the parties and made friends, but, alone for most of their lives, the brothers were set in their ways. Tompkins says he's not attracted to the women, even the groupies who throw themselves at him. Swanson himself only dated average-size girls until he asked out a little person this year in Dallas.

Brown met his girlfriend at the 2009 convention, when he was chairman. It was a big summer for him, he says, because that year he also helped lead the LPA to declare October Dwarfism Awareness Month, while officially denouncing the word "midget" as a slur.

"I took advantage of my status," he says, talking about his girlfriend. "Sometimes you gotta be a boss."

Brown's third goal for the Towers is to win the 2013 World Games, the dwarf Olympics, next summer at Michigan State. It's the first time in 20 years that the games will be held on American soil. The Towers fully expect to win, and they're holding monthly practices to be sure. But their star isn't in New York.

He's thousands of miles away, in a bar, in front of hundreds of fans, almost all of them white, the whole lot of them screaming and yelling and shitfaced. The noise blends with the smell of beer and sweat and cascades into the miniature boxing ring in the center of the room. They're cheering his name.

"The Athlete!" they call to him as he climbs to the top buckle. "The Athlete!"

Jahmani Swanson is on the Extreme Midget Wrestling Federation tour. It's his day job, touring across the United States. Sometimes they put on a few shows a week in one town—in Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada—before moving on. The Athlete isn't the main attraction, but he's one of the crowd-pleasers, extremely athletic and cast as one of the good guys, like the Rock when his name was Rocky.

The Athlete is airborne, flying, fully extended. He hangs in the air for a second, then collides bodily into his opponent. Baby Jesus struggles to get up, but the Athlete, shirtless in black trunks, black tube socks, and tennis shoes, is already on his feet.

Baby Jesus turns slowly, dazed. That's when the Athlete takes off.

He jumps, corkscrewing in the air until he's facing away from Baby Jesus, kicking his legs up until he's parallel to the ground. He latches on to the back of Baby Jesus's neck. Then he falls back to earth, pulling Baby Jesus with him, and they crash together in a heap.

The Athlete lands on his back. Baby Jesus lands on his face.

The Athlete rolls over for the pin. He hits Baby Jesus with his finishing move, the RKO. Baby Jesus's eyes are squeezed shut, the only sign of life the slow heaving of his barrel chest. That sucker's going nowhere. The place goes nuts.

Swanson picked the character of the Athlete for himself. "One of my friends was doing it," he says, explaining how he wound up on the Midget Wrestling circuit. "I was interested as a kid growing up, I was into wrestling, so I wanted to try to experience it. I adapted real quick."

It's acting, of course, all of it, but Swanson can act. It's also tough on the body, especially on dwarves' smaller, more fragile bones, but Swanson has a great body. Still, the money isn't great. He walks away on an average night with about $200. He gets more if they sell out. The traveling is brutal. But it has allowed him to move to Los Angeles, where, he hopes, he'll become a star.

That's the whole goal: to be discovered, to get rich, and, most important, to get famous. And though the LPA has criticized the Extreme Midget Wrestling Federation for exploiting stereotypes and profiting from the long-standing notion of dwarves as buffoons, it's just another job to Swanson.

Swanson at his core is an entertainer, and that's why earlier this year he left his family, his home, and his daughter for L.A. "I don't plan on doing this for long," Swanson says, on the road toward the wrestling troupe's next show in Lawrence, Kansas.

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