Recently a hero returned to NXT to confront its champion Shinsuke Nakamura and that hero is Kassius Ohno. A few months ago SLAM! Wrestling caught up with Ohno, then going by his other ring name of Chris Hero, at the House of Hardcore show in Niagara Falls, Ontario, to talk about his love of basketball.

Anyone who has seen Ohno’s ring gear knows it is heavily influenced by his hoop dreams. On that evening’s show he wore Toronto Raptors inspired gear with a nod to the teams’ former star Vince Carter. When the crowd saw the purple get-up they went bananas.

Chris Hero confronts Shinsuke Nakamura upon his return to NXT. Photo by Photo by Bill Otten, B&B Productions.

It was during his first run in the WWE developmental territory, NXT, when Ohno debuted his basketball threads. “When I was still in NXT I had a set of gear formed like the Orlando Magic,” said Ohno. “I just liked how it looked and came off and it went from there. I had a bunch of different designs like a Dream Team design, a Seattle Supersonics, the Denver Nuggets, the Clippers, Duke Blue Devils — my favourite basketball team — and I have had some fun with it.”

It was as a 12-year-old boy growing up in Ohio that Ohno first got interested in the sport. He was hooked by the first USA Basketball Dream Team and the great roster it had including Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, but also his favourite college player, the only collegian on the roster at those 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

“When I wear my Dream Team themed gear, I wear my number 4 Christian Laettner, who went to Duke,” said Ohno. “That was right when I got into basketball in 1992, I was 12 years old. I also got into Duke basketball when they had Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Christian Laettner. So that is all so vivid in my head, that era. You had Jordan quitting basketball and then the Rockets taking over and then Jordan coming back, it was just an awesome time to be a basketball fan. When I wear my Denver Nuggets gear it is a Dikembe Mutombo throw back jersey that I wear.”

The lure of the Dream Team and Michael Jordan had captured the imagination of many fans around the world. What was it that drew Ohno not only to the professionals, but even more so to the college game? “I like a lot of sports, but I follow nothing as intensely as basketball because of how exciting it is,” said Ohno. “You get to know the players and form an attachment to them. I am a Duke fan and every year we lose players and new players come in so you form a relationship with these guys. You just watch these guys grow up and mature. Then you have these sad stories of people who woulda, shoulda, coulda, there is a lot of that and it is very fascinating to me.”

Chris Hero sports some Atlanta Hawks-inspired duds at a House of Hardcore show in Philadelphia in September 2016. Photo by George Tahinos

Ohno isn’t just a hoops-obsessed fan watching on TV, he also loves playing pick-up basketball at his local gym. If he can’t find a game he will just shoot around. While he didn’t play competitively in high school, Ohno has spent time playing in many organized leagues with some good calibre players.

Being such an ardent fan of the round ball, Ohno has his opinion about the NBA’s current darlings the Golden State Warriors. “What is so great about the Golden State Warriors is that Steph (Curry) is the super star, but they all work together,” said Ohno. “From their first man to their 15th man any one of them is capable of lining up that night and have such a great camaraderie together.”

While we haven’t seen what Ohno will wear in the NXT ring I am sure it will be flashy and fun. Maybe he will wear an ABA throwback look? Whatever he decides to wear, he will have has sights on the NXT championship.