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Ralph Macchio details love for Islanders, NY sports and whether ‘Karate Kid’ is a sports movie

When Ralph Macchio is at a sporting event and hears “You’re the Best” by Joe Esposito blasting through the speakers, he has a good idea what’s coming next. His face will appear on the video board, and then he’ll have to do something to pump up the crowd.
“It’s met with such a roar of fandom,” the star of the “Cobra Kai” television series and “The Karate Kid” movies said.
Macchio doesn’t hide from these moments. He relishes them, and he doesn’t seem to enjoy them for egotistical reasons. It’s mostly because of the connection he’s able to create among the fans who care about him and the character he’s played. This is a theme of his book “Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me,” in which Macchio discusses how landing the role to play Daniel LaRusso in the 1984 classic “The Karate Kid” did so much for him and others who found common ground with the film and its themes. The book was released last week.
Thanks to everyone who has already pre-ordered WAXING ON! The response has been amazing! Early reviews are starting to come in! @kirkusreviews: “Macchio’s sweet, nostalgic memoir is as family-friendly and instructive as its inspiration.” — Ralph Macchio (@ralphmacchio) July 28, 2022
The 60-year-old Macchio — a massive Islanders fan who went to their season opener the night before this interview — took time to talk to The Athletic about his relationship with that team, his relationship with New York City sports teams and how “Cobra Kai,” a streaming show on Netflix that’s a continuation of “The Karate Kid” and just aired Season 5, has figured out a way to weave sports into its show. Macchio additionally weighed in on a longtime debate of whether “The Karate Kid” is indeed a sports movie.
(Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.)
How deep is your relationship with the Islanders? Do you know Jon Ledecky or anyone else around the team?
I do. I was just with (Ledecky at the season opener). We don’t meet on Fridays for poker, but they know me, I know them. They know I’m a fan. I support the team. I did something with the opening ceremony … it’s just fun. I love the new arena. It’s really fantastic. This is sort of, like, the real first season. Last season was difficult because it wasn’t finished yet, and then (several players caught) COVID-19, and we had a terrible start and never got out of it. But hopefully, brighter news for the future and (they) get back into the playoffs. That was fun, two seasons ago (when they made the Stanley Cup semifinals). That was a blast.
How has your relationship with the Islanders grown from just being a fan as a kid to being shown on the video board? Was that happening actively in the ’80s and ’90s also, or is this more of a recent phenomenon? How has this developed?
I would say for the ’90s, first of all, there weren’t any (video boards), and you never saw video images in the ’80s on the scoreboard, at least to my recollection. Certainly not at the Nassau Coliseum. We were not at the forefront of technology at the old barn. So, it was later on, and once they could show clips, I would hear “(You’re) the Best Around,” and I would know in a second I would be up on the scoreboard — and more so recently. But even before “Cobra Kai,” it would happen.
In the early 2000s, anytime I would be at a game and they would know I was at the game, that little camera guy would kneel down in front, and I knew it was coming. I would always advise with my son, my daughter and my wife; I’d be like, “How’s my hair? How do I look, because I’m going up?” Now it’s met with such a roar of fandom with the kids because of “Cobra Kai.” That’s what’s so amazing about that show and what I write in my memoir in my book: The uniqueness is something that is equal parts nostalgia yet contemporary relevance. I can talk about that almost 40-year journey in those shoes and what it’s been like. That’s what, hopefully, people grasp onto. It’s a truthful conversation about what it’s been like for me.
You’re talking about the journey in the ’90s when you’re shown on TV. There are people born in the ’80s who are cheering. Now you go on the video board, and there are 10-year-olds to 50-year-olds cheering. I was listening to Martin Kove on Rich Eisen’s show, and he was talking about how “Cobra Kai” spans so many ages.
It really does. I get a lot of parents who say, “Thanks for giving me something I can watch with my kids.” You’re the most uncool person on the planet to your kids when they get to a certain age. Now “Cobra Kai” makes everybody cool. They’ll sit and watch “The Karate Kid,” or sometimes, the kids will back themselves into the original movie franchise. Some know the movie franchise and watch the show, but some, it’s their favorite show. They watch it and their friends are like, “Wait a second, this is where it starts?” That’s really kind of very unique. I write to that, as well. It’s really a four-quadrants show as they call it. It’s fathers and sons and mothers and daughters, grandparents and kids all getting a little something out of that piece of entertainment.
What was your thought when you saw Martin Kove (John Kreese from “Cobra Kai” and “The Karate Kid”) partying with the Stanley Cup on Instagram? Have you seen that?
I have. I actually have to mention that (to him), too. We haven’t spoken about it. I don’t know if he’s been to enough hockey games to have had the privilege to party with the Stanley Cup. But, it’s great. Listen, I am a hockey fan. I’ve always been a hockey fan with the Islanders and the dynasty team of my childhood with four straight Stanley Cups. I, so often, run into people that don’t get it. They’re like, “What? Hockey? Why hockey?” Especially from the West Coast, or whatever. Anytime it can be brought to the attention of the masses and if John Kreese, aka Martin Kove, gets to do that, I’m cheering for it.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by MARTIN KOVE (@martinkove)
I saw a picture of him with Jacob Bertrand (Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz on “Cobra Kai”) and Gianni DeCenzo (Demetri Alexopoulos on “Cobra Kai”) at a Flames game. And immediately, my mind went to, “Are they filming ‘Cobra Kai’ in Calgary now? What is going on?”
They were doing a Comic-Con in Calgary. These comic conventions have become such a big place to promote and appear. “Cobra Kai” and “The Karate Kid,” certainly. “Cobra Kai” is right in that wheelhouse. Even though it’s like not a superhero, “Star Trek” or “Star Wars,” it has that kind of fandom. Calgary supposedly has a big one. When you go into town, they offer you things to do. If you go to Chicago, it’s tickets to the Cubs. If you go to Dallas, it’s a Cowboys game. You try to time it out, so I think that’s what they might have been doing at that time. But I’m the true hockey guy on the “Cobra Kai” show. It’s not even close.
I was going to ask about that and how they weave hockey into “Cobra Kai.” I think it was Season 2 when you and the Robby Keene character (played by Tanner Buchanan) were training out in the woods, and you said something like, “I have got to get the (Devils) score.”
It makes sense because LaRusso, the character, is from New Jersey, so he would be a Devils fan! And Macchio is from Long Island, so I’m an Islanders fan. The writers of the show enjoy that. One of our writers is a big Philadelphia Flyers fan. As a matter of fact, we had a bet somewhere in the season when the Flyers played the Islanders in the first pandemic playoffs, and the Islanders beat them. The bet was the other person had to wear the other (team’s) jersey to the first day of shooting on Season 4, and he showed up in the Islanders jersey.
There is a hockey scene in Season 4 of “Cobra Kai” where LaRusso is confronted by four hockey guys, and he has to take them all down, and Johnny Lawrence, Billy Zabka’s character, just sets them up for a little bit of a strike-first element, where I learn a lesson from the “Johnny Lawrence School.” We’re at a minor-league hockey game, and you have to take out five guys. Really fun scene. I’ve always wanted to bring that to the Islanders game — or to any hockey game — and put it on the scoreboard.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by ralph_macchio (@ralph_macchio)
It’s about fighting, so I don’t think the NHL wants to promote that part of it. Back in the day, you could make a movie all about fighting. Hockey is just a great sport. I mean, the fighting part is not what I find great. The competition and the fluidity, the speed of the game, the execution and athleticism … it’s awesome. We’ve got writers who love it, and myself, so that’s why it gets peppered into the “Cobra Kai” world. Equally, there’s a Keith Hernandez bobblehead on my desk at LaRusso Auto.
Before that episode aired, I hadn’t watched it yet, and somebody texted me and said, “Look for the bobblehead on LaRusso’s desk.”
Jon Hurwitz, one of our writers and creators of “Cobra Kai,” is a massive Mets fan, so that was his doing. I threw out the first pitch (at a Mets game) during Season 1, when the show was on YouTube, I think the day after it came out. Zabka was behind the plate, and I was on the mound, and I threw a high, outside one. Thankfully, he’s over 6 feet tall, so he snagged it and made me not look like a fool. It was a good partnership. So, the first pitch at the Mets game, that was fun.
Have any players slid into your DMs just to tell you how much they like the show? I know there was the thing with the Capitals, which must have been just surreal. What was that like?
That was crazy. They gave out the “Cobra Kai” headband to the offensive player of the game, and they gave the Miyagi-Do headband to the defensive player of the game, and they did it the whole 2020-21 season with (coach Peter Laviolette).
Pain does not exist in this dojo.#ALLCAPS — Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 15, 2021
Ex-Islanders coach!
It felt like they’ve all been ex-Islander coaches. They just cycle through. But yeah, that’s right. That was cool. I actually did a toss back to the Washington Capitals, their broadcast. They had me on, but I still supported my (Islanders) fandom. The Mets did a little crossover thing a couple of weeks ago. It was actually a terrible game; they lost to the Cubs. They were swept by the Cubs. Everyone talks about being swept by the Braves at the end of the season. But being swept by the Braves, they’re an elite team. Being swept by the Cubs, that’s where you lost your (division lead at the) end of your season.
But it was Islanders Night at Citi Field. Josh Bailey and Adam Pelech and Ross Johnston, a couple of (other) guys were there. It was fun to take pictures with Bailey’s kids and talk a little bit about the upcoming season while I was at a Mets game. So, I had two of my teams. My Jets are doing OK for what the (NFL) predictions were, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s fun, I enjoy sports. I enjoy them with my son, my family. It’s New York. It’s what’s grounded me.
I was just talking to someone previously about how I never sort of slipped down the slippery slope of drugs, alcohol and problems like that during the lean years or during the times where it gets so in your face, and how I avoided it. I said, “Because my sports teams were doing well so I wanted to go back to New York to go to the game.” Maybe that’s what kept me out of going down a dark path, that the Islanders were good. The Mets were good. So, I wanted to get home to go to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
It seems like you always enjoy being there at sporting events. I’m a reporter, I’ve been in these locations where celebrities walk in and they think they own the place. You don’t seem to do that. You just walk in and you’re like, “I’m so thrilled and grateful for this experience.”
For sure. But on the flip side of that, I do take advantage of when I can be in a suite. I was in a suite (at the season opener), and at a Mets game, I was invited into the owner’s suite. So, I’d be lying to say, “I want to sit in the last row and freeze to death and have beer spilled on me.” I’ve done my share of that. I’ve lived long enough. I’ll take the soft, cushiony seat when I can. But (when) I’m at someone else’s house, I’m a guest and I want to be entertained, have a good time and cheer on the team and see some good competition. That’s the way I look at it.
When I was listening to Kove on Eisen’s show, he said that “The Karate Kid” is not a sports movie. I read your book and I’m like, “I think he might be right,” but it was still listed on The Athletic’s top 100 sports movies. What do you think?
That’s an ongoing debate. I do touch on that in the book. John Avildsen (director of “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid”) said “Rocky” is a love story and “The Karate Kid” is a father-and-son story. Are they sports movies? Is “Hoosiers” a sports movie? Yes. Is “Rudy” a sports movie? Yes. “Field of Dreams?” Yes. “The Natural?” Yes. “The Karate Kid?” No? Well, karate is not a cool … well, now it might be different. With “Cobra Kai,” karate is front and center. But karate is not basketball, baseball, hockey or football. I think if “The Karate Kid” was a football player, maybe it would be considered a sports movie. I don’t know. It’s athletic, and martial arts is a sport, I can promise you. It’s probably, I think, it’s mentorship, fatherhood, coming of age before it’s a sports movie. But let the debate go on because that means they are still talking about it. That’s how I look at it.
(Photo courtesy of the New York Islanders)



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