Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Greatest Dunkers of All-Time


Two things got me thinking about this topic. 1) The Slam Dunk Contest at the AAC during All-Star week, and 2) last week's blog post about attacking the rim. In response to one commenter, I asked him to list his top 50 dunkers ever. Then I thought "Wait a minute. I'm the seasoned, professional reporter here. Why don't I compile MY list of the greatest dunkers ever?" I talked myself into it.

I decided that ranking the top 50 would be too much. Does anyone, even an expert like myself, really know who the 47th and 48th best dunkers would be, and why I would put them in those slots and in that order? How about a simple top 10--with a few honorable mention categories? Sound good? It better, because that's what your about to sink your teeth into as long as you stay with this now world-famous blog.*

*World famous? I received an email from a reader in--get this--Canada! He was very complimentary of my work. Reaching across borders to promote world peace through sports observations--that's what I do.

My credentials: I've been studying dunks and dunkers for almost 40 years. I played countless games of pickup ball in college with my roomies against 8th graders on the dunkball courts in Denton (by Denia Rec Center--8 1/2 foot rims--perfect for 6 foot white guys to throw down on). I also (in college) was able to dunk a tennis ball on regulation 10-foot rims. I've seen every dunk contest from the original ABA classic in Denver to the recent farce in Dallas. The dunk is still the best moment in sports for me--better than a home run, a running back hitting the seam, a Tour stage winner punching the sky, or a close-up of a cheerleader's heaving bosom.

I've taken into account not only a player's ability and artistry, but his place in dunking history. So, with apologies to LeBron, Kobe, Shaq, and Darrell Griffith, here is the list:


THE TOP TEN DUNKERS OF ALL-TIME EVER IN THE HISTORY OF ALL-TIME


10. SPUD WEBB

I struggled with putting Spud in the top 10, but decided that what he did in the 1986 Dunk Contest was enough to earn this spot. His dunks would have been pedestrian had they been performed by a 6'7 guy, but because they were done by a 5'7 guy, they were spectacular. My friends and I were punching each other in the shoulder (and sometimes accidentally in the face) after each of his dunks. Couldn't believe it. I'm not sure if inch-for-inch he had the greatest hops ever, but he's got to be in the discussion. Gets the nod over Nate Robinson because Nate has a whopping two, maybe three, inches on The Hutch's own.


9. DARNELL HILLMAN


Nicknamed "Dr. Dunk", Hillman was better known for his huge afro (which was actually voted greatest afro in ABA history at the ABA Reunion in 1997). Hillman was 6'9 and a could dunk with either great grace or great force. He was a wonderful defender, and had he been a better offensive player (10 ppg and 7 rpg career averages) his legend as a dunker would be even larger than his afro.


8. DARRYL DAWKINS

One of the great power dunkers ever, with one of the greatest nicknames ever--Chocolate Thunder. I loved Dawkins. All he wanted to do was tear down the backboard, and he did just that in 1979--he dunked so hard that he shattered the glass in Kansas City, sending the late (now, not then) Bill Robinzine realing in a sea of fiberglass bits. Dawkins had nicknames for all of his specialty dunks, and he called that one his "Chocolate Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaking-I-Am-Jam." How can you not love a guy like that? For good measure, he broke another backboard three weeks later, prompting the league to issue fines for any more broken backboards. His power dunks also helped bring about the collapsable rim. Talk about an impact dunker. (Odd note: Darryl Dawkins never appeared in a dunk contest, yet Johnny Dawkins did)


7. SHAWN KEMP

Had more ferocious dunks than (insert baby joke here). Was a man-child. Dunked harder than even Dawkins did. Posterized so many players--it's impossible to count them all. 6'10, 280, and ridiculously explosive. If they had a little wattage counter on the rims, I'm sure Kemp would have recorded the most powerful dunks of all-time. I'm also sure that Kemp made more than one NBA player cry after slamming on him.


6. JASON RICHARDSON


I wish Richardson were a more complete player, because he's one of my favorite pure athletes to watch. He moves with an ease that is mesmorizing. He's a former Dunk Contest champ, and that's probably his lasting legacy. Important note: Richardson is 6'6, which I believe is the perfect height for a dunker. Tall enough to perform any dunk with ease, yet short enough to make it look like you are really flying through the air. This dunk-height theory of mine can't be disputed.


5. VINCE CARTER

You can argue that Carter is the most accomplished dunker ever, and you would have a pretty good argument. He really is a phenominal throw-down artist. He's a cut above Richardson as a player, and a dunker. But each will have a similar legacy--one of spectacular dunker and not-so-spectacular winner. But this is just about dunking, and trying to pick Vinsanity's best dunk is a futile effort. There is a 100-way tie for first. I think he has the most Dunk Contest-like-dunks performed in actual games than any player in history. 360, windmill, reverse, tomahawk--YouTube his dunks and you will see an endless loop of these types and more. Most of them finished on Dikembe Mutombo.


4. DAVID THOMPSON

You think Brent Musberger goes crazy over Colt McCoy? Then you never heard Brent do a David Thompson game in the 70's. Thompson splashed onto the NBA scene right when Star Wars came out, and DT quickly earned the moniker "Skywalker" (a nickname that Kenny Walker never should have accepted, just like Jerry Reynolds never should have been called "Ice"). I bet Brent called Thompson "Skywalker" no less than one million times during the random Nuggets vs Whoever game I was watching when I was 12. But it worked on me. Having never seen Thompson play in college, and having only read about him and listened to the his games on the radio during his ABA days, I was in love.


Two legendary Thompson dunk stories:

1) The alley-oop was invented for Thompson. At N.C. State, Monte Towe and Thompson perfected the lob pass to the rim (by Towe) and the catch and flush (by Thompson). Nobody had done this before, and it became an unstoppable staple of the Wolfpack offense. Unfortunately, Thompson played college ball during the period when the dunk was outlawed (post Alcindor)--the worst rule in the history of college sports. So the in-game alley-oops were finished with Thompson catching at the rim and laying it in. But that rule led to my favorite dunk story of all-time...

2) Thompson's senior year. He hasn't dunked in a game all year, because of the rules. Early in the 2nd half of a late-season game against UNCC, he drives the length of the floor, rises, and slam dunks. He gets a technical foul, and the basket doesn't count. But the home crowd goes absolutley bananas. To try to comprehend the crowd's euphoria, think of it this way: you are married to the hottest woman on earth, but on your wedding day you are told you can't touch her for 5 years. Then, after 3 years of having to live with her and look at her but not touch her, she surprises you in the bedroom one night when she pounces on you and asks you to make love to her. This is the feeling of surprise/ecstasy that the Wolfpack faithful had that night. They knew they had one of the greatest dunkers ever on their team, but they never got to see him dunk. Then, out of nowhere, he flips the bird to the NCAA and dunks--hard--in a game. I would have paid a lot of money to be there that night.

Oh, and Michael Jordan has said that David Thompson was his idol growing up. Enough said.


3. JULIUS ERVING


My favorite dunk ever was authored by Dr. J. It happened in January of 1983 (not in the playoffs as many think) in a game between the Sixers and Lakers in Philly. Erving steals the ball at midcourt, has only Michael Cooper to beat, takes a wide angle to the rim, cups the ball, rocks the cradle, and delivers the single most beautiful dunk in NBA history as he rises while Cooper ducks out of the way. The crowd goes ape.

Here is a link to utter perfection

I love the poetry of the motion--the crowd rises, the Doc rises, Cooper fades, the flash goes off right as he dunks--it's perfect. It will always be my favorite dunk.

Erving was the first legendary dunker. His exploits at the ABA Dunk Contest in '76 are well known; his famous take-off-from-the-foul-line-dunk is probably the most famous dunk ever. He had massive hands which allowed him to do crazy things with the ball. We missed his best stuff (or stuffs), which occured when a younger, higher-flying Erving dominated the ABA.


2. MICHAEL JORDAN

Air. Jordan. You know the rest of the story.



1. DOMINIQUE WILKINS


My pick for the best all-around dunker in the history of recorded time. His nickname says it all: The Human Highlight Film. He was so explosive, his dunks so violent, his hops so great, and his moves so many that he earns the coveted top spot in my rankings with ease. Nique seemed to hang in the air longer than any of the great dunkers. His signature dunk was the double-pump, where he would go up for the dunk, bring the ball back down as far below his waste as he could, then bring it back up for the actual stuff--sometimes doing this while adding the 360 element to it.

Wilkins was born to dunk. He never seemed at ease doing anything else on the court--didn't have a smooth jumper, looked uncomfortable on defense--but when he dunked, it was sublime. If I could only watch one person dunk for the rest of my life, it would be Nique.


Coming Soon: The Best White Dunkers (Brent Barry, Rex Chapman, Dan Marjle), The Best Lebanese/Greek Dunkers (Rony Seikaly and nobody else) and The Best Mavericks Dunkers (Tony Dumas) and The Best Dunkers Drafted By The Mavericks Who Never Played For The Mavericks (Terence Stansbury).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Attacking The Rim


If I were an NBA coach or GM, I would build my team this way (in no particluar order after number one):

1. Big Man. You build from the inside out. Give me one that plays defense, rebounds, has a low-post game, and can pass from the post. Yes, I know these players only come along once every 10-20 years, but that's where I would like to start.

2. Long Athletes. I love the Lakers front court. Gasol, Bynum, Odom. So many long and talented limbs. It's a tall man's game, folks (unless you are too tall and non-athletic, like Shawn Bradley, Chuck Nevitt or Manute Bol).

3. Great Defenders. I'll take one at any spot.

4. Selfless/Smart Players. High hoops IQ, put the team first, work for the best shot, and all of that crap.

5. Guys who ATTACK THE RIM. The number one trait I look for in an offensive player.

Every team should be built with the idea that they are going to defend the rim and attack the rim. Everything else falls into place if you can do these two things.

Getting to the rim is what it's all about. Really. It's no coincidence that the two best players in the NBA are also the two guys who can get to the rim anytime they want to: LeBron and Kobe. When you attack the rim, it opens a world of basketball doors. It makes you scary to defend. If they are worried about you getting to the rim, it gives you more room to launch a jumper. If other defenders are worried about you driving, the might leave their man to help, which means you've got someone to pass to.

Once you get to the rim, you usually win. It was either Darrell Royal or Woody Hayes (or some other old coach that feared the "forward pass") that once said "When you pass, three things happen, and two of them are bad (incomplete, or interception), so that's why we run the ball." That football philosophy is applicable when talking about getting to the rim in hoops, although I would expand it and flip it and say six things can happen, and four of them are good. The list:

1. You can make the layup or dunk (good)
2. You get fouled (good)
3. You get your sheet blocked (bad)
4. You get called for an offensive foul (bad)
5. You draw other defenders, giving yourself a chance for an easy assist (good)
6. You send a message to your opponent and your teammates that you are not afraid to attack (good)

It's all about getting high percentage, or easy, shots. Every NBA champ has had multiple guys that could get to the rim. As a coach, I would demand it. I want my point guard getting there whenever possible. I would want my wings making it a priority. I would tell my big men to attack the rim as though the rim just attacked their mother. It's all about mind-set. If my players had that mind-set--wanting to attack that rim and get dunks or draw fouls, I would feel great about my title chances. I want a pack of wild dogs who get after it on both ends.

It's why I love watching LeBron and Kobe. It's why I loved those 00's Spurs, with Parker and Ginobili living to get to the rim. It's why I hide my eyes when watching jump-shooting teams settle over and over and over for lower percentage shots.

From Bill Simmons' "The Book of Basketball":

"The fall-away jump shot is a passive/aggressive shot that says more about a player than you think. Jordan, McHale and Hakeem all had great fall-aways, but they were just a part of a larger arsenal. But five stars in the past 60 years have been famous for either failing miserably in the clutch or lacking ability to rise to the occasion: Wilt, Elvin Hayes, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and Kevin Garnett. All five were famous for their fall-aways, and took heat because the shot took them out of rebounding position. If it misses, it is almost always a one-shot possession. On top of that, it never leads to free throws. It's the worst shot possible for a big man because it moves you away from the basket instead of toward it. It's one of many reasons that Tim Duncan became more successful than Garnett--because he makes an effort to plant his ass down low and take high percentage shots, where Garnett settles for fall-away 18 footers"

Wonderfully put. A fall-away says "I'm afraid to fail." Attacking the rim says "You are mine, bitch!" Attacking the rim says you are going to take matters into your own hands. It takes more effort, but the rewards can be many. It takes guts, skill, hard work, and determination. Traits you better bring to the table to start with, or I won't have room for you on my team.

The Mavericks have a problem in that they don't have many guys who attack the rim. Roddy Beaubois is the best--by far--but he's a rookie who gets limited minutes. Newcomers Butler and Haywood might help in that department. Kidd is too old to do much attacking these days. Terry is too in love with his jump shot. Marion is no longer "The Matrix". Dirk is Dirk. Dampier isn't sure where the rim is. It's a problem.

But that's just me. In the end, I'm not an NBA coach or GM. I'm an AM radio hack, so take my opinion for whatever you think it's worth. But know this: if I were a 6-8 black man, the rim wouldn't stand a chance.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sizing Up The Mavs At The All Star Break

2010 has not been kind to the Mavericks. After a great start to the year, things seem to be coming apart. The All-Star break is a good time to evaluate a team--plus we're close to the trade deadline, which could shake things up, for better or for worse. Here are, in my opinion, the biggest problems facing the Mavs right now:

AGE

When Jason Terry was inserted into the starting lineup a couple of weeks ago, it gave Dallas five starters who were all over the age of 30. That's not good. Terry (32), Kidd (36), Dampier (34), Dirk (32) and Marion (31) comprise the oldest starting five in the NBA. I think this is the biggest reason for their recent defensive woes. Rick Carlisle has played these guys a lot of minutes. When you try to milk minutes out of old legs, they get tired. The first place that shows is on the defensive end, especially in players who aren't good defenders to begin with (like Jet and Dirk).

This is a problem that will not get any better, as these players only get older by the day and deeper into the season. When April rolls around, and the intensity gets cranked up a notch or two, the age of this starting five will be even more exposed. A trade to bring in young legs would help.

THE CORE

Following he collapse in Miami, I thought the Mavs needed to take a serious look at their core players. Something was clearly not right. But they stayed the course. Then, after the collapse the next season against Golden State, they REALLY needed to do something to shake things up. They didn't, until midway through the following season when they traded Harris for Kidd. This helped, but you were still left with Dirk, Damp, Josh, Stack, and Jet. There is no way they could take the court each night, look at each other, and not think about Miami and Golden State. They had let each other down in huge ways. The core needed to be busted up. Keep Dirk if you like, but it was time to surround him with fresh faces.

Today, the Mavs still have Dirk, Josh, Jet and Damp. Key figures in their recent playoff failures. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have held on to an ultimately unsuccessful core for too long. Which brings us to...

JOSH HOWARD

As I've said before, nobody has done more to bring down the Mavs franchise on and off the court in the last four years than Josh Howard. His play has now fallen off so much that the only reason another team would want him is because of the team option on his contract for next season. Cuban and Nelson should have moved him three years ago. If not at that time, then certainly two years ago after the New Orleans playoff debacle. In that series, Howard let the world know that he and every NBA player smokes pot. He defied the head coach by passing out birthday party invitations in the locker room after a LOSS. He shot 25% from the field in that series, and was so bad that the Hornets didn't even guard him when he had the ball. They were BEGGING him to shoot. Not sure I've ever seen an "all-star" treated like that in a playoff series. Ever.

Unbelievably, Cuban and Nelson could have traded Howard a year and a half ago for Ron Artest. Yes, Artest is a nut-job, too. But at least he's a nut-job that can play defense, rebound, and bring a tough-minded attitude to a team. Artest is a good enough player for the World Champion Lakers to acquire, but in the eyes of the Mavs he wasn't good enough to trade Josh Howard for? I still can't get my mind around that.

So, Mavs fans are left with a guy who used to be good, but who is killing them now. He doesn't rebound anymore (used to average 6 rpg, now down to 3 rpg). He occasionally plays defense, but not like he used to. He's always getting hurt. He's a brick layer. He hardly ever attacks the rim. He has, by a mile, the lowest basketball IQ on the team.

Everyone should have seen it coming. Most importantly Cuban and Nelson.

Josh slid in the draft because there were questions about his mental makeup. In the early days, he was always losing his cool. Throwing his headband or mouthpiece. Getting an untimely technical foul. Then we had the New Orleans series. Then we had the You Tube National Anthem comments. Then we had the drag racing. All the while, the bone-headed moments on the court kept mounting--inexplicable passes, dribbling the ball out of bounds, ugly shots. He has been a major drain on this team for years. Fingers crossed that before the trade deadline he becomes someone else's problem.

KEEPING DIRK HAPPY--AND IN DALLAS

In the last couple of weeks, Dirk has looked discouraged to me. He was late for shootaround the other day, was benched, and the Mavs proceeded to lose at home to the T-Wolves. A real low point in the season. Two days before that low moment, Cuban said that his team "sucked" and that he was thinking about making changes.

Dirk has an option at the end of this season. He can leave Dallas if he wants to. He has always maintained that he wants to end his career in Big D, but he also wants to win a title. Cuban has a huge decision to make: does he try to pull of a huge move this month to better the team for the rest of this season, or does he wait until the summer and try to bring LeBron (.001 percent chance), Wade, or Bosh to put alongside Dirk? Play for this season, or hold your cards for much talked about summer of 2010? It's the biggest decision Cuban has faced in a long time.

A P1 emailed me with a good point the other day. He said the Mavs look like Minnesota looked about two years before they traded Garnett. A mess around their superstar. KG kept playing hard, like Dirk, because that's what the greats do. But you could tell that KG was frustrated, and you can tell that Dirk is frustrated. You hear it in his post-game comments. You see it in his body language. You can see him thinking "this sucks", just like Cuban, and just like most Mavs fans.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Tall and Short of Winning a Super Bowl


Saints quarterback Drew Brees can make history Sunday. He could become the first Dallas-born quarterback to win the Super Bowl (NOTE: There is some Obama-like discrepancy about Brees' birthplace. Some records say Dallas, others say Austin. But, unlike Obama, we are sure Brees is an American citizen, so that's that). He could also reverse a trend that has been growing for the last 15 years--the trend that says if you're a signal caller shorter than 6'3, you're not winning the Lombardi Trophy.

Much like the trend of overweight coaches not winning it all (exposed on this very blog two weeks ago--and something that will continue with either the fit Caldwell or the svelte Payton winning this weekend), this quarterback/height trend cannot be ignored, and will not be ignored by this reporter.

Brees stands 6'0. He also stands to tie the record for shortest quarterback to win the big game. The last time a quarterback as short (relative term here) as Brees won the Super Bowl was Joe Theismann in 1983 with Washington. The only other Super Bowl winning quarterback who measured 6'0 was KC's Len Dawson in 1970.

Super Bowl winning quarterbacks have been getting taller and taller. Since the 6'2 Kurt Warner won it all in 2000, no one shorter than 6'3 has led his team to the title. That list includes recent giants Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Brad Johnson (all 6'5), as well as Eli Manning, Trent Dilfer and Tom Brady (6'4).

Why do tall guys seem to have a much better chance than shorter guys? Pretty simple, methinks. The average size of an NFL lineman has grown quite a bit in the last 15 years, so to see the defense (and your receivers) over those monsters up front, you better be pretty tall. Not that a shorter QB can't succeed, it's just simply more difficult for him to see the lanes and hidden defenders when he's having to stand on a phone book to throw.

Being a quarterback in the NFL is a tall man's job. There is a reason that no QB under 6'0 has won the Super Bowl. If you are a Doug Flutie (5'10), it's going to catch up with you. If you are an Eddie LeBaron (5'9), you should think about elevator shoes. It's the reason that scouts drool over a college thrower who stands 6'5. It doesn't always work out for that kid--but as they say, you can't coach height.

Super Bowl winning quarterbacks are getting taller. There is no doubt about this. In the 1960's and early 1970's, the aforementioned 6'0 Dawson, along with Bart Starr, Earl Morrall and Bob Griese (all 6'1) and Broadway Joe (6'2) won titles. Then, over the next ten years, the SB winning QB's grew, led by Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Ken Stabler, and Jim Plunkett (all 6'3). Doug Williams was the first 6'4 QB to win it all, matched a few years later by the 6'4 Troy Aikman. Only Theismann, Joe Montana (6'2) and Jim McMahon (6'1) brought the average down a bit during the 80's.

Average height of Super Bowl winning QB's by decade:

1960's: 6'1
1970's: 6'2 1/2
1980's: 6'2 1/2
1990's: 6'3
2000's: 6'4 1/2

So, Drew Brees has his work cut out for him. I guess there is a chance he could grow a few inches before the game (that's what she said), but probably not. So, based on this theory, I'll take the 6'5 Manning and the Colts to win, 34-24.

Hope you enjoyed this tall tale.