Joy in being barred

The Dunk Contest has been struggling for a minute now, and the Associations's helper dogs damn sure know it. Don't let J-Smitty's performance last year con you; if anyone ever saw him play, they'd know that his in-game stuff is nearly three times as invigorating to behold. Thus, it doubtlessly came as a cloak of fright to Stern and his minions to not only find out that LeBron, League Savior, not only has decined to participate (yet again, forever) - he also went out of his way to express his disdain for it. From the Kron Kron Beacon-Journal, via the indispensable Inside Hoops:
"I don't want to be defined as being in the Slam Dunk Contest, it's not me," James said. "When I dunk I'm trying to get two points. For the most part I don't predetermine what I do."

"I do dunks in the spur of the moment," he said. "I can't think of a dunk and, then, go do it. So we'll leave it at that."

"I'll leave it up to the guys who don't play as many minutes as I do," James said. "Those guys can throw it between their legs and stuff like that."
Shoals and I offer our takes on the ramifications of Bron's comments for the League and for the game itself.

Brown Recluse, Esq.

Basically, this is all Jordan's fault. From the moment His Airness decided to take his talents to the 3-Point Contest (where he tallied an embarrassing 5 points) in a misguided effort to prove to the world he was an all-around player, he ruined the Dunk Contest for at least the next generation of ballers, if not forever. Since then, the only contest worthy of comparison with the legendary bouts of the 70's and 80's was in 2000, when Vince Carter put on what is arguably the greatest dunking display any mass audience has ever witnessed. Tellingly, Carter has steadfastly refused to participate in any dunk contests since. I'll cut Jordan and Carter (and maybe even Kobe) some slack, since they proved all they needed to, but this new generation of stars (Lebron, D-Wade, etc.) won't even consider doing it once. It's not that they don't have anything to prove, it's more like the Dunk Contest is not only beneath them, but so vulgar (so black?) that it actually offends them to be associated with it.

I put Bron's reluctance to enter the Dunk Contest in the broader context of Jordan's detrimental influence over today's stars. Jordan's legacy, as much as baldies, long shorts, and black kicks, seems to be the dull, unoffensive, and ultimately unapologetically capitalist offcourt persona. As Jordan notoriously said during the Helms/Gantt Senate race, "Republicans buy shoes, too." I have to admit that I respect how well-spoken and mature Lebron seems in interviews, and I can't deny that Wade's humility seems genuine, but would it kill these guys to say something interesting? Worse, watching an interview with Kobe is one of the most frustrating experiences a hoops fan can endure, because you can tell that underneath all the polished soundbites, there lurks not only the much talked about "dark side," but also a truly captivating intelligence.

What these young ballers fail to understand is that Jordan's participation in the Dunk Contest played a large part in creating his legacy - indeed, it literally made him an icon - and it was only after repeated battles with Dominique that he moved on. Therefore, this is a case of players emulating #23, but not understanding the reasons behind the action. It wasn't the contest itself, but the fact that he had done all he could in that venue. After all, only the most reactionary red-stater could be offended by a Bron/Wade dunk off, and those guys don't buy hundred dollar basketball shoes anyway.

Bethlehem Shoals

One of the great Dunk Contest truisms is that of guards and small forwards having an unfair advantage over big men, whose ability to shock and awe us has little to do with the unexpected. Amare or Shaq astounds us exactly because despite our knowing what's coming, the finish is always more dynamic, more vociferous, more beyond our willing comprehension, than the term of logic we're left with between instances. On the other, fancy guard dunks are, not coincidentally, heavy on the technique and largely technical matters, shit we can recount in writing without coming up short. They're almost meant to be thought of this way, proof that a man can pull of something easily imagined but not yet realized. The figure skating or gymnastics comparison isn't a matter of gendered belittlement, just like calling Vince "elegant" doesn't mean he's a queer. Instead, it's about the way those kinds of competitions work: known vocab, devil in the combinations and contraction of the limits.

This kind of 2/3-centric dunking that the Contest is built around is also largely irrelevant to most of what we know about competitive basketball. As I've said before, dunking with style is all about psychological edge. By and large, though, this is usually accomplished by straight cramming it down someone's face than pulling out the fancy. That's just how it goes down most often (in traffic or on a hurried break), and even if a player's got the chance to improvise, too much cute robs the moment of its raw intensity. LeBron's coming out in favor of this kind of dunking - not denying that it's now key to the sport, but insisting that the art be seen as a contextual, and unexotically competitive, ideal. The "guys that go between their legs" embody meaningless, uninspiring, dunking, and is favored only by champs who get no minutes (i.e., they aren't real basketball players). Once again, a masterful balancing of the old and the new by the King, helping the league long-term even as they think he's killing them.


At 2/07/2006 1:17 PM, Anonymous T. said...

I think what's forgotten in all this is just how amazing Terence Stansbury's 360 Statue of Liberty dunk was. No one talks about that anymore. Heck, no one talks about Terence Stansbury anymore.

As to the irrevelance of the dunk contest, I'd blame the mid-90s winners of Kenny "Sky" Walker, Harold "Baby Jordan" Minor, Dee Brown and JR "It wasn't a kidnapping" Rider.

As a bonus: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2968298090955842775&q=dunk+contest

20 years of the contest - set to french rap.

At 2/07/2006 1:20 PM, Anonymous Neverwonthebigone said...

One-on-one, two-on-two, H.O.R.S.E., "21" ... all of these would be more exciting than B-level NBA players trying blind-folded, between-the-legs, 360-degree dunks. Paging Dr. Stern: the dunk contest is dead.

At 2/07/2006 1:29 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i didn't fit this into my remarks (should've seeing how fucking short they ended up being), but a lot of this also has to do with how much more athletic the nba is. not only are there more fantastic dunks during games, they can pull off the kind of dunks that once would've been possible only in the contest. call it the post-vince syndrome. that's forced dunk contest people to try and get even more ridiculous, which has brought them further and further away from any "real" dunking. maybe that is also the post-vince syndrome. lebron can do stuff in real play that might've won him the contest in jordan's day.

he also nailed it: "through the legs" really is the cut-off point. that just never happens when you actually need to score.

At 2/07/2006 1:32 PM, Blogger emynd said...

Let's not forget to blame the judges for the dunk contest's wackness. They throw around 9s and 10s these days like they're nothing. Last year's dunk contest COULD'VE been one for the ages if the rules were set up more logically and if the judges actually took the shit seriously. I mean, what kind of contest has a panel of judges sitting on the god damn court using the same pieces of papers with numbers written on em that the crowd is using to show the scores? And, what's worse, the judges kinda just look at what the other judges are giving 'em and say "Well shit, if Dr. J gave that a 10, I'm finna give it one, too." At least have the judges put their heads down on their desk so they can't see the other scores like it's a middle school vote for class president or something.

I think more than the dunk contest really changing though, the game has changed. The dunk is now an important part of the game, precisely because of people like Jordan and 'Nique and Kemp. Thus, since the dunk is such an important part of each and every game, it's really just not all that entertaining to watch some guys do a showcase of shit that is way more entertaining within the context of an actual competition where much more is at stake.

Furthermore, as spectacular as Carter's recent dunk contest was, none of those dunks hold a candle to jumping over a Euro in the midst of competition and dunking.


At 2/07/2006 1:33 PM, Blogger emynd said...

I think Shoals and I are saying something similar. Sorry. We posted at the same time.


At 2/07/2006 1:39 PM, Blogger Ken said...

I think to get interest from LeBron and the other big dunkers the NBA should put Damon Jones in the paint during the contest. They could change the name to the catchier "Dunk on Damon"

At 2/07/2006 1:50 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

brilliant idea, ken! or they could just bring out frederic weis and call it "flush on frederic." or wheel muresan out and call it "merk on muresan."

At 2/07/2006 3:02 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

someone on espn two years ago suggested a novelty one-on-one contest. like, what would happen if mark eaton and mugsy bogues went one-on-one. you cant tell me that you wouldnt watch that.

At 2/07/2006 3:38 PM, Blogger Ken said...

They could mic Damon for the crowd to hear.

"Hey Kobe! ya mamma so..Damn ow ow my head"

At 2/07/2006 3:58 PM, Anonymous illwafer said...

OR -

How about a dunk contest where they have to put their head on a baseball bat and spin around it 20 times before the dunk? I love that shit!

1 on 1 would be awesome though. Some of those guys have the illest moves.

At 2/07/2006 4:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kobe vs. T-Mac in one-on-one All-Star competition might literally cause the world to collapse on itself.

At 2/07/2006 4:59 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Iverson/Wade wouldn't be too bad.

At 2/07/2006 5:10 PM, Blogger Dr. Chestnutt said...

How about a Drunk Contest? In light of the dismay over league wide testing for pot, we collect the 10 hardest party-ing NBA'ers and challenge them to a "HORSE"-style shootaround that ends by spelling out the entirety of the Serenity Prayer. Winners in each bracket move on to the “furtivity” (sic) phase, wherein each hungover player is entered into an NBDL team's practice and timed to see who can go the longest without 1) collapsing, 2) weeping/keening, 3) invoking a groundless racial/cultural charge against an authority figure. The two with the best times are then challenged to a mano-a-mano Listerine drinking contest with the legendary Vin “Gin” Baker - the winner being determined by whoever is first to either 1) shit blood from an alcohol induced stomach ulcer, or 2) Score a one-year deal from the Knicks.

At 2/07/2006 5:21 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i've often wondered there aren't players recognized as "good all-star players," like the way some get commended for being suited to the playoffs. it could either be a knock on their real playing or on some people who don't excel in the all-star enviornment.

if they unveiled a 1-on-1 competition, it could become an entire discipline of basketball unto itself, like UFC or K2 is to boxing. you know there would be a ton of money spent to see pay-per-view games between nba stars. . . and then you'd have players like Odom who can't play with others but would kill in that setting. Would he leave the league and just become the king of the professional 1-on-1 circuit?


At 2/07/2006 6:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good god, I've stopped trying to understand what Shoals is saying...

And I gave up on discovering intelligence beyond basketball wizardry in the 'Black Mamba'.

At 2/07/2006 7:39 PM, Anonymous T. said...

Dr Chesnutt - Don't you think Nash and Nowitzki take that just by virtue of their internet photos?

Shoals - I'd argue that Odom actually plays very well with other players - provided they're not named Kobe.

I think the most devestating one on one players - aside from the usual suspects - are Speedy Claxton, Rafer Alston and Baron Davis.

Of course, Kareem crushed Dr. J in their one-on-one matchup, so I could be totally overvaluing skill vs. size.

At 2/07/2006 7:49 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i have to agree with t. odom's best skills seem to be passing and rebounding. not sure how that translates to 1-on-1. AI would be tough to contain on offense, but i don't see how he could guard guys like kobe, bron, or duncan (duncan's got handles!).

At 2/07/2006 8:29 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

points taken on odom, he just seems like the guy to end up excelling in an nba splinter sport.

but i was trying to think of someone who presented mismatches for anyone and could bring it to defenders in a variety of ways, exactly to avoid the size/speed thing.

iverson would be useless once he'd stopped scoring.

lebron could beat anyone, ever, in a game of 1-on-1

At 2/07/2006 9:19 PM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

lebron could beat anyone, ever, in a game of 1-on-1

Are you using the patented Angelo Cataldi asinine stance debate starter method here?

If you had said Kobe, I could let it slide because of his capacity for controlling the application of his vitriol, but on a good day I think '90-'93 Barkley could give Bron a run.

At 2/07/2006 9:32 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

it didn't take me long in philly to find that it took nothing more than a split second of hearing cataldi's voice to make me sick to my stomach. like shiny, slick piece of cartilege in a rotting dog sick. then, around the time i discovered bitar's, i made the mistake of saying the full name of his signature sandwich ("angelo cataldi etc. etc. etc."), and promptly lost my appetite. that sandwich was one of the two or three best things about philadelphia, but from that moment on i ordered it by grunting or ingredients-listing.

i was actually dead serious on lebron. you don't think he could consistently beat sir charles off the dribble (note i did not say "burn" or "glampk")?

i think i also meant it when i called lebron "the perfect basketball player" last month. the only thing that could make him better would be if he were seven feet tall and were a more technically sound defender. the latter is going to happen at some point and the former is so fucking ridiculous that it only serves to underscore what an improbably amazing basketball creation he actually is

At 2/07/2006 10:18 PM, Anonymous T. said...

Hmmm. Barkley - excellent choice. Especially without the "no 20 second back down rule" - I don't think anyone could stop him. But seriously, my choice is Hakeem 1993-1995.

He could guard guards, destroy forwards . . .and eat centers for dessert.

As for the dunk contest - the NBA could solve this by upping the prize from 50k (which is roughly what Moochie Norris makes in 1 game) to something like 500k or even a cool mil. Then we'd see JRich vs. Kobe vs. TMac vs. Vince vs. Wade vs. LeBron vs. Josh Smith vs. Stevie

At 2/07/2006 10:36 PM, Anonymous ryan b said...

If you're talking winners outs (which should always be the case in 1 on 1) then Shaq would be the best without a doubt. There is not a single player in the league that could stop Shaq from scoring every possesion in a 1 on 1 setting.

At 2/08/2006 7:48 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

you don't think a quick guard could strip shaq once and then drive around him the rest of the game?

At 2/08/2006 10:17 AM, Anonymous Jimbo said...

I might be a bit late to have this comment read by anyone at all - and it's pretty much random and only vaguely connected to today's excellent post - but anyway.

Having given a certain amount of thought to the FreeDarko theses of basketball as a sport of style, I've struggled to come up with a sport which is strictly analagous. But - and bear with me here - while I was watching the 2000 kung fu movie "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" and its epically choreographed fight scenes, it occured to me that if one could accept traditional Chinese kung fu as a sport, it would be one which would rival the Association as being one where style of 'play' rivalled the significance of the outcome of each contest. I mean, all those twirls and jumps and backward blocks makes for riveting viewing, but in pragmatic terms, wouldn't it be more effective to just run in there and start flailing about with 2x4s like they do at the pub up the road from me?

Is it possible that kung fu is one athletic endeavour where style of play is more important than efficiency?

At 2/08/2006 10:23 AM, Anonymous Neverwonthebigone said...

16 players, double-elimination random draw, one-on-one tourney, loser's outs, play to 21 by 2's and 3's:
Yao (just to see him get destroyed)

This would be bigger than all of the all-star events combined.

At 2/08/2006 11:37 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

jimbo-i'm no martial arts expert, but i think it's a very apt model for the function of style (paradox intended, for all) in today's nba. there's that same fine, flucuating line between craziness to fool people physically, fuck with them psychologically, and put a personal stamp on the whole thing that makes it YOURS (why i hate the spurs so much--they don't OWN their success in the same way).

re: shaq: i was going to say last night that i thought that shaq was definitely mortal against a speedy scorer, esp. one with reliable range. but think about young(er) shaq--you couldn't get anywhere near the lane, and not just because of the clog factor. which would limit the opponent to jumpers and three's. and once he missed. . game over.

At 2/08/2006 11:39 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

no amare in the 1-on-1? if healthy, and with that jumper he's been working on for the last year, he could take pretty much anyone on there. could match up with shaq, has the athleticism to keep up with any guard, unstoppable once he's within dunking range.

At 2/08/2006 11:50 AM, Anonymous T. said...

Why would you want to see Yao destroyed?

The man is the only center in the league averaging 20 points. and he's a hair under 10 rebounds.

Isn't 20/10 the magical number? Is he not street enough for you? Is he too good of a person? Does playing video games and hanging out at home chatting to his friends on IM instead of being at the club make him worthy of destruction?

Why the hate?

At 2/08/2006 11:57 AM, Anonymous Neverwonthebigone said...

I had Amare, Mebury and a couple others on my original list, but cut it down to make 16. I don't completely disagree with you, but wasn't sure who to snub in his favor. Plus, I was thinking in terms of who would do it this year.

of course, I think most of the guards would blow right past him, and his dribbling skills are suspect so I'm not sure he could win it.

The beauty of this all is that you can make a case for or against pretty much any of the top 25 players in the league ... which is exactly why there should be a 1-on-1 competition. Putting a $1M prize on the line would make it that much more popular for players and fans alike.

Oh, and how excited would gamblers/bookies be about this?

At 2/08/2006 12:04 PM, Anonymous Neverwonthebigone said...

re: hating on yao

i don't care for "soft" players. i'm annoyed by their inability to live up to their potential and like to see them exposed.

a wolves fan, i've watched yao get shut down by the likes of joe smith and marc jackson.

with his size, 20/10 should be a bad night for yao.

At 2/08/2006 12:37 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i'd replace brand on that list with artest. just because.

At 2/08/2006 12:38 PM, Anonymous T. said...

with his size, 20/10 should be a bad night for yao.

and this is based on all the other 7'6" guys who averaged 20/10?

Gheorge Muresan? Manute Bol? Shawn Bradley? Rik Smits? Mark Eaton?

"I love my Big Fella. I'll take him any day of the week. This [expletive] can play. You guys can say whatever you want about him, but this [expletive] can play. He is not Shaq. Everyone needs to get that out their mind. He can do so many things you guys don't even understand. I'll take him on my team any time." Houston's Tracy McGrady.

At 2/08/2006 3:17 PM, Blogger The Cavalier said...

Excuse my spam, but do you guys know we're right in the middle of an All-Star 1-on-1 simulation right now?


At 2/08/2006 3:35 PM, Anonymous snutz said...

I have a question.

A couple of years ago, after the NBA realized that no one of note wanted anything to do with the dunk contest, and after all the ridiculous attempts to breathe some fresh air into the event (e.g. "spin the wheel, do the dunk") didn't they finally decide to make a "rule" that the only people who could compete in the dunk-off were either rookies or sophs? That way they could say "Hey, we'd love it if Vince, t-mac, or Mason could compete but, unfortunately, the new rule won't allow it. Sorry fans, blame the new rule on why the dunk contest sucks." There hasn't been alot of talk lately of this rule and I was wondering if they were going to be willing to "forget it" if they could convince LeBron to compete? Also, I'm wondering if in-between shots of The Jet maniacally screaming "the dunk contest is back baby!" we'll be subtely reminded of why LeBron can't compete? I mean, this did happen right? I'm not just imagining this right?

At 2/08/2006 3:36 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i just took a look at YAY's match-up for today: Iverson vs. Bosh, and realized this entire mental exercise is pointless. this, or any, hypothetical game totally depends on who gets the ball first. bosh can't guard iverson outside, iverson can't guard bosh at all. if bosh has it first, he just shields his dribble, slowly makes his way to the basket, and then dunks on the dimunitive AI. iverson has to make bosh respect the range--not too hard, and considering the fact that long shots often equal long rebounds, it's not like he'd have to make it every time. then burn him every time.

the truth is, unless you (i mean "one"--not YAY! in particular, since obviously we've been talking abotu this here for over a day) can get two players who are either similar or can both do everything well, this might as well be "who wins the coin toss?"

At 2/08/2006 4:49 PM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

I know 1-on-1 is the current topic of discussion but, am I the only person here who thinks that H.O.R.S.E. would be the penultimate All-Star event. With 1-on-1 the differences in players diminishes the competition. I seriously wouldn't be interested in seeing Iverson v. Shaq. No matter how it turned out it would be boring and predictable. If Iverson won, it would be because of his speed and (relatively) superior jumper. If Shaq won, it would be because Iverson couldn't get around him to steal the ball as Shaq backs him down from the 3 point line. Either way there would be virtually no drama and nothing would be proven. We already know that Iverson is faster and Shaq is bigger and stronger.

On the other hand with H.O.R.S.E. you have the best of every All-Star event. You have long range shooting, imaginative and exotic dunks, intricate ball handling, and whole gamut of potentially nonsensical displays. In H.O.R.S.E. the most complete players would make it to the finals. Outlying freak talents (like Iverson or Shaq) would have no shot, if they did succeed it would be because they were able to pull off something completely uncharacteristic of their general play. They would have to do the impossible, which would create great memories and drama. If Shaq took out Ray Allen by hitting a reverse between the legs freethrow it would be classic image. If Iverson took out Vince Carter on some crazy tomahawk dunk it would be a timeless memory for every spectator.

But really an event like this wouldn't be for the single or dual tooled freaks, it would be for the 5 star 80 tool freaks.

Odom. Bron. Kobe. Tracy. Kirilenko. KG. You know folks of their ilk. Odom stands on one foot and hits a half court shot. Kobe matches his shot and then dribbles from one foul line to the other with his knees, takes off at the high post and reverse slams. You know, crazy shit like that. It would be the greatest basketball spectacle in history. Completely dramatic, tons of fun for the player and the fans, incredibly challenging, and I think it would inspire some great athletes to come up with some amazing shit. This competition challenges their all around game as well as their inventiveness in artistry.

Why hasn't the NBA caught on to this?

At 2/09/2006 3:16 PM, Anonymous Neverwonthebigone said...

what else is T-Mac gonna say about Yao? The truth: that he's soft? Hell no. What good is that going to do him. And of the guys you named, only Smits had the shooting ability Yao has. With his strength size and shooting ability ... if he had a few strong, back-to-the-basket moves, got himself into better shape, and played aggressively ... he could be so much better than he is.

If you are a Yao fan, I can respect that. If you are a Houston homer, I understand. But if that's the case, I'm curious to know your answers to these questions: Has Yao Ming lived up to your expectations? Is he playing as well as you think he is capable? Is he more soft than you'd like him to be? Can he do more to help his team win (when healthy, of course)?

At 2/09/2006 3:46 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

yao's a 7'6" chinese dude, of course he's living up to my expectations! you really expected a giant asian guy to dominate the nba??

and i say that as an average-sized asian guy.

At 2/10/2006 4:18 AM, Anonymous Fat Contradiction said...

"The dunk is now an important part of the game, precisely because of people like Jordan and 'Nique and Kemp."

Yeah, that whole time when they outlawed the dunk in college when Wilt was coming up, and kept it outlawed through Alcindor's reign, the dunk totally wasn't important then. (Nuthin' racialist goin' on, neither.)

But there is a crucial point in these comments here, I think. If Shoals is right that LeBron is right that "between the legs" is the ultimate in game-related pointlessness--and I think this is dead-on--then the ultimate in-game dunk is probably the Kemp/'Nique trademark tip-dunk. Comes out of nowhere, instantaneous, totally demoralizing.

At 2/10/2006 10:33 AM, Anonymous Neverwonthebigone said...

Dear Mr. Recluse: I cannot argue with logic so air-tight. I concede. Thank you for the insight.

Fond regards,


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