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Dunkers on dunking

Experts weigh in on art and impact of the throwdown

Posted: Friday February 22, 2008 11:15AM; Updated: Friday February 22, 2008 2:20PM
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LeBron James throws one down during last season's playoff series against the Pistons.
LeBron James throws one down during last season's playoff series against the Pistons.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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Shawn Kemp once described dunking as "better than sex," and as the father of numerous children by numerous women, he should know. In general, though, I found that dunkers tend to downplay the act. After all, for them it's both easy and natural. What's there to talk about? Ask them enough questions, however, and they start talking. Here are dunkers on dunking:

First Dunks

LeBron James: "Eighth grade. I don't think my first dunk transferred me from boy to a man but it was probably one of the best feelings I had. ... Watching TV and seeing some of the greats, Michael Jordan and Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill at the time, I wanted to be able to do it."

Baron Davis: "I was 5-5 or 5-6 in 10th grade. It was at school, sort of like during our free period, playing three-on-three. I went up and dunked one hand and grabbed it with two. The next play, I dunked on one of my [high school] teammates and the next play after that I dunked on another dude. Once I knew how to take off and dunk on 10 [feet], I knew I could sneak people and dunk on them. So I dunked on two of my teammates on that same day, the first day I dunked."

Dominique Wilkins: "It was eighth grade. It was with a volleyball. I was probably about 6-1. It was Baltimore summer league. It was probably between games, warm-ups. The feeling? Oh, it was the most incredible feeling I ever had."

Henry Bekkering (University of Calgary forward and YouTube legend): "I was 13 years old in eighth grade. I was outside with a couple of friends. It was one-handed."

Impact

James: "I think certain dunks have that kind of staying power. ... Kevin Johnson over Hakeem or Starks dunking on the Bulls baseline. ... I think there are a lot of dunks in NBA history that people remember, even more than fundamental plays. ... It's powerful, it means a lot and it's like a stamp of approval."

People you don't want to try to dunk on

Davis: "Shaq, Shaq and Shaq. I tried to dunk on him in college and he said, 'Just try it again.' And I never, ever tried it again in my life. He gave me one of those looks. Also Tim Duncan. There are certain dudes you're just not going to dunk on. You're not going to dunk on Shaq. I want to play for a long time."

Jason Richardson: "Probably Ben Wallace and Shaq. They're the two biggest guys, and with Shaq, eight out of 10 times he's not going to block it, but you end up on the floor."

On playing below the rim

Steve Kerr (OK, so he's a non-dunker, but he's still talking about dunking): "At the Final Four in 1988 [with Arizona], I remember at an open practice our guys were putting on a dunking exhibition. They ended up picking me up and holding me up so I could dunk and join the competition. That's what it took. It was a proud or humiliating moment, one of the two, I can't remember." (And let the record show, so that no one misinterprets it, that Kerr was being quite sarcastic at this point in the interview.)

A Holy Grail dunk

Bekkering: "All the dunks are being done now. If someone could do double through-the-legs, maybe. It's like the 100-meter dash though, there's only so far you can push the line. The world record is only going to stay at a certain point."

When and how to do it

James: "I just read the defense. I'm not looking for a defense that tells me I can drive for a dunk. If it's an opportunity where I'll be able to break down a defense or there's no help-side help, you want to pick [your spots] through the course of the game."

Wilkins: "It was all instinctive. Everything I did was all instinctive. Nothing I really practiced on."

Genetics

Bekkering: "My dad is 6-5 and could jump. When he was 50, he could still dunk. He was a school-board member and schools used to get him to come into pep rallies, to talk about fund-raisers or whatever, and teachers all knew him and they'd all be, 'Dunk it, dunk it,' and so he would. Dress clothes and everything."

Momentum

James: "A powerful dunk can definitely get your team excited and your crowd excited. [An example is] in the playoffs last year when I drove the lane and dunked on Rasheed Wallace. Because we have a rivalry with the Pistons and I don't think our fans like Rasheed very much [here James laughs], they kind of got really excited about that. [It was] definitely a momentum change."

On getting old

Wilkins: "A lot of people joke, 'I bet I can dunk on you.' I say, 'I'm old, but not that old yet. How much money you got in your pocket?'"

Davis: "All you can do is talk about when you could. That's it. I know that day is coming for me, when I got to tell some of the younger guys, 'Man, I used to be able to' ... I once thought, I'll never say that. But they come and they leave, your hops go."

The allure

Bekkering: "To an extent it kind of mystifies people. You're getting up there and getting high. It doesn't look real, it makes them have awe that they can't do it. That's why people go so crazy over the dunking."

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