LeBron is in good company when it comes to being 'posterized'
In this high-tech era, getting dunked on now is like getting an electronic tattoo
LeBron is hardly the first star to get posterized -- and he won't be the last
Dunkers embrace the challenge of throwing down against a big-time defender
Permitting (if not instructing) Nike reps in the gym in Akron, Ohio, to confiscate video evidence of the play, sure, that's one way of handling it. Then there's this way, by what would be known as The Jordan Rules of Posterization.
"[Michael Jordan] would have probably cleared the gym out and said, 'It's me and you here, 1-on-1, for about the next half hour,' " former Bulls coach Doug Collins said recently on the Dan Patrick Show.
Jordan, of course, had the luxury of playing the bulk of his career in the relative Jurassic period of the Internet, when an NBA defender who got posterized truly wound up on a poster, taped to a kid's bedroom wall, the shelf life of the public indignity short. Times have changed. Everything is, or swiftly winds up, in the public domain. Behind closed doors in a summer-camp gym? Not a chance now, not with YouTube and TMZ and all the other forms of viral transmissions.
"You have to understand," Collins also said, "these NBA players today, they'll be in a game and a guy will be going to the basket ... and a guy goes up, sometimes guys will get out of the way. I've said to guys before, 'C'mon, you've got to go up and challenge that.' [They say] 'I don't want to be on SportsCenter.' "
Makes the notion of winding up on a poster seem quaint. Do kids even buy posters of their favorite players anymore? Now the great fear is getting shown up globally and in perpetuity. You've been wallpapered, baby. Bitmapped, JPGed and YouTubed. Getting dunked on now is like getting an electronic tattoo ... chosen by a rival ... smack in the middle of your forehead ... that never, ever can be burned or grafted off.
From the moment man first dunked -- literally a giant leap for mankind and, legend has it, first executed regularly by Oklahoma A&M 7-footer Bob Kurland in 1945 -- other men have been in position to get posterized. It's a long, storied tradition that seems only recently to have turned ignoble.
For years, dunkers and dunkees have switched roles easily, giving as good as they got. Kurland dunks on George Mikan, Mikan dunks on Kurland. You think Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain didn't suffer the supposed humiliation of being posterized by the other on many, many occasions? No one held it against anybody -- one man slammed, the other maybe checked for blood or a pebble-grain impression between his eyes, then took the ball and passed it in. Play on.
(Or not. An early and still-famous case of official posterization came courtesy of Darryl Dawkins in Kansas City in a November 1979 game halted by the moment. Philadelphia's man-child center slammed the ball with such ferocity that he smashed the glass backboard and had Kings forward Bill Robinzine ducking from the shards. Dawkins immortalized the play and his dunkee by naming it -- "Chocolate Thunder Flying, Robinzine Crying, Teeth Shaking, Glass Breaking, Rump Roasting, Bun Toasting, Wham, Bam, Glass Breaker, I Am Jam'' -- but arena workers were the ones scrambling for a new basket.)
Good for Robinzine, by the way. "I've seen more guys who won't even contest dunks because they're afraid of 'ending up on a poster,' '' one NBA big man said this week, requesting anonymity lest he be, I dunno, targeted for a few fresh ones. "I think every single thing should be contested, whether it's a dunk or a three-pointer. If a young player is worried about getting dunked on, he's not doing everything to help his team win."
We've all seen that: Defenders who try ever so subtly to slip out of the frame, turn sideways, duck for cover or show up a split second late, hoping to avoid that direct linkage of LeBron or Kobe or some other dunker "getting" him. Let's face it, there is a status thing to it -- the bigger the defender, in sheer size or in reputation, the more memorable the dunk. Little guys can beat each other with crossover dribbles from now until Tuesday, but "breaking ankles" is earthbound, rarely making for poster-worthy photographs.
"You'll have certain great shot-blockers where, before the game, the coach says, 'Hey, it's Dikembe [Mutombo], it's [Marcus] Camby, it's Theo Ratliff! Don't take it in there,' " the big man said. "So what happens? Some guys will take that as a challenge and go right at them."
No one expects them to like it, as competitive and proud as these guys are. But it happens to the best of them. LeBron got Tim Duncan one night in San Antonio in spectacular fashion, James' right elbow getting higher than the rim and his follow-through collision sending the Spurs' big man staggering and bending at the waist. Dwyane Wade got Duncan, too, blowing by him rather than banging into or leaping over him.
Often it's an equal-opportunity thing: Yao Ming has been a popular target for posterizing, the equivalent of a lumberjack eying the forest's tallest tree. But Yao once memorably backed into and slammed over Defensive Player of the Year perennial Ben Wallace in Detroit. The Rockets' now-hobbling center got Ratliff with a ferocious slam in Atlanta one night, too.
Scottie Pippen got Charles Barkley. Baron Davis got Andrei Kirilenko. Vince Carter -- who leaped over France's (and Knicks draft pick) Frédéric Weis in the 2000 Olympics for a great moment in posterization -- got Alonzo Mourning on a smaller, less brightly lit stage. Great players all. Jordan must have had a thing about Georgetown centers, frequently getting Patrick Ewing, Mourning and Mutombo (adding a little finger wag at Mutombo to mock Deke's trademark flourish after blocks). But then, Jordan and Horace Grant got dunked over by New York's John Starks in the 1993 playoffs at Madison Square Garden in a play that still ranks as one of the NBA's greatest dunks.
Jordan isn't known for being on the receiving end, obviously, and he isn't immortalized that way either. The bronze statue outside Chicago's United Center shows the Bulls' legend soaring for a dunk in that familiar spread-legged-in-flight logo pose, over an outstretched arm, its hand a good 3 feet below where Jordan's likeness has the ball. The opponent? No one in particular and therefore, Everydefender, an amorphous bronze blob that spares any one identifiable foe from an eternity's humiliation.
The sculptor described Jordan's fly-over mates as "an abstract entanglement of opponents." We'll just say he took posterizing one step beyond to ... statue-izing.
No story on posterizing, though, would be complete without a nod to Shawn Bradley, the former Philadelphia and Dallas center who became the poster boy of posterizing during his NBA career. Clearly, Bradley's 7-foot-6 height made him the guy gunslinging dunkers sought out to earn their spurs. He had no bulk to keep the soaring offensive players away from the rim, and his relatively short arms offered little interference. His pointy elbows, meanwhile, provided plenty of motivation over the course of 48 minutes.
Bradley got dunked over by the greats and the not-so-greats. Shaquille O'Neal went through him as if the Dallas big man was one of those inflatable-defender training tools. Chris Webber got him repeatedly, as if reminding him who was drafted ahead of whom in the 1993 lottery. Kevin Garnett would dunk and glare, not necessarily in that order, conjuring all those "inadvertent" elbows to mix some rage into the play. But then, others who made highlight reels with Bradley as an unfortunate co-star included Cuttino Mobley, Donyell Marshall, Robert Pack, Keon Clark and Ed O'Bannon. (They're all on YouTube, too.)
Collins gave Bradley credit at least for almost always challenging the dunks, regardless of the likely outcomes. But he couldn't suppress his amusement while recalling a game he worked for TNT when Tracy McGrady raced along the left baseline to slam one down over Bradley. McGrady immediately stalked around the court in Dallas with that "You thought I couldn't?!" look, the scowl of stubborn determination that often comes an instant after the poster shot.
Collins remembered broadcast partner Kevin Harlan's call: "Here comes McGrady. ... Oh! He just sucked the gravity RIGHT OUT OF THE BUILDING!"
Poster? Probably. But at least Bradley escaped unnamed from the audio-only version.
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