Maybe it's a sign of my advancing age, but I'm fed up with all the show-off slam-dunking in basketball. Did you catch the closing minutes of the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago last month? Players on both sides were setting up teammates with lob passes, backward over-the-head feeds, backboard-high bounce passes—whatever it took to produce a rim-rattling jam.
The fans roared their approval. Never mind that the play was unbearably sloppy and that turnovers outnumbered dunks two to one. Never mind that neither side tried to win. Dick Stockton and Billy Cunningham, the announcers on the CBS telecast of the game, praised Larry Bird and his East teammates for "unselfishly" giving Michael Jordan the ball so that he could win the MVP award in front of his home crowd.
If you doubt that the showy dunk is the b�te noire that I make it out to be, just pay a visit to your local schoolyard. You will probably find the rims netless and bent down a couple of inches in front.
The point isn't to reinstate the ban on dunks, which were outlawed in college ball from 1967-68 to '75-76. That was a bad idea then, and, given the evolution of the game since, it would be a worse idea now. No, I have no problem with dunking, if, say, a player is 6'10", uses the slam because it's clearly the highest-percentage shot and restricts himself to a straightforward stuff. However, if the shooter is a six-footer and insists on embellishing the simple dunk with a 180-degree turn and some windmilling arm action, then he's the offender I'm after.
The show-off dunk is a combination of bad sportsmanship and bad tactics. Have we reached the point at which scoring in a game is not triumph enough, where every advantage must be celebrated with taunting and gloating? Football, quite sensibly, has dealt with such childishness by legislating against the spike in college and by calling penalties for unseemly, nonspontaneous displays, like the infamous sack dance, in the pros.
As for the matter of tactics, is it smart to make an easy shot more difficult? Case in point: Kansas versus Nebraska, Jan. 27, in Lincoln. Kansas led by 13 points in the second half when Jayhawk guard Otis Livingston—six feet tall in thick-soled shoes—took off toward a breakaway basket. Though no defender was close by, Livingston disdained the simple layup and tried a soaring, one-handed sweep-slam. He missed, clanging the ball high off the heel of the rim. The Cornhuskers grabbed the rebound and roared back to win on a last-second shot.
Is it too harsh to say that Livingston's showing off cost Kansas the game? Granted, Danny Manning, the Jayhawks' All-America forward, dribbled the ball off his leg in the last minute, and, sure, other players missed pressure shots. But those were errors of execution. Livingston's mistake was a lapse of discipline.
More is at stake here than one might think. The integrity of a game is threatened when the players place looking cool above winning. Would Los Angeles Raiders fans cheer, or jeer, if Marcus Allen started moon-walking toward the goal line instead of running all-out, or if he lingered in the backfield to show his contempt for the defense? Imagine the travesty golf would become if Jack Nicklaus began driving one-handed, or if Craig Stadler putted backward. Amusing? Perhaps. Sports? No.
It's time for action. If I were the czar of basketball, I would institute a rule that deducted two points from a team's total if a player executing an uncontested shot put his hand (or hands) in the imaginary cylinder above the rim and missed the shot. That rule would never be accepted, you say? Then, how about letting the refs assess a technical foul for circus moves on an uncontested dunk? The basket, if made, would count, but the insulted team would be awarded two free throws before getting the ball out of bounds.
The key word here is "uncontested." A shooter could twist himself into a corkscrew while dunking over a defender, with no penalty. Jordan et al. could still do their thing. But on a breakaway, the price for hot-dogging would be more than the current scowl from the player's coach.