I went to a Warriors practice a week after he signed. During a scrimmage he caught a ball on the break and headed toward the right side of the rim, uncontested. Up he went, but all he could manage was a finger roll. (Though, to his credit, it was an emphatic finger roll.) Webber didn't look all that different from the way he looked in 1989: same grin, same cherub's face. But once he started moving on the court, slow and methodical, it was clear this was not the same player. I was disappointed. Irrationally, I wanted him to remain lithe and springy, for if he did, maybe there was hope for me.
Afterward I caught up with him. He remembered the Stanford camp and the dunk contest. ("I think I tried to jump over some kid in a chair," he said.) He didn't recall dunking on me—why should he?—though he could imagine it. "I'm not surprised I smiled," he said. "I was probably just saying, Good effort, but I got ya."
The more he talked about dunking, the more nostalgic he became. "I remember leading the league in dunks a few years, and it just comes so easy," he said. Never mind that this is both hard to verify and unlikely—after all, Shaquille O'Neal was in his prime back then—because isn't getting older all about remembering things the way we want them, not the way they were?
As for now, Webber said he still gets the itch to dunk, though he rarely scratches it. "When I look at a lot of the younger guys and see what they do, I say to myself, Man, I know what that feels like." He paused. "At the end of the day, your mind tells you you can do it even though your body won't let you."
And maybe that's the ultimate appeal of the dunk. Close our eyes, and all of us can imagine doing it. Most of us never will, though, so we live vicariously through those who can, reveling in their ability to make the impossible look easy. We wish we could become one of them. Inevitably, they will become one of us. Welcome to the club, Chris.