If you join the baseline crowd at Madison Square Garden to watch layup drills before a New York Knicks game, you will notice that Maurice Cheeks is not taking his rightful turn at hurtling toward the hoop. Instead, Cheeks will be the guy who bounces safe, court-hugging passes to the Knicks' renowned group of slam-dunkers and then skulks back to the rear of the feeders' line.
This is because the 6'1" Cheeks knows that today's NBA fans have paid big money to see basketballs propelled downward through hoops. And because, at age 34, the veteran playmaker (gulp!) can no longer dunk. "Unless, maybe," he says, "you give me three chances at it, and I happen to be having one of my better days."
It is as sad as it is true. And Cheeks is not alone. There are more than 20 NBA players who won't or can't dunk the ball. Some are embarrassed by this fact. A few are unconcerned. But they are out there: the short, the flat-footed, the sore-kneed and the just plain unaerodynamic.
"It's a matter of gravity," says center Jack Sikma of Milwaukee, who made only three dunks in each of the past two seasons despite his seven-foot height. "Me against gravity. Gravity usually wins."
At least Sikma does occasionally take flight, such as it is, to demonstrate his ability to raise himself several fractions of an inch off the hardwood, and infrequently, he is rewarded with an actual two-pointer. Others have preferred to toil in low-altitude anonymity—but no longer. Here's a four-category listing of NBA nondunkers and near nondunkers. In height and weight, they range from Sikmaesque proportions to 5'3", 140-pound Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues of Charlotte. Extra large, medium or small, they simply can't get up there.
Group 1. Players who cannot, have never and (barring rules changes) will never dunk—no matter what the stats say: Bogues, 5'7" guard Greg Grant of New York, 5'11" guard Scott Brooks of Minnesota, 5'11" guard Michael Adams of Denver, and 6'1" guard Scott Skiles of Orlando.
Group 2. Players who once dunked in NBA games but so long ago that they no longer can remember how to file a flight plan: Cheeks, 6'6" guard Randy Wittman of Indiana, 6'2" guard Rory Sparrow of Sacramento, 6'2" guard Larry Drew of the Lakers, 6'3" guard Brad Davis of Dallas, 6'1" guard John Stockton of Utah, 5'7" guard Spud Webb of Atlanta, 6'2" guard Craig Hodges of Chicago, and Portland's floor-bound trio of 6'5" guard Danny Ainge, 6'3" guard Terry Porter and 6'4" guard Danny Young.
Group 3. Players who claim to have dunked in practice, but have never had their jams officially notarized: 6'2" guard Steve Alford of Dallas, 6'5" guard Trent Tucker of New York, 7-foot forward- center Kevin Willis of Atlanta, 6'1" guard Mark Price and 6'3" guard Steve Kerr of Cleveland, 6'2" guards B.J. Armstrong and John Paxson of Chicago, 5'11" guard Dana Barros of Seattle, and 6'2" guard Jon Sundvold of Miami.
Group 4. Players who dunk but should have their slamming licenses revoked: Sikma, 6'3" guard Hersey Hawkins of Philadelphia, and 6'9" forward Larry Bird of Boston.
Confronted with their own shortcomings, most players bear up stoutly to the humiliating truth. Bogues, of course, has an excuse. As the shortest player in the league, he is physiologically vindicated. "Nobody teases me," he says, "because nobody expects me to dunk."