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THE LIST BECOMES LESS EXCLUSIVE BY THE DAY.
Here we have Victim #296 (give or take), a tall black male, aged 25 years. His name is Anthony Tolliver, he plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he prides himself on never backing down from a challenge. Which is how he came to be standing under the basket on the night of Nov. 17, 2010, when Blake Griffin achieved liftoff. What followed was, in basketball terms, obscene. Suffice to say Tolliver ended up with an armpit in his face and a highlight to last a lifetime.
Two months later, when asked by a reporter, Tolliver remembers only certain details, as if recalling a traumatic childhood memory. It was from the left side. He reacted instinctively. The world went into slow-mo. As he speaks, he is standing in the visitors' locker room before a game against the Los Angeles Clippers, and his teammates, having overheard the conversation, enthusiastically chime in. "It was a-mazing!" Martell Webster declares with fake gusto, pretending to be Tolliver. "He had his balls on my head, and afterward he apologized and said, 'Good effort, guy.'"
Tolliver is left with but one recourse. He grabs the notebook of the reporter, on which resides the List, an unofficial but extensive accounting of every player whom Griffin has dunked on. The NBA portion of the List takes up an entire page and includes 30 names, including luminaries such as Tim Duncan (Lifetime Victim #305, Dec. 1, 2010, double-pump) and Pau Gasol (#323, Jan. 16, 2011, reverse).
"Yo, look at all the names on this list!" Tolliver says, brandishing the notebook in the direction of his teammates. "That's all just this year!"
Curious, the T-Wolves move closer, peering upon the names of the fallen. "You won't see any Corey Brewer on that list," announces swingman Corey Brewer, who is told that actually you will (Victim #311, Dec. 20, 2010, alley-oop). Reserve center Kosta Koufos, looking over Tolliver's shoulder, is equally confident. "I'll never be on that list," he announces, a claim that seems dubious considering that three hours later he will come within a well-placed hip check of joining it.
In fact, at the current rate, there may soon be as many players in the league bearing white-chalk outlines courtesy of Griffin as not. Some, like Ron Artest, are even looking forward to it. "I'm not going to lie," Artest told The New York Times. "I hope he dunks on me, puts his shoulders on my face and, like, 'Aaaaah!'"
Of course Griffin is more than the sum of his slams. A lock for Rookie of the Year, Griffin, 21, is averaging 22.6 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He has led the Clippers back to respectability (they had won 13 of their last 20 games at week's end) and, perhaps most remarkable, somehow inspired Baron Davis to care about basketball again. Still, it is the slams that define Griffin, at least for now. They are what inspire the YouTube dunk porn (the Tolliver slam is the most viewed at yougotdunkedon.com), the bad nicknames (Half White--Half Flight, Blake Superior, the Human Highlight DVD) and the buzz surrounding this year's All-Star dunk contest, which Griffin's mere presence has made relevant for the first time in years.
They are also, in some respects, a mystery. After all, only one man knows what it's like to be able to dunk like Blake Griffin, and he professes to be at a loss. ("It's hard to describe other than it sends a little chill through you," he says after a moment.) Which is understandable, for while dunking like that may seem outlandish to you and me, as foreign as waking up one morning and being able to teleport, to Griffin it is just the norm. You just do it, right?
So instead, let us ponder another, far more answerable, question: What does it feel like to get dunked on by Blake Griffin?