I Watch Every NBA Slam Dunk Contest, 1990-94

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Part 2 of a series.  Part 1 is here.


-Lot of nice dunks early on, Kenny Battle, Rex Chapman – Pippen’s free throw dunk was really pretty sweet; ‘Nique gets over with his one armed thunderdunk.   20 year old Rainman matches Wilkins power for power, like if Ernie Shavers fought Joe Frazier in '74.

There's a commercial for; were I an entrepreneur, that would be the group I’d target.  Jesus jewelry, sweatpants with scripture on the ass.  Numbers 22:28 right on the ass.  It's an endless market.  

-There’s a bit of a cover band quality to the dunks; were one to graph it out, I think dunk contests show spurts of originality followed by a few years of artistic consolidation.  That might be how all culture works; I wonder to what degree the dunk contest could be analyzed as representative of a broader milieu.     

-Doug Collins and Rick Barry would have made a cranky couple.  They meet cute when both ejected from a meaningless Sixers/Warriors game. Picture them in matching sweats, both wearing headbands, going on a morning jog in the park and then to a local bistro for scones.  Later, back to the house for man love. 

Kenny Walker has a sweet, sweet, sweet second round dunk going up and under the basket; the best dunk of the night so far; you can’t match Wilkins/Kemp for power, so finesse would be the better strategic choice. 
Kemp/Wilkins/Walker/Smith make the semis.  I spoke too soon; Walker’s semi dunk is now the second best of the night, and it ups the power.  Kenny Smith is getting a little bit of the little man degree of difficulty crowd bump.  Ooh, Nique just brought the two handed windmill – Wilkins lands heavy, heavy blows.  I’ll say that’s the new second best dunk of the night.  Yeah, Smith bouncing Walker out doesn’t make any sense as a matter of booking this contest; it’s as if the multi-year relationship between Turner Sports and the Jet started in Miami in 1990; not only was Walker clearly better – but he was the defending champ; they had the opportunity to take the champ and go mano y mano against an all time great dunker.  Walker v. Wilkins was teed up and they let it pass. It could be a Spud Webb hangover; the dunk contest looking to recreate the cultural relevance it had with Spud v. Wilkins, but in doing so it rejects the obvious storyline of a perpetually undercrowned champ against the reigning title holder.  Smith was good, but didn’t stand out in a year of good dunks in front of a disinterested crowd.  Nique apparently was a late entry, paid a hundred grrrr by his “shoe company” to enter.  I’m not of a mind that we need more stars in the dunk contest, but pumping the corporate partners would be the way to go.  He wins and deserves it, being solidly better than Smith and the best overall dunker in the contest, but Walker had the best dunk of the night and the dunks enter the 90s missing out on what could have been a really solid final round. You can see that Walker dunk at 2:09. 


-Kenny Smith is now a Rocket, Doug Collins is now joined by Hubie Brown (shame he and Rick couldn’t have made it work).  ’91 is a little light on starpower when Rex Chapman gets the biggest crowd reaction.  Kemp’s this year’s powerdunker – his score gets booed and its unclear if that’s because the crowd thought the total was a little low or because Rex (who was, after all, in effect) was bumped to second.
Michael Jordan’s pick to win apparently is Kenny Williams from the Pacers; #23's eye for talent knows no bounds. 

Hubie tells us that Dee Brown has “very, very big hands.”

Brown pumps the Reeboks and does a little man dunk, getting the Spud hangover score.  I liked Kendall Gill in school; I was a sucker for that all court Jimmy Jackson type of combo guard game.  I would have made a helluva expansion GM, picking guys who had no real position.  A team filled with Gary Trents and Byron Houstons. 

Kemp’s second first round dunk is the best of the night all the way until the final round– Rex is a loose, fluid dunker and his second round dunk is good – but it’s immediately overshadowed by Kemp’s power, his second dunk just behind his first.  Rex is a good dunker; this might have been the best night of his career. There’s a crush of Dominos pizza boxes on the media table behind Kenny Smith; presumably Bob Ryan and the rest of the coterie feel silly now that Dominos admitted that every pizza they made until like 2010 was saucy sawdust.  Dee Brown’s pumping up his shoes probably made old guys angry in '91 like a Justin Bieber hair flip irritates me today.  Beebs wasn’t alive in ’91; I heard he drove by Nash in some charity game or at Rucker Park or at Alan Thicke’s house.  NBA TV has been airing lockout programming, like The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh and that one Robby Benson movie, I'm surprised they don't let Bieber program the channel for a day.  Remember when MTV would have their artists "take over" the channel for a day, "this Saturday, Poison's CC Deville will talk dirty to you ALL DAY LONG!" that would make sense for NBA TV.  They need to do more lists on that network; the MLB and NFL channels fill their offseasons with "top 5 this" and "all time that".  I'm not sure why NBA doesn't do that type of show.   

Brown gets booed for his high score; here’s the thing – as far as little guy dunks go, that semi dunk that shoots him to the top, his homage to the Wilkins dunk, not his homage to the Spud dunk, that was pretty goddamn good.  Crowd and announce thought it was overscored; in qualitative evaluation, I always try to ignore both.  It’s why I now watch professional wrestling with the sound turned off, I don’t consider crowd reaction when giving a star rating to a movie “well, the guy seven rows away from me was laughing his ass off at Harold and Kumar in 3D, that means it must be funny” and it doesn’t much matter to me what the fans are doing when Triple H makes his frustrated face at the Undertaker at Wrestlemania.  Facial expressions aren’t workrate.  And if crowd reaction drove star ratings, Hulk Hogan would be regarded like Jushin Thunder Liger.
They again do big man/small man in the finals – Kemp v. Brown; it’s clearly the trope the dunk contest understood post Spud Webb.   Brown goes over and I get it, his dunks were more interesting than Kemp’s – they weren't better, Kemp was the better dunker the best dunk of the night was his final round dunk from inside the foul line, , but if you think of the dunk contest as this battle between craft (doing doings well, doing them precisely, even if the dunks aren’t inherently new or creative) and art (demonstrating a creative spark) this round went to the more artistic dunker.  Brown’s meditations on Nique, on Webb, got the nod over Kemp’s more straightline dominance.  My head's nodding the other way, but I understand.

The Fresh Prince and Carlton grooving on the '92 dunk contest.

Doug West’s first round up and under gives me the good feelings, he gets hosed by an under 45 score.   I’m a bit of a sucker for power – and Larry Johnson’s second dunk is a beast, all one armed through the hoop mannnnn jammmmm.  That’s the best dunk of the night.  Magic’s been courtside the past couple of years doing commentary; his appearance this year is just a couple of months after the HIV revelation.   Nick Anderson’s semifinal 360 is nifty, but Anderson’s dunks are sort of like his game, just a little wrong in a lot of small but perceptible ways.  LJ brings some thump again on his semi-dunk; it’s the second best dunk of the night, and LJ, playing the Wilkins/Kemp card, is powering his way through the competition. Given the dunk contest's clear preference for finesse over power the year before, this may not be a winning strategy. Nick Anderson rubbed his head during his second semi dunk, the broadcast calls this an homage to Dee Brown, mistakenly believing he covered his eyes; had he been doing so, with the blindfold dunk still to come, one could comment about the trend of early 90s NBA stars wandering around with their eyes closed. Larry Johnson’s dominating, just kicking everyone's ass; Starks attempts to fill the Spud Webb/Kenny Smith/Dee Brown role, but LJ’s just punching him in the face, and its Ceballos who slips his way into the final.  His first final round dunk is so pedestrian the players in millionaires row laugh at him.  Grandmama’s got this in the bag.  Magic tells us this is the quietest he’s ever heard a crowd for the slam dunk; he’s forgetting every year previous this decade.  This early 90s stretch is a bit of a lost period for the dunk contest, a post-celebridunk period, but we haven’t yet established, at least as part of the broadcast the trope that “the real problem with the dunk contest is the superstars like Jordan” aren’t there anymore; a discussion you’ve been able to hear every year of recent memory, regardless of the qualitative level of the dunks.  PTI just hit its 10th anniversary, I'm guessing every Monday after the dunk contest has been some variation of "why do we still have the dunk contest?  Remember Dominique Wilkins?  He was great.  Have you see him wearing glasses?  So erudite!" LJ misses.  Then misses again.  And again.  Isiah tells us that its creativity the judges want to see, which was a clue that Johnson was in trouble.  Ceballos does a sweet up and under that passes West’s for third best dunk of the night.  Johnson misses again. I was looking for a “LJ got screwed” finish to this section, as obviously I recall how this contest turns out, but LJ can’t hit a dunk in the finals and hands the crown to Ceballos.  Magic tells us the fans are leaving; not exactly walking on eggshells a few months into his new life.  The crowd reacts for the first time really when Thunder Dan brings out the blindfold for his teammate.  Critical consensus is that Ceballos could, of course, see, making this the most overrated dunk in contest history.  I don’t know Cedric’s current public posture on the visibility of the dunk.  Crowd went bananas – and with the primary image of this stretch being Dee Brown’s pumping up his shoes and now Ceballos’s blindfold, we see pretty rudimentary showmanship, really the equivalent of flash paper.  The best dunk, LJ's second from round one, is at 1:37.

Bob Neal tells us that “theoretically” a missed dunk could lead to a 50.  Not exactly Kepler’s second rule of thermodynamics for theoretical significance.  I wonder what level of double blind testing the NBA did to establish that theory, presumably one more stringent than Ceballos’s from '92.  All Star Weekend was in Salt Lake City; not so much the ideal hot spot for Black Thanksgiving.  Kenny Smith is the first man to compete in both the dunks and 3 point on the same weekend; Chris Jackson, pre-conversion, pre-anti establishment political speech, pre-blackball, is competing this year  Baby Jordan goes up and under for what Bob Neal calls “the most exciting dunk in two years” – burying last year’s contest in the way the broadcast also did in Dee Brown’s year.  The "dunk contest is back" as a broadcast trope is as popular as the "dunk contest is dead" in talk radio critical analysis.  Clarence Weatherspoon gets a lot of height, Isiah, from the sidelines with Barkley, has a two year running discussion about “selling the dunk” as the key to getting a high score; I’m half expecting him to say that second prize in this year’s contest is a set of steak knives and third is you’re fired.  Miner’s bringing some whippet power (Zeke hates dunks where you bounce the ball, by the way; hates it like he apparently hated the CBA – if he ever writes a tell all, I half expect the chapter on the sexual harassment suit that blew up the Knicks to stop halfway in favor of an expletive filled rant about dunk contest competitors who bounce the basketball.) 

 Did you see the one Curb about how white guys are deferential to black guys with glasses?  Here's Nique from courtside in '93.

Weatherspoon’s one armed dunk in the finals winds up as best non-Miner of the night.  Neal says Erving gave us criteria, “creativity, innovation, talent” which, since it privileges the artistic component by essentially doubling it favors dunkers, well, like Doc, as opposed to the power line: Wilkins/Kemp/LJ.  Isiah prefers Ceballos’s post dunk handflourish to anything he’s seen tonight.  Miner cheats, reusing an earlier dunk – but then comes back with a left handed windmill that’s the new best dunk of the night (it's here). and it wins him the contest. 

I think this is the first time in the 30 minute dunk packages that we’ve had player introductions –  “this rookie point guard has made valuable contributions with the Portland Trail Blazers, James Robinson!”

That will quiet the calls for additional star power.

This year’s a 90 second dunk contest “routine” in which the whole “performance” of the dunkers is being judged; there’s also constant music throughout like its a floor exercise so when Kerri Strug gets a nice one handed throwdown, she continues with the routine.  Clearly, this is an attempt to weigh showmanship, the between dunk posturing of the competitors.   Obviously, this ratifies Isiah's argument from most of the decade, in much the same way the wisdom of his signing Jerome James will eventually be proven. Charles Barkley just referred to one of Hollywood Robinson’s dunks as a “rub in”. We haven’t been able to play homoertotic double entendere theater in this stretch as much as I’d enjoy. 

Allen Houston’s routine could reasonably be described as sleepy.  No, it wasn't Zeke who gave him 6 years at 100 million.  Not for a guy who bounces the ball in a dunk contest.  Hells no.  

No character discussion about JR Rider, probably the last time in his life he had this much air time without the adjective "much-troubled" attached to him; he pretty easily is the best dunker in the field; off the top of my head, I'd think his between the legs baseline dunk from '93 is the best college dunk contest dunk ever; but I'd be wrong - here's Patrick Ewing's kid in 2008.  That might be the best dunk of all time.

Kemp has a nice two hand powerjam that marks him against Rider as the best possible finals.  Kemp’s going to crap the bed later, but if you were booking the contest, you wouldn’t have known that.
Robert Pack references Terrence Stansbury in his final dunk round,  and then comes JR Rider – baseline between the legs – the callback from last year's college contest.  It’s easily the dunk of the decade to that point.  There’s the Rider dunk and everthing else.

Best 5 dunks, 1990-94:
  1. JR Rider 1994, finals
  2. Harold Miner 1993, finals
  3. Harold Miner 1993, first round
  4. Shawn Kemp, 1991, finals
  5. Larry Johnson 1992, second dunk
The 90s only had 3 more dunk contests, 95-7.  If NBA TV airs those packages, I'll watch and report.  

1 comment

Blog said...

"And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?"

I guess that might work for Fran Tarkenton...

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