A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I remember watching a dunk contest on a cold February evening. I was watching with someone unfamiliar with the history of the contest who didn’t really understand the treasured legacy of between-the-legs dunks â€” passed down from Isaiah “Don’t Call Me J.R.” Rider to Kobe “I Have a Shaved Head” Bryant to Vince “It’s OVA” Carter to Jason “The Undisputed Through-The-Legs Master” Richardson. (It was a girl, so let’s give her a pass on not knowing all this stuff.)
The excitement of the contest had been revived by Vince Carter a few years earlier, and even though J-Rich was utterly amazing the prior two contests while winning back-to-back dunk titles, he was never all that compelling from a showmanship standpoint, and it was getting to the point where it seemed like he actually might be out of new dunks, happily resigned to just do through-the-legs stuff from different angles. My expectations weren’t anywhere near as low as they were for, say, Nate Robinson in his third contest, but my thought process was sort of similar: “Great dunker, but what else can this guy actually do that I haven’t seen?”
As I was trying to explain all this to the lady â€” who was either surprisingly interested or just a great actress â€” I vividly recall saying “This guy might be the second-best dunk-contest dunker of all time, but you probably just saw everything he can do in the pre-contest highlights. I mean, unless he throws the ball off the backboard and puts it through-the-legs … Hahahahaha.”
I was laughing at the time because this seemed entirely preposterous.
Given the cyborg-like athleticism we have seen from LeBron and Dwight Howard in recent years, this possibility might not seem as absurd now as it did at the time (then again, no one has done it since either…). But in 2004, the concept of a human being having enough hangtime and dexterity to (1) through the ball off the glass, (2) catch it, (3) put it through his legs, and (4) then dunk just did not seem possible without a trampoline.
Sure enough, Jason did it.
And he did it easily.
And I lost my s***.
Jason would go on to miss a dunk in the finals and lose the contest to Fred Jones. But no one cares nor remembers that that happened. All they remember is J-Rich’s off-the-glass, through-the-legs dunk, which remains near the top of the conversation for best dunk-contest dunk of all time.
Given the fact that J-Rich is a guy who literally re-defined what I thought was possible in a dunk, it was with much flabbergastedment, disbelief and sadness that I watched what transpired in the final minute of yesterday’s Suns/Spurs game. I think I went through all five stages of grief in about a minute.
There is a long and storied history of bizarre incidents preceding a Suns loss to the Spurs. Like the time Joe Johnson busted his face. Or the time Steve Nash busted his face. Or the time Robert Horry body-slammed Nash and thereby caused a dual suspension that swung a playoff series. Then, of course, there was Tim Duncan’s three-pointer.
Now we have a new entry into the Suns-Spurs lore, as Jason Richardson — a two-time NBA Slam Dunk Champion, by the way — blew a game-tying dunk with about 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter. And not just any dunk. It was an uncontested breakaway dunk. Two-time slam dunk champ!!
Two-time slam dunk champ and redefiner of my dunking dreams.
Did the following. In crunch-time.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go bludgeon myself with The Book of Basketball.