Anatomy Of A Dunk Clip: Gerald Green

Photo by Crossett Library Bennington College on Flickr

I can’t stop watching this Gerald Green dunk from five days ago in a game against the Houston Rockets:

There’s simply no question that it’s a great dunk, just as impressive as Blake Griffin’s shoryuken of Kendrick Perkins, but different. In fact, these two dunks expose the dual nature of the dunk itself: on one hand, it can be a tremendously physical, assaultive act and on the other hand it can be fluid and quasi-balletic. In much the way that some running backs crush linemen to get yardage while others juke and spin their way up the field, so some dunkers smash and others soar.

But what keeps me coming back to this particular dunk again and again is not precisely the dunk itself, but rather the totality of the clip. The above clip illustrates why a great in-game dunk clip is the gift that keeps on giving. Let me take you back, as I often seem to do, to Greek tragedy. A huge part of the way the plays of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus work is through the tension between the audience’s understanding of the play and the characters’ inability to understand the play from within it. For example, we as the audience know that Oedipus has killed his father and married his mother but he does not, and so our enjoyment of the play comes from Oedipus’ understanding gradually reaching the same level as our own.

In the flow of the game, Green’s dunk is barely comprehensible. It happens so fast that we’re left only with the understanding that something kind of incredible just happened. As we watch the replay, or watch the clip again and again on YouTube, we can now see it and know what’s going to happen and so we get to enjoy the blossoming understanding of those who are just reacting to the moment. As you watch it again, take a look at the setup as the break evolves with MarShon Brooks leading it:

This is a pretty typical two-on-one fast break. Brooks sees Green coming up the other side of the floor and makes the smart play by throwing it up for him. At this point, we’re already expecting a dunk—there’s a clear path to the basket and Green is a terrific leaper—but most of the time this results in a straightforward two-handed dunk or, more likely, a basic one-handed jam.

But instead, Green jumps higher than really seems possible and delivers the windmill, turning this picayune fast break into something incredible. Take a moment to appreciate these two stills, which are separated by only a frame:

Somehow, every time you watch it, the sheer height of his jump manages to be surprising. You can watch it all day and the dunk itself just grows and grows. But what’s even more fun to pay attention to on repeated viewing is the reaction of the other players. I can let Kris Humphries’ face explain it to you:

It’s not the first time Kris has made that face, but maybe the first time that it hasn’t been related to a Kardashian. Allow me also to refer you to the Rockets’ bench:

Keep in mind this is the OPPOSING TEAM’S bench. It’s worth going back and watching the clip again just to observe their reaction. It’s like Kevin Martin and company are sitting on electrified chairs. Chase Buddinger’s “Oh face” is particularly priceless, given his recent participation in the worst All-Star Dunk Contest in recent memory. It is, in fact, the reaction of the Houston bench that makes this dunk clip for me, and that’s the great think about clips of dunks, as opposed to dunks themselves. The actual physical act is something that exists in space for a fraction of a second, but the video of that dunk incorporates a point of view and a commentary on the action. Consider, for example, Shawn Kemp’s iconic dunk on Alton Lister:

The dunk is, again, amazing, but how much of our understanding of that dunk is created by the low camera angle, by the way the camera follows Kemp’s finger guns to show Lister rising from the floor in defeat? And that’s the thing about a great dunk clip: it can be understood immediately but savored again and again for the little things.

So once again, here’s that Gerald Green dunk from a slightly different angle. Enjoy.

Seth Carstens