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A Nudge For Creativity

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

Every year the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest has gotten progressively more outlandish as contestants have struggled to separate themselves for all the players who have come before. The parameters of physics and athleticism mean that only so many variations on the dunk are possible and so players have delved into the inclusion of props and bizarre set-ups.

But not everything which is possible has been tried. So Hickory-High writers delved into the biggest archive of creativity in our age, YouTube, to find some suggestion for new dunks to be tried by this year’s contestants.

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Ian Levy@HickoryHighThe Cartwheel and The Flat-Foot – This clip is from the slam dunk contest at the 1999 McDonald’s High School All-American Game. You’ll have to forgive the grainy quality as this clip predates digital video as we know it. There are two dunks here worth repeating and I’ve never seen either performed anywhere but this contest. The first is Nick Collison’s cartwheel dunk (at 0:17 mark), a beautiful statement on the gymnastic quality of basketball. The second is Donnell Harvey’s flat-footed slam (at 2:19 mark). I love this because of its inherent simplicity. No running start. No acrobatics. Just bend your knees and show how high you can jump.

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Patrick Redford – @patrickredford – The Bike Handlebars Dunk – Chris Poulos is the 1991 Bicycle Stunt World Champion, but his true passion is apparently motivational speaking for teens. His website seems to indicate that if you pony up the cash, Poulos will show up, do some cool tricks and tell youths how to succeed. This a valuable service and he has made a career of it, calling himself “the most sought after youth motivational speaker”, but his greatest impact on the world could be as basketball sage. Imagine Hasheem Thabeet piloting a pixie bike with one hand while he slammed, or Isaiah Thomas leaping off DeMarcus Cousins’ BMX pegs for a jam. Sure, Derrick Williams dunked over a motorcycle, but mobile dunkage off of two-wheeled transport is the Dunk Contest’s manifest destiny.

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(skip to about 4:44 in the video)

Cole Patty – @ColePatty - James White’s Between the Legs from the Free Throw Line Dunk – When it was announced James White would be in the 2013 NBA Dunk Contest, my heart skipped a beat. “This will be the moment that will change the dunk contest for the better,” I thought. Alas, White was unspectacular. Maybe America missed the bus on James’ prime as a dunker, he was thirty when he finally reached the NBA level for dunking, maybe the free throw line in Turkey is just a shorter distance and my mind has been warped. Regardless, I still wait for the next dunk contest contestant that changes future contests for the better (I’m a bitter pundit that longs for the propless era).

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Miles Wray – @mileswray – Stromile Swift Stands Still

As the second overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft, it’s safe to say that, since Stromile Swift managed to start only 97 games in nine seasons before involuntarily exiting the league at age 29, he was a catastrophic bust. Unlike most every other bust, however, Swift has a sizable and imposing YouTube library of violent, tomahawking in-game dunks that can, so many videos later, soak up the better part of an afternoon. Today’s dunk in question, a tomahawk that puts Ronny Turiaf on a poster, feels like an emphatic but not exceptional in-game dunk–until the underlying mechanics are examined.

After receiving the ball in the post, Swift is a manic, discombobulated mess. His “move” here is to knock Lamar Odom onto the ground–a maneuver that could have been fairly whistled as a charge by a stricter referee–and then bobble the ball away, an entirely unforced error. By the time Swift regroups, he is standing flat-footed at the very edge of the key, all hopes of any rhythm and pacing to the possession well lost. But Swift is a prodigious, all-time great dunker: a small pivot step and then he is airborne, that smallest of fulcrums generating the necessary height and hangtime to dunk over Turiaf, whose perfect weakside help timing proved futile since he was unable to enter the airier stratospheres.

Even though it isn’t technically a “prop,” a limp, signature moment in every Dunk Contest comes when the contestant backs up beyond the half-court in question, parting front-row fans like so much Red Sea water. Some dunks require a big run-up, yes, but for the most part this is an empty practice that over-promises, over-hypes the dunk that follows. Last year we saw the run-up even become the featured part of a dunk, a moment that, personally, felt like a low point in Dunk Contest ingenuity and preparation. Future contestants would be wise to take this page from Swift’s playbook: what magic can you conjure from a stand-still?

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Ian Levy - @HickoryHigh - The 720 - This dunk is reportedly already on Ben McLemore’s radar. While the one in the clip above looks suspiciously like a 540 to me when I count the rotations, the point stands. Watching Olympic figure skaters, skiers and snowboards practice their craft this week, we’ve been treated to set of tricks that are continually evolving. What was once the most complicated trick thought possible, has had another rotation added, or overhead spin included. The 360 has been a part of the NBA’s canon of dunks for decades. It’s time for someone to do battle with the physics of hang time and see how far it can be extended.

  • Pontinha

    Michael Finley tried the cartwheel dunk at the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest

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