Monday, February 18, 2008

Dwight "Superman" Howard resurrects the dunk contest

Last Saturday night, one (very large, fast & strong) man flew threw the air, threw the ball through the hoop, and singlehandedly made the tired NBA Slam Dunk Contest relevant again.

In 2006 Orlando Magic big man Dwight Howard dazzled absolutely no one (at least not the judges) when he failed to make the semifinals despite placing an NBA logo sticker approximately 12 1/2 feet above the court on the backboard as he dunked.

For this unforeseen feat Howard was promtly told "nice try, but come back next year", partially because no one actually realized what he had done until he grabbed a tape measure to show the crowd the tiny sticker after the dunk was over.

The message sent: Gotta wow 'em with the dunk, not minutes after.

Following a foursome of awesome and never before seen slams, this time it was Howard who sent the message: guess what people, I'm bringing this competition back to the forefront of the sports scene again, so just hop on my cape and enjoy the view.

After warming up with an incredible behind-the-rim stuff in which he bounced the ball off the back of the backboard, then slammed it through with his left hand while his head remained behind the plexiglass barrier, earning a perfect score from the judges and a standing O from the sold out crowd, Howard set the bar back at Jordanian heights with his next, and most memorable, dunk.

First defending champ Gerald Green of the T'Wolves did his best to take the competiton to another level with his "birthday cake" dunk, blowing out a candle on a cupcake that had been placed at the base of the rim before completing his second slam, but soon Howard would upstage the cupcake, the blindfold, and nearly every other dunk that has come before his.

That's when Superman entered the New Orleans arena.

Growing up as an avid NBA fan in Boston, my memories of the dunk contest include Jordan's infamous foul line flight, Spud Webb's miraculous gravity-defying bounds, Dominique's powerful windmills, and Dee Brown's Reebok Pump-fueled blind eyed blast.

Sure there have been some semi-memorable slams over the last decade, most notably Jason Richardson's acrobatic exploits in 2003 & 04, Josh Smith's Spud tribute in 2005 and Vince Carter's Isiah Rider between-the-legs imitation in 2000. But for the most part the last few contests have been watered down by a series of uninspired slams, highlighted by tedious do-overs (this means you, Nate Robinson) and a whole "been there, seen that" vibe.

But what we witnessed on Saturday night not only brought back memories of the good old days, it took the competition into the new milennium by setting a new standard for the future dunkers of America.

After Green's cupcake classic, which any other year might have been good enough to win it all, Howard ditched his Magic jersey to reveal a Superman logoed replacement underneath. And when he doffed a red cape and watched his partner-in-dunks, teammate Jameer Nelson, tape a mark on the court from which he would soar, the entire viewing audienced was abuzz with anticipation of seeing something special.

Needless to say Howard did not disappoint.

With the grace of a gazelle and the power of a pit bull, Howard streaked in from the sideline, took off from just inside the dotted circle, leapt through the sky, errr air, and put the ball threw the hoop with such force that no one seemed to realize that he didn't actually dunk the ball but flung it through the cylinder using sheer ferocity and velocity.

And this time it didn't matter that people had to be shown later what had actually happened.

No, this time Dwight managed to etch his name in the pantheon of the all-time greatest dunkers, so much so that his final two dunks, a spectacular volleyball-esque tap and slam and a playfull mini Magic hoop assisted finale, were rendered moot by the shockwave rippling through the crowd flowing on the tails of Superman's cape.

And now the entire NBA loving culture owes Dwight a big thank you for making something that had been so special and then so sour relevant again.

All in a day's work for the Man of Steel.