And we did everything to be able to do it. In fact, as one of the few guys on the high school basketball team for the perennial power house McCaskey Red Tornadoes whose vertical leap was a bit “challenged” my strong-willed penchant toward proving Newton’s Laws were a source of amusement.
Everybody on the team could dunk except for Tom Levering, Julio Garcia and Oswaldo Cora. I’m not sure what Tom’s problem was, and I very well might be overstating the facts there, but Julio and Oswaldo couldn’t dunk because they were both about 5-foot-9 in basketball sneakers.
My problem was bad genes. Hey, it's not really the case, but who's going to know? That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Still, at a shade below 6-foot-1, I had no excuse. Oh sure, I was hell on the rim with a nerf football, tennis ball, bowler hat and on a good day, a volley ball.
But a basketball… why was it so hard?
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. I jumped rope, ran, built up my calves and fast-twitch muscles but still couldn’t throw one down. Get me 25-feet from the hoop with my back turned and it was like a layup. But that last half-inch from the rim was the bane of my existence.
It still is to some degree. The apex of my sports participation are thus:
• Get a hole in one in golf and walk to the hole, retrieve the ball, leave the clubs, shoes and whatever else right there on the green, and walk away. If that were to happen I’d never touch a club again. Bye-bye stupid golf, you fickle mistress.
• Dunk a basketball, wait for the requisite roar from the crowd (or friends on the sidelines) and then just keep on going. Don’t ever look back. Better yet, never lay eyes on a basketball game again. “Yeah, I see you Dwight Howard with your fancy two points, but you know what? I can do that too…”
• Run a 2:29 marathon. And then never even break into a trot again. Someone stole my wallet? Hell, I’m not chasing him. Let him go.
The dunk obsession that still bubbles way down deep was perked up a bit ever-so slightly over the past day when I read (with great interest) two stories about the dunk. One was from The 700 Level to properly commemorate the 30th anniversary of Darryl Dawkins shattering a backboard on a dunk at Kemper Arena against the Kansas City Kings.
As far as dunks go, Dawkins’ first smashed backboard was like the shot-heard-‘round-the-world in dunkdom. And as any proper citizen of Lovetron would, Chocolate Thunder properly celebrated the moment with what in 1979 was called a “poem” to apply a name to the dunk.
These days he would have gone into the studio and cut an MP3.
“The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam.”
So what’s Thunder doing to celebrate his Bobby Thomson moment? Well, according to the great basketball writer,Dennis Deitch (sweet jumpin’ Jesus does the Phillies beat ever miss him… seriously), Double D will be at the South Philly Best Buy Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Deitch didn’t say what Dawkins will be doing there other than just showing up to be Darryl from Lovetron.
Hey, when you come from Lovetron, movements about town are significant.
Nevertheless, as an encore, Dawkins smashed up a backboard at the Spectrum three weeks later. As a result, former Kennedy insider and NBA commissioner Lawrence O’Brien forced a rule change that anyone caught shattering a backboard again would be ejected, fined and hit with a technical foul. In that order, too. In fact, that rule is still on the books, though in the years since the NBA installed retractable rims to keep the Plexiglas from looking like a spider web.
Oh, but we can go on about Darryl Dawkins all day. Even when he wasn’t terrorizing the arena’s physical plant, he seemed like a fun time. Unfortunately, I only caught his act at the end when the Sixers trained up the block at Franklin & Marshall where I was the resident gym rat.
Good times. Good times.
The second story almost caused bona fide outrage… or at least some good old indignantion. In Thursday’s New York Times, there was a story about Sixers’ forward Jason Kapono, who even though he was a 6-foot-8 forward in the NBA, does not dunk the ball.
Yeah, let that sink in for a second… He does not dunk!
It’s not that Kapono can’t dunk the ball. He can do it easily and probably with all sorts of flourish, panache and whatnot. But here’s the thing that got me—Kapono can dunk but he won’t. It just doesn’t come up, he says.
“I don’t really get to the hoop,” Kapono told the Times. “The only chance I get to dunk would be in a breakaway, and that is probably slim to none. Probably none. So, I never really have a chance to.”
It’s just not fair. If I could dunk, I'd never attempt any other type of shot. What's the point of a layup when you can slam it through?
It's like if I can't have the whole gallon, I don't want a drop.
But it cinches it: a guy who takes dunking for granted officially makes him my least-favorite player in the NBA.
Oh, but there is justice. According to the story, the last time Kapono dunked his teammates treated him the same way my McCaskey teammates treated me for not being able to dunk.
“The whole practice stopped,” Kapono said in the Times story. “Guys were falling down, like, ‘Oh my God, J. K. dunked!’”
It reminds me of the time after a practice when I got a good running start, hurdled myself up at the rim and wrapped a couple of fingers over the brim. On the way down I heard that tinny noise of bone striking wrought iron and thought maybe I should get a ball and try it again.
That is until I heard my coach yell out the loudest insult:
"Holy [bleep] Finger! Don't rip it down!"
Nope, couldn't do that--I'm not from Lovetron.
Yeah, well it could have been worse. Old high school football teammate Tyke Jones was like me in that all he wanted to do was dunk a basketball and then he could properly end his hoops career like Jordan crossing over on Byron Russell to hit the winning shot, or Ted Williams hitting one out in his last at-bat. Better yet, Tyke actually did it.
And no one was happy for him…
No one saw it happen.
The reason for that was everyone grew so tired of watching failed attempt after failed attempt that they all left. Rather than waste an afternoon watching Tyke miss dunk after dunk, they left him there by himself. So when Tyke finally did it (so he says and wrote) there was no one around to see it.
But like any wise man who witnessed a historical moment, Tyke did the proper thing:
He wrote about it.
Here’s what he wrote, reprinted from the April 28, 1989 edition of the McCaskey High paper, The Vidette.Lord’s Will Supplies Power for High-Flying Slam Dunk
By Warren “Tyke” Jones
It was early in my basketball career when, oddly enough, I celebrated my first slam dunk. The way I floated and sliced through the oncoming rush of wind would have undoubtedly guaranteed me 10s on all three of the judges score cards.
But not this time around, for the judges (my friends) had left an hour ago, disappointed after watching a series of 20 unsuccessful tries.
So I sat there alone, stunned by my achievement, but hushed by the deafening silence around me.
“It’s not fair!” I shouted.
And to me it wasn’t. There were no reporters or passersby to observe or record my post-achievement glamour—just a couple of stray dogs who obviously didn’t care to join in the festivities. So like so many other sports greats, I took the time to thank all of my teammates who made this moment possible.
“If it wasn’t for, ummmm, Tyke down loe in da paint scoring all them buckets at da end, I don’t think I’d be up here getting’ this here trophy today. I also wanna thank the good Lord who gave me the strength to come out and perform the way I did.”
Following our hero’s long and tedious speech, which included additional thanks-yous for everyone from his grandmom to Zeus, the game ball was awarded to some lucky old lady from Tucson, who had spent the last of her pension check for a seat in the Appalachian section of the arena.
Now it was the commentator’s turn to highlight and replay the game-winning dunk about 40 times more than necessary. But we watch anyway, hoping to see something spectacular we might have missed during the first 39 replays.
And thus it ends with the old familiar scene: Our hero with a basketball, walking off into the sunset, taking an occasional dribble, exhaustion showing on his face…
“My friends are never gonna believe me!”
If that was Tyke’s crowning athletic achievement, it would be one thing. Instead, Tyke was the guy who scooped up that fumble in the backfield against Cedar Cliff in the District 3 championship game at Hershey Park Stadium and ran it 60-yards for a touchdown.
Kyle Brady had no chance of catching him on that one.
If only he had dunked the ball over the crossbar when he got to the end zone.