Every year to celebrate his birthday former NBA All-Star and Clipper great Marques Johnson tries to see if he can still dunk. Now 55 years old, Johnson decided to add some flavor to his dunk attempt this year by jumping over a car a la Blake Griffin. Enjoy!
I have a special relationship with Dunking that spans parts of five decades. It started as a JV player at Dorsey HIgh School in Los Angeles in 1970. I was a 14 year old tenth grader, about 6’1″.
For fun, we would position the gymnastics springboard in the key on the court. We then catapulted ourselves to incredible heights, doing our rendition of the limited dunks that existed at the time.
Later that season I surprised everyone, myself included, by narrowly missing a two handed jam in my game day travel attire of dress shoes, tie, and jacket at a lunchtime shootaround.
Dunking was outlawed in 1967 on the high school and collegiate levels. This was the NCAA’s way of trying to level the playing field because of the size, athleticism, and ferocity of Kareem’s Jam sessions as a Sophmore in college.
There wasn’t that great an emphasis placed on the shot, at least not in the official competitive arena.
But for me, it became my yardstick to measure my development….[MORE]
I ran hills, did isometrics, squats, rode my bike tirelessly. Anything to produce the desired “burn” in my leg muscles, signaling their gaining the adequate strength to improve my leaping ability.
Once Julius “Dr. J” Erving came on the scene a year or so later, I was smitten. Now it became all about increasing not only the vertical, but making the hands and fingers stronger to better be able to palm the basketball. Fingertip pushups were done until I had mini callouses on every digit.
I remember Doc on Wide World of Sports talking to Howard Cossell. He demonstrated a few dunks, then mentioned running on the sand as his secret to human flight. Naturally, that was quickly integrated into the workout regimen.
My dunking in those days was relegated to the summertime. I actually played in a league run by local basketball impressario, Joe Weakley. The name of it was The Run, Shoot, and Dunk League, no kidding.
I quickly earned a reputation as a Dunk Shot Artist by throwing down in games on a regular basis. The only thing that mattered was that the dunk was “on somebody”.
Former UCLA greats Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe, and Henry Bibby were on the same team. They were joined by NBA player Jim Price from Louisivile and two formidable high school players. Ricky Hawthorne with his huge hands, and the menacing Tommie Lipsey.
But the talk of the league was the highest jumping, most impressive dunking machine on the West Coast. His name was David “Airplane” Payne ( his Kiss the Sky jumping little brother Jimmy, was known as Helicopter), and I don’t even know if he played college or professionally.
All I know is that he was 6’6″ and once took off from the Free Throw line and almost jumped over me as I was stationed to pick up a charging foul on him.
I got the call, but he added another victim to his overstuffed resume.
The Dunk was reinstated in college basketball as I entered my senior season. That was also the year the first ever John R. Wooden Award would be given to College basketball’s best player.
After a somewhat serious flirtation with the Pro’s, I realized that the stars were in perfect alignment for me to win the award with a banner senior season.
Ironically Coach Wooden held the Dunk in abject disdain.
He along with Al McGuire and Billy Packer were the most vocal critics of the slam. Why is it always the guys who can’t Dunk that harbor such ill will towards dunking?
I was also years ahead of my time in terms of off season workouts. I had my own personal trainer starting in 1975. Malek Abdul-Mansour was a good friend of Kareem’s and had played at UCLA and in the NBA.
We worked out five days a week in the summer, doing a variety of unconventional exercises designed to enhance my speed and athleticsm.
We were joined by Reggie Theus and Kiki Vandeweghe among others, for Yoga and extensive track and pool sessions. He insisted that salt water had miraculous regenerative powers, so we Boogie Boarded for hours on a regular basis (Don’t know if it worked, but it sure was fun). Anything for an edge.
When I decided to return to UCLA for my senior season, our whole emphasis became the Dunk shot. Malek felt that with the banned shot becoming legal after a ten year respite, the surest way for me to attract the attention of the people that mattered most was to execute it as much as humanly possible.
We did drills to get me ready to accomplish this goal, like Dunking 25 consecutive times to finish off a workout. We were also made privvy to a new, revolutionary machine hidden away in the Men’s Gym towel dispersal area.
The Leaper was guaranteed to increase your vertical by 3 – 8 inches. I went at it like a madman, disdaining the advice to go slow and limit my reps.
It paid off handsomely for me my Senior year. An early game against San Diego St. saw me throw it down 4 or 5 times from every angle imaginable. Corkscrews, reverses, and always “on somebody”.
That same year, Louisiville had an assemblage of high flying Jamsmen, led by Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith. As a matter of fact, that team was nicknamed The Doctor’s of Dunk.
It was reported they had 60 dunks as a team for the season.
I had 63 all by myself. And oh yeah, I won the Wooden Award.