Every Friday, I’m compiling a list of five things that meet one criterion. “What is that criterion,” you ask? Well, it’s going to change every week and you’re just going to have to try and keep up.
Five Dunks on Lebron James About Which Nike Should Be Much More Concerned
By now, you’ve undoubtedly caught wind of this Lebron James dunk controversy but if you haven’t, here’s what you need to know: a few weeks ago, at Lebron’s summer camp (“the Skills Academy,” where high school and college players come together to play and train against each other while plenty of important people watch and make connections with these players), Lebron was dunked on by Jordan Crawford, from Xavier University, in a pick-up game. Ok, big deal. But Nike (at the behest of Lebron, it seems) then confiscated all recordings of the game, from the audience. The company’s rationale for this decision boiled down to a standing rule against videotaping anything at this relatively private event. The big hullabaloo, of course, grew out of the fact that none of these anti-recording rules were enforced and no cameras confiscated until after Crawford dunked on Lebron. It was suspicious, to say the least.
Finally this week, a pair of clearly keen business minds (who defied Nike and held onto their footage) sold their videos of the event to TMZ and eBaumnation. It’s out there. Now, we are all witnesses (heh) to this infamous moment.
There’s a very basic reason why this whole thing was stupid, though. There are few inescapable scientific laws of NBA basketball but one of them is this: everybody gets dunked on. Nobody is exempt. No reasonably talented NBA player — regardless of size, skill level, race, position — goes through a career with a perfectly clean “dunked on” record. It simply does not happen. Everybody gets theirs, at some point. Greatest player to ever put on sneakers? Absolutely. One of the greatest shot-blockers of all-time? Sure. Everybody.
Thus, the rush to cover up what we’ll call “The Crawford Film” was pointless. First of all, it's 2009 — that footage is going to get out, somehow. Secondly, it was a pick-up game with nothing on the line (look at it this way: if Crawford had scored 50 points in the game, would that be news?). Thirdly, the released footage shows that it happened as Lebron rotated on defense, meaning he wasn’t beaten off the dribble or beaten down the court and then dunked on, he merely slid over (as Crawford was driving hard towards the hoop), jumped late, and failed to prevent a basket; this happens all the time – anyone who knows anything about basketball knows this. Finally, who cares if the dunker was a college kid? Nearly everyone in the NBA would rightfully be regarded as an inferior player when compared to Lebron and several of them (as you will soon learn) have dunked on him before, on national television.
Unfortunately, this “it happens to everyone, settle down” memo is one Nike and Lebron seemingly never received. Fear not, however, as I'm here to soothe their minds as I present five examples of The King being disgraced as cameras rolled. See guys? It's nothing new; not a big deal, at all.
Who: Yao Ming (Houston Rockets)
In a word: demoralizing
Breakdown: Truthfully, being dunked on by a guy taller than Chewbacca – even if you’re 6’8”, as Lebron is – really isn’t anything to be all that embarrassed about. That being said, when you can jump like Lebron and you are in a pretty good position to defend a dunk by a guy who has almost no leaping ability (understandably) and feet more fragile than most celebrities’ egos, you should be able to at least make enough contact to ensure he doesn’t score and get the foul. After all, a guy who is much shorter than ME managed to deny Yao on a similar play so, this one is more of an example of “you’re better than that, Lebron” than true embarrassment.
Who: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)
In a word: astounding
Breakdown: This installment would probably earn itself the top spot had it not taken place during the All-Star game (a game where the players generally are more concerned with having fun than defending their conference’s honor) and had it not been carried out by arguably one of the ten greatest players ever. As it stands, those two wrinkles place a very faint asterisk next to this posterization.
Regardless, it is a phenomenal dunk. Lebron clearly moves to defiantly swat away the shot but Kobe double-clutches, sails right past him, and finishes it with two hands. If Kobe did this on a playground by himself at midnight, it would’ve been impressive. As it stands, however, The Black Mamba faked out and flew right past The Chosen One with all of the best players in the world (and most every basketball fan in the world) watching. Ouch.
[Note: you'll notice that this is the only entry on the list wherein the dunker is even close to being on the same level, talent-wise, as Lebron. Remember when I said that he's been dunked on by inferior players? Yeah, I wasn't making that up. Welcome to the club, Jordan Crawford.]
Who: Andre Iguodala (Philadelphia 76ers)
In a word: defeated
Breakdown: Of all the entries on this list, this one is by far the most directly personal for Lebron. The other entries involve fast breaks or broken plays in which Lebron ends up defending someone he was not previously guarding but this one is a prototypical modern NBA isolation stare-down where the duel took time to develop.
He challenges Iguodala (a talented player, of course, but not nearly in the class of our titular hero) one-on-one and then gets beat but – because he’s Lebron and he has these sorts of powers – recovers in time to challenge the shot and then is summarily defeated, anyway. Oof. If I was ever going to cover up a play in which I was made to look bad, it would be a play like this. It's a tough thing to watch, regardless of who is on the losing end.
Who: Jason Maxiell (Detroit Pistons)
In a word: thunderous
Breakdown: Even now, when I think about Lebron getting dunked on, this is usually the first thing that pops into my mind. This was, as best as I can recall, the first time I saw him get absolutely shamed (in a playoff game, no less) and subsequently remember aloud “oh right, nobody is exempt from the rule”… I also shouted “face!”, so it was a big moment.
What makes this one even worse for Lebron is the fact that it easily could have been avoided, had he made any effort to grab the errant rebound that falls into Maxiell’s hands moments before lift-off. The force with which Maxiell tattoos “Spalding” onto Lebron’s face also speaks volumes about the nature of the once-heated Detroit/Cleveland rivalry and the urge with which so many players would like to dunk on the NBA’s poster child. It’s always windy at the top, Lebron.
Who: Courtney Lee (Orlando Magic, now of the New Jersey Nets)
In a word: defiant
Breakdown: Instead of me rationalizing why I put this tops on the list, I'll give you a few moments to try and think of a way in which Courtney Lee (a rookie, at the time) dunking on Lebron twice in two separate, massive playoff games ISN’T the most meaningful example of Lebron getting posterized. You cannot.
Allow me to set up each moment properly. Game 1 is important in any series, of course, but Lebron and the Cavs entered Game 1 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals against the Magic with a perfect playoff record of 8-0 and a home record, for the season, of 43-3. Quite simply, Orlando was absolutely expected to lose the game and at halftime, it looked as if that reality was absolutely en route. However, Orlando mounted a comeback in the second half and this dunk took place right in the middle of it, reminding the Cleveland fans that neither they nor their team were invincible (the Magic eventually won the game). Further, you don’t think this moment helped Courtney Lee shake off the rust and nerves gathered from missing a few earlier playoff games due to injury, do you?
The Game 3 dunk was more simple in that, by that time, the series was tied 1-1 and Lebron (as well as the rest of the world) realized that Orlando was not going quietly into the night and that every moment of the series would be a crucial one if Cleveland hoped to reach the NBA Finals. Courtney Lee didn’t care though, and he challenged the throne again in almost identical fashion with very similar results.
On top of that, any time a player (in this case, Lebron) gets dunked on while hustling to defend a fast-break basket, it’s especially demoralizing just because of the distinct one-on-one nature of the encounter. If these two examples don’t do it for you, there are a few other instances of Lebron failing to block a fast-break dunk available here, here, here, and here (you do have to give LBJ some credit as the guy's will is never broken, when it comes to this sort of situation).
Finally, each of these Lee dunks took place two months ago! Lebron apparently decided, between May and July, that no footage of his captured shame would ever again escape the facility in which it took place. Unfortunately for him, that idea worked out about as well as his open court defense on Courtney Lee.
Fans and sports media make a big deal about great dunks that occur in other players’ faces not because the split-second moment serves as some barometer as to which of the two players is superior at his craft but because these moments are entertaining and tremendous displays of athleticism and timing and that's all. Nike and Lebron James, of all people, should have recognized this.
The moral of our story: nobody’s perfect all the time, Lebron. Not even you.