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News » Earthbound players who dream of a dunk

Earthbound players who dream of a dunk

Earthbound players who dream of a dunkJason Kapono doesn't dunk. That fact would be unremarkable were it not for his occupation and his height.

Kapono plays for the Philadelphia 76ers and is 6 feet 8 inches, or 2.03 meters, tall. He is in his seventh National Basketball Association season, but the only dunks he has thrown down in all that time have come during practice.

Not all tall athletes are created equal. Kapono began the season with 1,182 field goals in his career, nary a jam among them. In comparison, the athletic 6-foot-7 rookie DeMar DeRozan notched his first dunk in just his second N.B.A . game with the Toronto Raptors.

In many ways, the slam dunk is the professional game's signature play, the equivalent of baseball's home run and football's touchdown.

Dunks are looped on highlight reels every night and emulated by children with small hoops and big dreams every day.

''I would love to feel that, I just haven't discovered any pill or substance to take that would help me out in that category,'' Kapono joked.

In ''The Art of a Beautiful Game,'' published by Simon & Schuster this month, Chris Ballard devotes a chapter to the dunk and a passage to Kapono's career without one. But Kapono is hardly alone in the N.B.A .

Every year, a handful of forwards and centers go the entire 82-game season without dunking for reasons that range from restrictive offenses to a basic inability to jump very high.

Danny Ferry, who is 6-foot-10 and now the Cleveland Cavaliers' general manager, did not dunk in at least the final six years of his career, starting in 1997-98, when the statistician Harvey Pollack started tracking such information. The former Knicks forward Charles Oakley, who is 6-foot-8, went three seasons without one.

Last season, the Clippers' 6-foot-10 Steve Novak, New Orleans' 6-foot-7 Morris Peterson and San Antonio's 6-foot-10 Fabricio Oberto and 6-foot-9 Kurt Thomas did not dunk, according to Pollack.

The explanations vary. Injuries sidetracked half of Peterson's season; when healthy, Peterson, a guard, is paired with the penetrating point guard Chris Paul and has the responsibility of being the first player to get back on defense. Oberto, 34, and Thomas, 37, are traditional post players, but they are nearing the end of their careers.

Meanwhile, Kapono and Novak are 3-point specialists who seldom step into 2-point territory on the offensive end. Kapono entered this season as the N.B.A's career leader in 3-point accuracy at 45.4 percent.

He is such an aficionado of the 3 that when he learned that his old jersey number, 24, which he wore as a member of four other N.B.A . teams, was retired by the 76ers, he tripled it and now wears No. 72.

''I don't really get to the hoop,'' Kapono said. ''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.''

The players who rarely dunk recalled their last slam, or attempt, as if it were a first kiss. Peterson went up for one last year, but he did not have the same lift off the floor after knee and ankle injuries. Oberto's last dunk came about a season and a half ago, after a Spurs assistant coach bet him dinner that he could not do it.

In a slow practice last season with the Raptors, Kapono saw his opportunity. He came around a pick with the defender a second slow, turned the corner and dunked.

''The whole practice stopped,'' Kapono said. ''Guys were falling down, like, 'Oh my God, J.K. dunked!'''

The act itself was once discouraged. The National Collegiate Athletic Association banned dunking from 1968 to 1977 because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it so often and easily. Dunking did not become accepted into the mainstream until Julius Erving revolutionized the art in the American Basketball Association, trailed by Michael Jordan in the N.B.A .

The 6-foot-5 Oscar Robertson, one of the game's greatest players and the only one to average a triple-double for an entire season, never dunked in an N.B.A . game.

Robertson's high school coach, Ray Crowe, discouraged dunking, but that was not Robertson's only deterrent. He once leapt for a dunk on an Indiana playground and was knocked into a pole by a defender.

It is debatable to him whether the game would be better off without it.

''I guess it's a thrill to some guys,'' Robertson, 70, said in a recent phone interview. ''The way it is now, it is a way of showing dominance by dunking the ball and patting your chest and opening your mouth. But in the end, can you make those jump shots, those 3-point shots? That's what it takes.''

With age, it is natural for high-fliers to orbit closer to ground level. The best players reinvent their games. Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter are former slam-dunk champions and still considered elite athletes. Bryant had 59 dunks last season, 51st most in the league.

Carter had the 67th most with 46.

''They learn to play different ways and they get smarter,'' Stan Van Gundy, the Orlando Magic coach, said. ''Some of those guys get even better as they get older even though they might not be dunking. They still can when they need to. They pick their spots better and they really learn the other parts of the game.''

Van Gundy's roster spans the gamut of dunkers. He has Carter, a onetime leaper extraordinaire; Dwight Howard, who led the league in dunks last season with 201; and Jameer Nelson, a point guard who can vividly recall his only N.B.A . dunk in six seasons. ''My second season against New Jersey in Orlando,'' Nelson said.

Howard said he had seen Nelson dunk - in a video game.

''He has dunked, I think that was on N.B.A . Live 2005,'' Howard said.

''In a game? I heard he dunked in college, but we don't have any proof of that, so I don't think he can dunk anymore. I've seen him get up and grab the rim, but that's a little bit different.''

Howard can offer one-liners on the subject because he dunked for the first time in eighth grade. He turned serious when asked how his game would change if he could not dunk.

''It's just like if I didn't have shoes, I wouldn't know what it would feel like to have shoes,'' Howard said. ''So, I would never know what it's like not to dunk if I've never done it before. I'd just have to use everything else, try to take away the stuff that people do who can dunk.''

Howard's imagery is a reality for players like Kapono.

''I see the game from the floor up instead of guys who see it from the floor down,'' Kapono said. ''My skill set is more fundamentals, shooting, footwork game. I don't really understand or can't fathom or feel the explosion, athleticism or speed of the game.''

The topic is sensitive. Dunking, after all, signals masculinity.

After being asked about it, Oberto dunked at a recent Wizards shootaround, almost to prove he could.

''That's a list I don't want to be on,'' Peterson said, adding he would try to dunk in that evening's game.

The opportunity did not come. But he can still take solace in Nelson's global retort for nondunkers across the world. ''Two points,'' he said, ''are two points.''

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: November 12, 2009


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