September 17, 2009
OK, we know the first decade of the 21st century doesn't really end until 2011. We think. But we also know there have been 10 full NBA seasons played since the phrase "Y2K" was on all of our lips (1999-2000), and here at Ball Don't Lie we've decided to use this as an offseason excuse to rank some of the best and not-so-brightest of the 10 campaigns in question. The result? Why, top 10 lists!
It's a huge heap of nonsense. You have to sit through tired musical acts, lots of silly intros, tons of gushing commentary, and you might not ever get a payoff. The players could be hungover, the dunks can bounce off the back iron. The three-pointers ... well, nobody really has any expectations for that one.
That said, the best-case scenario behind the NBA's All-Star weekend can be quite memorable. At its best, it is the best. No other sport can touch it.
And while we might tire of TNT's sixth annual Dunk Contest documentary, Kenny Smith telling us all again why Jason Richardson(notes) is so special, we keep coming back for more. Order in some pot stickers, set the Tivo in case you miss something in real time, hope for the best.
There's nothing wrong with that, we think. And in light of that, here's our sixth annual tribute to the finest All-Star weekend moments of the last decade.
10. Shaq and his JabbaWockeeZ
I had no idea what or who (or, though this doesn't really make sense grammatically, "why") the JabbaWockeeZ were or are or is or ... these things sort of creep me out.
Luckily, that's what Shaq is for. He makes things all better. As the intros to the 2009 All-Star team droned on, O'Neal assuaged our fears, made sure everything was all right, and JabbaWockeeZ'ed it up with the crew. Still pretty creepy, I'd still rather not watch the video below, but some people had to like it.
9. Four Pistons at once
Were I 77 years-old, a candidate for the FJM-treatment, and a dis-like-or of all things interesting, I would have ranked this first.
The 2005-06 Detroit Pistons, some thought, were well on their way to 70 wins. They fell well short, they didn't even make the NBA Finals, and they have to be regarded as one of the great disappointments of our era.
But they were fun to watch, they did defend like mad, Flip Saunders' slow-down offense was pretty cool to watch take hold, and they did have four deserved(ish) All-Stars in Chauncey Billups(notes), Ben Wallace(notes), Rasheed Wallace(notes), and Richard Hamilton(notes). And, at some point during that year's All-Star game, East coach Flip Saunders decided to sub all four in.
The results were pretty ordinary, but, look! Four Pistons!
8. 2005 Dunk Contest
For some reason, this Saturday night doesn't get the pub I think it deserves.
Perhaps, it's because I watched it at a pub. Perhaps, it's because the run took place in 2004-05, the year the NBA really started to turn the corner with a lot of us (despite our protestations from 1999 to 2004). Perhaps it was Birdman's bum show. Perhaps it was Steve Nash(notes), in those stupid skater shoes, punting the ball toward Amar'e Stoudemire(notes). Yeah, that's what it was.
Either way, he kicked the ball. Sacrilege, to me, usually. But Stoudemire caught it, and flushed it. And Birdman had a go. And Josh Smith(notes) dunked over Kenyon Martin(notes). And it was fun, the whole time. That hadn't happened in a dunk contest for years prior.
We've had better dunks in years since. We've had better winners, higher highs, and nearly as much fun. But I don't want this one to slip away. 2005 was a great time out.
7. Nate vs. Dwight
I didn't mind, actually. It's not a game, it hardly matters, to each his own, all that stuff. Dwight was confident in who he was, who he is, and wasn't bothered by Robinson. MJ wouldn't have done it? Yeah, you yelled that. Kobe wouldn't have done it? You yelled that as well. So what? Jordan and Kobe punched teammates. I'm supposed to worry about a 6-10 guy with massive skills and hops and drive because he let a little gnat goof with him?
Pardon Dwight Howard for having a sense of humor, a sense of drama, a bit of fun. Why is it OK for Nate Robinson to have the same triptych working on his behalf? Because he's shorter? Doesn't make sense to me.
I loved it. More people should.
6. T-Mac's backboard dunk in 2002
This was cool to watch, it took place during a rather dreary and highlight-free era of NBA basketball, and it is well worth our fond memories.
I'm not its biggest fan, but others seem to warm to it.
I just don't think backboards are meant to be used that way. They're meant to be used for proper shots, and rebounding drills.
5. Jordan nearly wins it in 2003
This was the fantastic, should-have-been moment that seemed straight out of central casting, too good to be true ... and it was.
Michael Jordan was less-than stellar in his last All-Star run. Shot a lot, scored some, but basically played the part of a glorified Ron Mercer. More effective, a hundred times more appealing to look at (something about those splayed-legs fadeaways), but the production was about the same. Lots of shots, few deserved free throws, 20 points.
But in a close game, and possibly the last mid-afternoon All-Star game we'll ever see, Jordan tossed in a rainbow fadeaway over Shawn Marion(notes) to put the East up by one at the end of the first of two overtime periods. Of course, because there is no god and we'll all die alone, Jermaine O'Neal(notes) fouled Kobe Bryant(notes) a possession later while he chucked a three, Kobe nailed two of three foul shots, and the game went into double overtime, ending with a win for the West.
We won't all die alone because it was Kobe who hit those shots, so save your comments. It's because Jordan had a chance to create one more lasting memory in an otherwise frustrating turn as a Washington Wizard for two seasons. Even Kobe, our game's ultimate competitor post-Michael, seemed to hate O'Neal's foul.
Even with the lost would-be outcome, it was still quite the sight. Goosebump-worthy, all that. The East lost, mind you, and I still feel odd for ranking this shot, this low.
4. 2001's Eastern comeback
As has been mentioned several times, this was not a fun era to document, though I was there, watching every game, writing something called ‘Behind the Boxscore.' The game was different, slower, less-talented, not as fun as it was a few years before, or a few years after.
And the 2001 East team? I was actually asked to write a column wondering aloud if this wasn't the worst collection of talent on any All-Star squad since the game started. It was right there.
But they won. They came back, from 21 points down, beating a Western squad that was a bit of a murderer's row. So fun to watch.
Back then, we had expectations for Jason Williams.
Not the kind you keep for Kobe or Mike, expecting them to come back after the summer with a new move, or a new muscle to flex. With Williams, we expected a bit of the AND1 we'd all heard about, seen, fast-forwarded through. We expected goofy passes. We expected him to save us, from the year 2000.
And, bless the man, Raef LaFrentz(notes) expected it too. He gathered Jason Williams' elbow pass, and went up for the throwdown. LaFrentz's teammate, a dour sort that went by the name "James Posey," also expected it, and fouled Raef. No lay-ups. This was the rookie game, after all.
Actually, it wasn't. It was the first edition of the Rookie/Sophomore game, which was a fantastic idea. No more rookies vs. rookies, thin rosters and bad play. And because Williams' rookie year took place during the All-Star weekend-less 1999 season, you got the feeling that the game was created just so he could take part, as a second-year player.
Williams made it worth our while. He had to grow up a bit after that. He didn't, the Kings went out in the first round again that season, and he was traded to the Grizzlies in 2001; but for that era, he was all we had.
Until later that afternoon.
2. Dwight Howard's dunks
I'm a complainer, and a good chunk of my time spent away from the laptop is taken up by my sorry butt whining about a lack of whimsy and wit in this workaday world. I don't want snark, I don't want a serious tone — I just want a bit of lighthearted back-and-forth tossed around by people who expect good things from each other.
That last part is important. You have to believe that the person you're talking to is not having a go at you, but rather, enjoying your company and feeding off your own contributions. Man, I wish George Plimpton were still alive. He'd explain this much more easily than I could. Then he'd probably offer us all watercress sandwiches.
Dwight Howard, and I love him for this, brings that whimsy. He's not thinking about his legacy, his place amongst the greats, and where he stacks up compared to Michael, Wilt, Shaq, whomever. Perhaps it's his upbringing, perhaps it's his confidence, perhaps it's his choice in religion. I don't know. But he's cool with himself, even if he's showing off.
And, for years, he's given us Saturday nights to remember in the cold of February, bounding all over the court as he works the slam dunk contest. He's only won once in three tries, not the judges' finest hour, but he seems OK with that. OK with having fun.
We need to be OK with that.
1. The 2000 Slam Dunk Contest
About an hour after Williams' elbow pass, the NBA put together its first dunk competition in three years, and it may have been the best we've ever seen.
YouTube has to do most of the talking for me here, but Vince Carter(notes), Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis(notes), Ricky Davis(notes) (an inspired choice, seriously, by the league), Jerry Stackhouse(notes) and Larry Hughes(notes) gave us something special. Four of them did, at least.
Carter was the obvious star, spinning around with a series of breathtaking moves that left everyone in fits. Most impressively, though not as fun to behold, he also dunked while putting his forearm into the basket, and took off from about the free throw line for a two-handed dunk. That last one was quite the feat.
The rest of the crew was up for the challenge. Francis, in the midst of a sterling rookie year, defied gravity with his work. McGrady, in his last year with the Raptors, was nearly as good. But nobody could touch Carter. It was the most competitive dunk contest ever, and the least competitive dunk contest ever.
And it was needed. Coming off the lockout year, in the midst of a pretty dreary season, we needed that. Carter was never the same. Tracy became a star, but his body betrayed him. Francis never put his potential to great use, before his knees failed him. Everything, we learned, falls apart.
But for that afternoon — and that night, bringing beer-buzzed college buddies back home to watch the tape of it — it was perfect. Something for everyone, done right. And that's why, even with all the nonsense, even with all the NBA-endorsed lameness, we still tune in. It's a weekend in February, you're telling me you have something better to do?