As the summer wears on, with training camps and preseason play still off in (what feels like) the distant future, we turn our attention to the past. Join us as we while away a few late-summer moments recalling some of the most scintillating slams of yesteryear, the most thunderous throwdowns ever to sear themselves into our memories. This is Dunk History.
Today, Ben Rohrbach pays homage to a rookie Chris Webber's stylish behind-the-back bombing of Charles Barkley early in the 1993-94 season.
Twelve-year-old me had an entire bedroom wall dedicated to the Fab Five. Every picture that ever appeared on a poster, in Sports Illustrated and SLAM, or anywhere else photographs were found in the early 1990s made its way to that wall. It even featured my own life-size Jalen Rose drawing that was nothing short of awful.
That’s right. I was the skinny white kid from Cape Cod who wore shorts below his knees and black shoes over black socks to every game I ever played after 1991. I’ve never admitted this to anyone, but I definitely cried when Chris Webber called that timeout and smashed my alarm clock in hopes I wouldn’t have to go to school the next morning. My older brothers still haven’t let me off the hook for that meltdown.
So, Nov. 16, 1993, represented redemption for me as much as it must have for C-Webb.
Following his sophomore season at Michigan, which culminated in that technical foul and the resulting loss of a second straight NCAA title game, Webber was taken No. 1 overall by the Orlando Magic at the 1993 NBA draft, held in Auburn Hills, Mich., a half-hour from his hometown of Detroit. The trade moments later sending his rights to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Anfernee Hardaway’s rights and three future first-round picks drew one of the great reactions of David Stern’s podium history.
Not only had Webber’s college career just ended in humiliating fashion, but the dawn of his NBA career was depicted more as Orlando preferring Penny over him than the Warriors trusting so much in his talent that they made a Godfather offer.
Regardless, Webber had landed in a decent spot, playing for the headstrong Don Nelson, who had won Coach of the Year honors just two years prior, on a team that featured Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, Latrell Sprewell and Billy Owens. Six games into the 1993-94 NBA season, the Warriors had already lost Hardaway to an ACL injury in training camp, but Webber’s relationship with Nelson had not yet soured to the point he wanted out, and the future in Golden State still seemed bright.
So, when the defending Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns and reigning NBA MVP Charles Barkley came to Oakland on Nov. 16, 1993, it was a big deal, especially for Webber, who counted Sir Charles among his role models growing up.
“That was my first game playing against Barkley,” Webber said during an NBA on TNT segment recounting the night’s events years later. “I met Barkley in high school, and Barkley was by far my favorite player. My friends were in town from Oakland for that game. Everybody came up, and they knew how much I loved Barkley.”
But when Webber corralled a Sprewell outlet pass along the left sideline and caught Barkley chasing on the break out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sir Charles less as an idol and more as an opportunity to unleash his limitless talent on an offseason of aggravation. He took one dribble, circled the ball around his back and dunked on Barkley’s head, drawing the foul and completing a three-point play.
“When I saw him coming, I didn’t think he should jump,” a smiling Webber told Ahmad Rashad on "NBA Inside Stuff" at the time. “I don’t really think you should on a guy who has an advantage on you, and I can jump pretty high and I’m taller, so I didn’t think he was going to jump. He jumped, and I got him, but I’m sure someone will get me someday, so I don’t want to make too much of a big deal out of it.”
An underrated aspect of the play: Webber altered Danny Ainge’s shot on the other end, resulting in the turnover that led to Sprewell’s outlet pass. The entire sequence represented all that was Webber, a 6-foot-9 athletic specimen whose God-given ability could make even a reigning MVP envious. And the celebration, arms raised to the Oakland Coliseum Arena crowd as Barkley lay in waste, was just enough for his critics to resurrect a tired style-over-substance argument.
“I have a poster at home of him jumping with me and both his hands out, like, kind of in a helpless position,” Webber told TNT in the retrospective. “And when I dunked on him and got the foul, I looked up to my boys in the stands and said, ‘Now what?’ I’m in the NBA. What can be better than to be the No. 1 pick and dunk on your idol?”
Much like Webber’s days at Michigan, the dunk became a cultural phenomenon, used as the centerpiece of a Nike commercial campaign placing NBA players past and present in a barbershop setting. The ad began with Webber telling Sprewell, “Put the cape on, because I was like Superman,” and concluded after a reenactment of the dunk on a mini basketball hoop with Webber taking a jab at Barkley’s recent “I am not a role model” ad: “He said, ‘I don’t believe in role models, but, uh — you mine.’”
Barkley had granted Nike permission to make the commercial, and in the heat of that moment, it seemed like a passing of the torch. After all, Barkley was north of 30, and a 20-year-old Webber was embarking upon his Rookie of the Year campaign.
But lost in that posterization was the end result of the game itself. While Webber finished with 21 points on 12 shots, six rebounds and four assists — a healthy stat line for someone with four NBA games under his belt — Barkley finished with 36 points on 30 shots, 13 rebounds and two assists in a 116-104 Phoenix win. And when the playoffs rolled around, soon after the Nike commercial ran, Barkley again spanked C-Webb, averaging 37.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and three steals per game in a first-round sweep capped by a career-high 56 points opposite Webber in the clinching Game 3.
Nelson notoriously opted against double-teaming Barkley in the 1994 playoffs, and the 11-time All-Star made Webber and the Warriors pay. “They challenged him,” Ainge told Fastbreak Magazine in May 1994, when the current Celtics president was still a Suns guard. “And the one thing I never do is challenge Charles Barkley.”
This three-act drama set in the 1993-94 season captured a contrast between one Hall of Famer and another borderline one, Webber’s fluidity and Barkley's round mound meeting in one streaming storyline. That relationship has translated well to the TNT set, where Webber can be seen comparing Barkley's skintight uniform to “panties with a miniskirt,” and the latter returning, “I still hate you to this day.”
Webber may not have realized his full potential, even in a career including five All-Star appearances. But he fulfilled all his promise during that behind-the-back dunk, and nothing else mattered when 13-year-old me pinned a poster of Barkley’s outstretched hands playing nail to his one-handed hammer on my bedroom wall:
More Dunk History:
• Shawn Kemp, Alton Lister and how memory works
• Young Wolf Andrew Wiggins goes straight for Rudy Gobert's neck
• Rajon Rondo leaps past Dwight Howard, ascends to All-Star status
• Blake Griffin defines 'Mozgov,' picks up Stoudemire's mantle
• Vince Carter defies gravity, belief in the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest
• LeBron James rises up and Damon Jones 'gets banged on'
• Dwyane Wade welcomes Anderson Varejao to his 'Kodak moment'
• Paul George's 360 windmill causes stir on press row
• Michael Jordan, Mel Turpin and 'Was he big enough?'
• Von Wafer and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad dunk
• Dr. J 'jams the jinx,' makes Boston Garden sing different tune
• LeBron James takes flight, sends JET to crash landing
• J.R. Smith expresses himself by pulverizing Gary Neal
• Some of our friends' favorite dunks, Vol. 1: Chris Gethard, Hannibal Buress, Jensen Karp and more
• Dunk History, Season 1: Our 2014 series, collected
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