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.
No cheering in the press box.
It’s the first rule that’s drilled in your head when you decide you want to become a sports journalist.
And 99 percent of the time, it’s a rule that all journalists follow (cough, boxing media, cough).
But once in a blue moon, you find yourself covering a sporting event where an athlete does something so phenomenal that it nearly forces your inner-fandom to come out.
Paul George’s 360-windmill slam was that moment for me.
The Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship program is what brought this Los Angeleno to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the middle of January during that ever so brief stretch when the Indiana Pacers were the team to beat in the Eastern Conference last year.
Remember those days?
Lance Stephenson was doing Lance Stephenson things on the court and not picking fights with his teammates off the court (just yet). Roy Hibbert’s fragile self-esteem was still somewhat intact. And George, the 2012-13 Most Improved Player, was showing signs that he was making the transition from an above-average shooting guard to a potential superstar in the making.
Technically myself and the three other fellows weren’t “working” journalists on the night as the Pacers played host to the Los Angeles Clippers — but the same rules apply whenever you are credentialed to a sporting event.
The Clippers were on the second night of a 10-day road trip and in the middle of a modest five-game winning streak. But on the second-leg of a back-to-back and going against an Indiana squad that was 20-1 at home, Doc Rivers’ squad had their work cut out for them.
Indiana’s smothering defense set the pace early and quickly built a double-digit lead before halftime behind a motivated Hibbert, who blocked all five of his shots in the first quarter. Offensively, George was the star of the show this snowy Saturday night: 36 points on 12 of 17 shooting from the field, 5 of 6 from three-point land and a perfect 7 of 7 from the free throw line.
The last two of those 36 points would come in spectacular fashion following a careless turnover by Clippers guard Darren Collison late in the fourth quarter:
As soon as George crossed half court and all five red jerseys were in the distance, you knew something special was set to take place.
(Credit goes out to veteran forward Hedo Turkoglu — who has never been known for a.) his speed, b.) his ability to hustle) and c.) his defense — for at least pretending he had a shot of running down George.)
The closer George got to the rim, the more I started to squirm in my seat.
The fan in me was ready to rise out of my press seat as George was elevating to the rim.
The journalist in me was just picturing the scolding Marc Spears and Adrian Wojnarowski would give me if word got back to them that I stood up and made a fool of myself.
The end result was one of those halfway rises that I played off as if I was just readjusting how I was sitting and this super lame tweet:
— Marcus Vanderberg (@marcowill) January 19, 2014
That’s how you get 2,000 followers on Twitter — with great insight like tweeting out a player’s name and providing no context behind it.
Considering it was the first time George attempted the 360-windmill in a game that mattered, it’s remarkable how easy and effortless he made it look. If he botched the dunk, George would have been the talk of social media for all the wrong reasons. The dunk would make another appearance later that summer during a game in The Drew League — just weeks before George’s gruesome leg injury he suffered during a Team USA scrimmage.
George returned to the court just nine months later for the final six games of the regular season. While we won’t know until this upcoming season if the George of old is truly back, here’s hoping we haven’t seen our last in-game 360-windmill slam.
That’s something we can all cheer for.
Marcus Vanderberg is a deputy editor for Yahoo Sports.
More Dunk History:
• Shawn Kemp, Alton Lister and how memory works
• Chris Webber, Charles Barkley and a poster preserved
• 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'
• 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