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, Kelly Dwyer takes a look at Randy Brown's throwdown over the Los Angeles Lakers.
There was a time, young cats and kittens, when you had to work for this.
I understand this will come off as a “walk-two-miles-in-the-snow-to-go-to-school” story, but I’m actually of a generation that did leave me (in the vaunted winter of 1988) left to walk two miles to school just to learn how to write in cursive – so I’m allowed to write with this furrowed brow. I’m also of a generation that left me, in the days before DVRs and League Pass, to tape every NBA game you could come across. With actual tapes. Oxide be damned, "Late Night with Conan O’Brien" episodes be saved, Marc Maron appearances on actual television shows (instead of tiny podcast downloads) to be respected.
On one night, I nearly missed it.
It was my mom’s night. My father is a chef, and six nights out of seven he prepped a fantastically brilliant dinner for us all. One night out of seven, though, he left the cooking to mom, no matter how late she came home from her work at a corporate gig with responsibilities that I still don’t fully grasp to this day. That back and forth between big business and misunderstood genius will never make sense to me, but what I did get out of it was solid-enough ground beef tacos from mom’s handiwork, spicy-enough chicken enchiladas, or, in this case, fantastic baked mostaccioli.
Mostaccioli that I almost missed.
It was 1996, DVRs did not exist and this 16-year-old was out of VHS tapes. It wasn’t so much that I needed to see Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Shaquille O’Neal and this cat named “Kobe Bryant” play, it was that I need to tape every basketball game available to me because I don’t know why but let’s just tape every game to re-watch over and over during the summer and not ask questions because it might pay off later. My thoughts were almost entirely composed of run-on sentences back then.
So, yeah, I should have had a license by then, but some things came up. I did manage to run down a few blocks to Osco to buy my usual brand of three-deep VHS tapes, and rush back to plop this brand of analog goodness into the machine.
The machine produced a rough night out, initially. That Tuesday featured the NBA’s best defensive team giving up 72 damn halftime points to the damned Lakers, distracting me from junior-year homework that has absolutely no impact on my current profession (don’t do drugs or homework, kids) and wondering if I should renounce my profound love for one Nick Van Exel.
Toni Kukoc started to get warm after that, though:
He started to bring the Bulls back from 22, from 15, from whatever. Dude didn’t even start, didn’t matter – Shaq, NVE, Eddie Jones and Jerome Kersey were the future of the NBA, and I was just some hopeless cat with a Robert Gordon haircut that was a few months removed from writing about basketball on the Internet (what a stupid endeavor!).
Every loping lefty toss-in seemed to fly in the face of a Lakers team that expected differently by the first quarter. It was Michael Jordan who was supposed to lead a comeback. It was Dennis Rodman who was supposed to bury his face in Shaq’s left arm. It was Scottie Pippen who was supposed to get lucky. It was anyone but Toni Kukoc, that goofball that shouldn’t matter.
Then it was Randy Brown, the only member of my hometown team who was actually from my hometown, that …
(You’ll have to excuse me.)
(I miss my hometown, and I miss players like Randy Brown. Guys who can’t shoot to save their lives, but will never, ever, allow you to get past them on the other end.)
(This is what Chicago is all about. Watch.)
It’s a last-second spring, when nobody is expecting it. It’s a last push toward 21 by two, when the sun is going down and we don’t know if the lights are going to turn on. It’s a plunk right at the rim, because you can’t trust this backboard. It’s a left hand, when everyone expects a right hand and for Jane Byrne to clear the streets of snow and Harold Washington to make it past his second term.
Michael Jordan dunked on Patrick Ewing a few times, Scottie Pippen did the same, Joakim Noah made me yell louder than I’ve ever yelled watching a sporting event while taking down Paul Pierce. I’m lucky. I’ve been able to grow up rooting for players that I love, teams I adore, and outfits that make me proud of my hometown. I also have the greatest job in the world, my world at least, and I’ll never forget that.
Part of that job means watching basketball on a Tuesday in December, when the rest of the sporting world doesn’t care as much, and when the stakes seem to be low.
Sometimes, though, there are people who care quite a bit. These people encourage followers who run down to a drugstore to buy VHS tapes, fans who turn an obsession into a living. And in a game with 252 combined points, one dunk will remind you of the two points that keep you coming back.
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