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.
Soft. Passive. Timid. Too "Canadian" — whatever that means.
With one ferocious dunk, Andrew Wiggins drove a stake right through the heart of those criticisms.
His Minnesota Timberwolves were hosting the Utah Jazz on March 30. The end of the 2014-15 season — a difficult one that saw the Wolves finish with the league’s worst record — was finally, mercifully in sight. Through the team’s struggles, though, Wiggins had shown glimpses of the great potential that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft just a few months earlier. Even saddled with a new set of challenges to overcome every game and little help from his teammates, Wiggins was proving he could handle life with the big boys.
Standing in his way on this particular night was Rudy Gobert, Utah’s 7-foot-1 center, with more than one nickname to reflect his emerging defensive dominance. Some like "The Stifle Tower." Others prefer "The French Rejection." Whatever you choose to call him, Gobert is as good a rim protector as you’ll find in the game today.
Early in the game, Wiggins got Gobert. Just a few minutes into the first quarter, Wiggins drove down the lane past two Jazz defenders and threw down a fine dunk as Gobert tried unsuccessfully to get in his way:
It was an impressive slam, but it fell just below the level of dunk confrontation that belongs on a poster. Wiggins would have to do it again, and he would get his opportunity with less than five minutes to go in the second quarter.
Wiggins lurked on the weak side as point guard Lorenzo Brown handled the ball behind the 3-point line on the left side of the floor. When Brown made a quick cut to the hoop, Wiggins jumped into action and began streaking toward the basket. Brown saw Wiggins coming, and smartly passed the ball off to the 20-year-old swingman.
One gather dribble was all Wiggins needed before he took flight. This time, he would leave no doubt.
Both Wiggins and Gobert were fully extended, face to face. For a moment, it felt like time stood still. Then, Wiggins reached over Gobert and crammed the ball through the hoop.
The ball came down and bounced off Gobert’s head. Wiggins flexed and howled at the moon as the home crowd roared deliriously in approval. Considering how painful the last few years have been for basketball fans in Minnesota, Wiggins crowning Gobert was cause for celebration.
Emboldened by his high-flying triumph, and perhaps feeding off the amped-up crowd, Wiggins was feeling good. Real good. On the T-Wolves’ next offensive possession, he went at Gobert yet again. This time, however, Rudy was ready:
Leaping from just below the left block, Gobert stood tall and rejected this latest offering with ease, sending Wiggins crashing to the floor and leaving the young Wolf licking his wounds. These are the mistakes we expect a rookie to make.
In the long run, though, Wiggins' failed dunk attempt is just as important as his terrific throwdown 30 seconds earlier. It showed a side of him we’d rarely seen in the past: a mean streak that would make even the NBA's toughest customers smile.
Sure, there are still some holes in his game, as there are with all young players. There just aren’t that many out there with Wiggins’ tantalizing talent. And as we saw on his jam over Gobert, the sky is the limit.
- - - - - - -
More Dunk History:
• Shawn Kemp, Alton Lister and how memory works
• Chris Webber, Charles Barkley and a poster preserved
• 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
• Some of our friends' favorite dunks, Vol. 2: Adam Pally, John Lurie, Daniel Van Kirk, Will Weldon and more
• Dunk History, Season 1: Our 2014 series, collected