When the names of the participants in next Saturday's 2013 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend in Houston were announced on TNT on Thursday night, one name seemed to generate the widest range of reactions from basketball fans — James White.
To casual fans, White's inclusion elicited Barkley-style "Who he play for?"-level inquiries; after all, the Cincinnati product's played a grand total of 377 NBA minutes in 44 games over the course of three seasons spread over seven years, spending most of his professional career bouncing around between the NBA, the D-League and Europe before catching on in an end-of-the-rotation capacity with the New York Knicks this season. To those who've been up on the man they call "Flight" for years, though, the news was met with rapturous joy — finally, the guy who's shut down dozens of competitions over the years with his array of behind-the-foul-line aerial acrobatics is going to get his shot to shine on All-Star Saturday Night.
And while the 30-year-old swingman's far from a household name, he's planning on changing that by bringing a loaded arsenal to Houston, as he told SLAM's Kicks blog:
K1X: Did you prepare for it? Or do you know which dunks you’re going to do?
JW: To be honest, I never practice dunks. I just do whatever comes to my mind.
K1X: But when do you decide what you want to do? Do you decide in mid-air? Granted, you do have a little bit of time up there.
JW: [Laughs] I have a general idea of what I want to do when I take the ball and get ready to jump. Everybody knows that I have the dunks from the free throw line and all that stuff in my back pocket. I can always pull those out. I watch what my competition does in the dunk contest and then decide which of my dunks I will do. I have about five dunks where I’m absolutely certain that I will get a 50 on those. So it’s just a matter of when to use which of those dunks.
It would, of course, make sense for White to go with some of the dunks he's perfected over the years — the "back pocket" stuff that includes windmills, East Bay Funk through-the-legs and two-hand double-pump power jams from behind the free-throw line — because, with all due respect to defending champion Jeremy Evans, 2007 champ Gerald Green, Eric Bledsoe, Kenneth Faried and Terrence Ross, it's difficult to imagine anybody beating someone who pulls off a full repertoire of crisp, high-impact stuff performed entirely from behind the free-throw line. Perhaps the coolest thing for fans, though, is that White sounds like he's interested in breaking new ground, according to ESPN New York's Jared Zwerling:
"Whatever I do is going to be new. It's not going to be seen in the NBA dunk contest," he said. "You've seen it maybe on YouTube, but you haven't seen it on the NBA stage. You've seen windmills. Everything they do has to be with gimmicks, which is what's making it corny."
White said he doesn't practice any of his dunks for two main reasons: He's getting older and he likes to feel out each contest first to decide what he's going to do. But he always saves one "last dunk just in case." In the case of this year's All-Star Weekend, he already has that special one in his back pocket, but he's keeping it a secret. [...]
"I have a dream of doing something, but I can't tell you what it is," he said. "I told some guys and they were like, 'Nah, you can't do that.' Then somebody else brought up another one, and that's a good idea. The dunk I'm talking about is crazy. I don't think nobody thought of that. If they did, they wouldn't think they can do it. It's not too difficult, but it's crazy. Somebody actually has to help on that one."
Given what we've already seen White pull off comfortably, it seems entirely reasonable to get crazy amped about what he might have up his sleeve, and entirely reasonable that online betting site Bovada has installed White as a 5-4 favorite to win this year's Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. I'm not planning to bet on the competition, but I wouldn't feel too comfortable betting against him if I was.
And while the prospect of another dunk contest without a major signature star may seem a bit on the boring side for some fans, White thinks the way participants are selected is just fine, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post:
"It's best for the people who want to do it," White said [...] "Put the people who actually want to do it and want to win and think it's fun, [rather] than picking the people who are forced to do it. Some people maybe are protecting their reputation. They don't want to lose."
I mean, I'm not going to name names or anything, but I'm just going to leave this right here:
— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 8, 2013
Stay trollin', Bron-Bron. Me, I'll be over here getting excited for a rematch in Houston:
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