PHOENIX -- It’s the sheer force of his dunks that is so impressive.
It’s one thing to dunk a basketball in some overly produced way for the contest judges and the Sprite people and Kia execs. It’s quite another to do what LeBron James did Monday after practice.
Shirt off and in sweatpants, James didn’t put on an exhibition so much as he waged war on the rims inside the Phoenix Sun’s practice gym. He threw the ball off a pillar behind the basket, let it bounce and caught it in midair for one of his signature Tomahawk dunks. Next, he tossed a pass baseball style across the width of the court before meeting it at the goal for a reverse, baseline alley-oop.
Reporters were awed, sure, but even James’ teammates were watching like excited fans with their smartphones recording the spectacle. It was a rare treat, watching James cut loose and freestyle with all his freakish talent. What’s so different about a dunk by James and just about anyone else on this planet? It’s the unvarnished and raw athleticism of someone that big, moving that fast and with that much brutish grace.
Watching James fly, the laws that govern this physical world bend into that realm of fantasy we all remember as kids. At one point, nearly every member of the team crowded around Dwyane Wade’s phone and watched a playback of James’ dunks.
“I get to see a lot of his dunk contests behind the scenes, and I’ve been amazed by a lot of things he can do,” Wade said.
The TV cameras were rolling, of course, so what started as a little fun after practice mushroomed later into another national outcry about James never competing in the NBA’s All-Star dunk contest.
A tweet from Brian Mahoney, an Associated Press national basketball writer, after the videos of James’ dunks went viral on social media:
“Practice dunking fine, but LeBron should’ve done dunk contest at least once. Jordan did. Kobe did. Event has suffered. He could’ve helped.”
Hey, who needs dunk contests for self-promotion when you’ve got YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Vine?
Fans, sponsors, writers and NBA executives have clamored, angled, bribed, schemed and laid on guilt trips for years in the hopes of coaxing James into performing in the All-Star weekend’s dunk contest. This year in New Orleans, the contest will be governed by a new set of rules aimed at spicing up the competition. Participants will be split into two teams — East and West — to battle it out tournament style. An overall winner will be selected by fans.
A reporter asked Wade on Monday how James would do if he ever entered the dunk contest. James cut in and answered for Wade.
“I’d win,” James said.
Said Wade: “Well, obviously I think he’d do very well, and it’d be one of the most watched events of the year besides the Grammys.”
Wade then offered his perspective on why his friend was never in the competition.
“I think sometimes, too, if he does get in it, I think people are going to expect him to jump off an airplane, so I think the expectation is so high that it might be a small let down as well,” Wade said. “I mean, the man can fly, but Blake Griffin jumped over a car, so they’re going to want LeBron James to jump over something else.
“So, I think the window has closed from that standpoint.”
Wade isn’t too thrilled about All-Star weekend. Asked by the Heat’sTV crew about what he is most looking forward to, Wade quipped, “Sunday at 11:30 when we get on a plane and go to Dallas. It’s a long weekend. I’m just going to enjoy being an All-Star for the 10th time, and then I look forward to the weekend being over.”
Wade is far removed from the enthusiasm and excitement of first-time All-Stars such as Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who is scheduled to compete in all five of the weekend’s events. Of course, Wade has a long history of performing well during All-Star weekend. He won the All-Star Game MVP in 2010 and won the skills competition in other years.
“He’s 22,” Wade said when asked what he thought of Lillard’s all-in All-Star attitude. “Good luck to him on doing it. He’s tying to enjoy this All-Star weekend, but I’ll tell you one thing, he’s going to be tired as heck. But he’s young, and I don’t think he’s going to get this opportunity again, so best of luck to him.”