December 4, 2008

Where Are They Now? X (2006, updated 2008)

December 2006

Facializer # 10 – David "Big Daddy D" Lattin

"If David Lattin hadn't dunked on you, I wouldn't be standing here running your offense." With that nugget of wisdom to his coach Pat Riley, Earvin “Magic” Johnson conveyed the impact of what would become a GREAT MOMENT IN CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY!

Yeah, you know the story. 1966, Texas Western, all-black starters, underdogs, mighty whitey

Kentucky, lah-dee-dah. But I'm not here to get all Eyes on the Prize on you. This is all about poster-worthy dunks, after all, and many of the best would have never transpired were it not for this guy.

Seeing their likely foes go down in upsets at the NCAA tourney to unheralded Texas Western was exciting to the Wildcat nation, expecting no problems in raising a fifth championship banner. David Lattin squashed all that noise with the quickness. On the Miners' second possession, Big Daddy D rose up over Riley and powered the ball home over Pat's feebly outstretched arm, sending shockwaves all throughout the nation.

Seizing the spotlight, he then stared the Bluegrass State's cowering star in the eye and delivered this uplifting quote:

Okay, wait. Maybe not such a GREAT MOMENT IN CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY!  What, you were expecting some sage discourse about justice, mountaintops, rainbows, and overcoming or something?

Lattin flatly denies saying it, suggesting his mother "would roll over in her grave if she thought I said anything like that." But both Riley (before the Glory Road publicity) and a photographer who was under the basket have corroborating accounts. Let's just suppose that part of the "true story" was left on Bruckheimer's cutting room floor.

Pat would have thought twice about jumping had he read that his opponent was the FIRST (no racial adjectives) high school All-American ever from Texas. On his way to 16 points and a stunning upset, Lattin would follow with three more rim-rattlers, slams on Kentucky so vicious that Ashley Judd could be heard crying from her momma's womb.  But what made the posterization of Riley, and by extension, America's withering separate-but-equal mindset so remarkable is the reaction it produced.

There probably wouldn't be a forty-ounce brew chillin' in your fridge today had it not been for Prohibition. That dry era in history revealed to Americans exactly what it was missing out on, and when the draconian rules were kicked to the curb, demand for booze shot up with a vengeance, and now we'd never go back. Similar thing happened in hoops. Within five years after Lattin's dominating slam, every SEC school came equipped with a brutha. Yes, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia. No National Guard required, thank you.

Texas Western was so unnerved by the confrontational images Lattin & Co. projected that they changed the school's name the next year. Meanwhile, the prospect of a sea change in college hoops resonated
with the powers in the ivory towers, who relished a return to the "glory days" of set shots, Tom Gola and Bill Sharman. They would've brought back peach baskets if the world had let them. Russell, Oscar and Wilt were allowed to play top-tier college ball merely because they were seen as freaks of nature and sold tickets. But in the emerging era of integration these schools just couldn't handle mediocre brothers coming in off the streets into their fine institutions and "taking over the game." So within a year the Dunk Nazis eliminated slam dunks from college hoops altogether. You know it as the Alcindor Rule, but Lew and all players knew it was really the Big Daddy Lattin Rule. No three-point shots, and no dunks. Sounds to me like a slightly nuanced game of contact darts. Yawn.

Common sense would prevail by 1976, when players like Kent Benson and Jim Spanarkel were putting fans to sleep, and March Madness was more like March Malaise. But you'd have to wonder… if not for the NCAA ban on dunking, would we have had Phi Slamma Jamma? Or the Fab Five?  Think how many dunkers would have lost interest in hoops before college. Imagine His Airness being recruited instead by UNC for baseball… or Vince for their band? Would that be a bronze statue of Kelly Tripucka outside Chicago's United Center, taking a ten-foot jumper over outstretched arms? Would Shaq have found himself the starting center… in the XFL? Would Freddy Weis be a starter for the Knicks? (shudders, chills)

So thank you, David Lattin, for saving us decades of unmitigated boredom. And Pat Riley, thank you for being such a willing participant in that GREAT MOMENT IN NASTY DUNKS HISTORY!

As for Big Daddy, he is doing quite nicely, and not just due to the publicity from Glory Road. After a less-than-stellar career with the NBA's Frisco Warriors, the expansion Phoenix Suns, then the Memphis Tams and Pittsburgh Pipers of the ABA, he went on to have successful ventures in the industries of "adult beverages" (as an ad exec for a national wine-and-spirits distributor.  In yo face, Prohibition!), car rentals and real estate. More irony: his new autobiography, "Lattin's Slam Dunk to Glory," is appropriately foreworded by Phi Slamma Jamma's Clyde Drexler.

"Slam Dunk to Glory," sure to win a Pulitzer. In stores now! (Or not…)

(2008 UPDATE: Lattin, the recently-late Don Haskins and their 1966 Miner team was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.  Likely the first facial slam ever to be deliberately highlighted and celebrated in a Hoop Hall induction ceremony, part of the induction article highlights Haskins as the motivating force behind Big Daddy D’s poster-for-all-posterity…

“…Haskins, always looking for an edge, used the racial overtones of the game to his advantage. At the start of the game he instructed the muscular Lattin to make a violent early game dunk in an effort to intimidate Kentucky.

‘I told David, 'I want you to take it to the rim and dunk it like they've never see it dunked. I don't care if you get called for a charge, traveling or anything. Just dunk it.’

Lattin gladly obliged and as he threw down a vicious slam, Kentucky's Pat Riley tried to get out of the way only to be called for a foul. For all intents and purposes, the game was over there. Kentucky, indeed, had never seen anything like Big Daddy D. Using their trademark stingy defense and extreme discipline - characteristics that ran against the stereotype - Texas Western cruised to a 72-66 victory and the national championship.

The fallout was both beautiful and bitter. These were still the 1960s and college athletics were run exclusively by white men. The team was hardly hailed as heroes - no one even brought out a ladder so they could clip the nets, Shed having to prop Worsley up on his shoulders to do the honors. The NCAA did, however, immediately dispatch an investigator to El Paso in search of violations (he found no wrong doing). Hate mail came by the bag load and death threats were real enough to require FBI intervention.

Some in the media, particularly Sports Illustrated, wrote scathing articles about the program and coaches spread wholly inaccurate rumors about the team's lack of academic success (in truth nearly the entire team graduated and all went on to successful lives). Haskins, for his part, was offered few coaching opportunities at bigger schools despite having won a national title at a mid-major program at such a young age.

‘I said for a long time winning the national championship was the worst thing to ever happen to me,’ Haskins said. ‘We were the villains. We were pariahs.’

It took decades for America to fully appreciate what this team had done. And then it came in a wave -- a book, a movie, a Wheaties box, NCAA recognition and now this, the ultimate recognition, enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.”)


Victim #10 – Von Wafer

I came across Von's face as I was preparing my cereal this morning. Sadly, he was not on the box of Wheaties, but on the milk carton. Under the words, "Have You Seen Me?"

Von is last season's winner of the unofficial Junior Harrington award, given to the up-and-coming young player who gets dunked over in royal fashion (no pun intended, Mr. Ivey), and suddenly goes "poof!" Like an AND1 game where fans direct you to the exits after you've been punked under the rim. Gotta go, gotta go!

coming up short (getting robbed Iguodala-style) in the high school slam dunk contest to LeBron in 2002-2003, Von has carried a history of baggage, from his troubles staying in class at Florida State, to his nose-busting pre-draft 2005 workout with Jan Jagla that almost ended his NBA career before it got started. Didn't help that he ended Miami's Dorell Wright's summer ball with a shot to the chops, either. The Lakers gave him a shot with some second-round money, though, and for a thin backcourt behind Kobe, it looked like things were shaping up for awhile… UNTIL, after missing an ill-advised three, he made one final ill-advised move…

Kirk Snyder will never go hungry thanks to that dunk, and would eventually move on to a free agent deal with the Rockets. Meanwhile, Von hardly had a chance to unpack from that road trip when the Lake Show put him on a saddle to the Fort Worth Flyers. D-League time. He'd come back briefly in March but was left off the playoff roster. You'd think he'd want to come back and show some fire this summer. But Von was so listless in scrimmages, as's Richard Walker accurately put it, "Sometimes I wonder if Von knows he doesn't have a guaranteed contract."

He knows now. After hardly getting any preseason run, the Lakers waived him in October. But fear not, for Von is getting yet another chance, in the
D-League with the Colorado 14ers, ballin' outta control with the likes of Julius Hodge, Pooh Jeter and Rick Rickert. Just days ago he lit up the Idaho Stampede for 31 points. Looks like Von has found his place to shine, in Broomfield, Colorado. And the next time he gets crammed on, lucky for him, no one will be there to witness it.

(YouTube BONUS: Somebody Stop Me!)

(2008 UPDATE: NEVER doubt a man named Vakeaton Quamar. Really, that’s Von’s first and middle name.  He’s back in the NBA after honing his skills mostly in the minors for the past few years.  Since departing from Kobe & Company, he’s made cameo appearances the last two seasons with the Clip Joint, the Nuggets, and the Trail Blazers.  So far he’s survived the cut with the Houston Rockets.  Just this week Chris “The Birdman” Andersen couldn’t get ‘high’ enough (sorry) to keep up with Wafer, and wound up with a new middle name… “Mud”.  And oh, how the worm turns!  Snyder, rumored to be a perennial locker-room malcontent, got traded from the Rockets to the Wolves last season... and now all his filthy "Kung Pow!" dunks are literally Made in China.  He dropped 43 points in 45 minutes in his November debut for the Zheijhang Wanma Cyclones.)


November 14, 2008

Crammed-On Chronicles VII: Kobe Bryant ON Dwight Howard - THIS is a PUBIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

(Also see the Fakin' the Funk fictional story: BAPTIZED!)

Kobe Bryant reminds you, “Don’t hate. Appreciate!”

November 12, 2004

The haters simply don’t get it, do they?

Look, if you’d rather not see Kobe Bryant light up your favorite squad, applaud him, politely. That’s right. In fact, shower him with praise, flower him with niceties. Compliment his improved shooting stroke… in Italian. Tell him how dope his rap album was, that you bought his sneakers the minute they hit the shelves. Build up his self-esteem and give him time to get all nonchalant and complacent.

If you truly wish nothing but the very worst for Kobe, please, don’t boo him. And for godsakes, if you’d rather not have your favorite prized young star brutally exposed before the world, by all means, do NOT heckle Kobe Bryant.

Haters are Kobe’s fuel, you see. It’s been that way ever since his 2002 All-Star homecoming in Philly. Striving desperately to win back the hearts and minds of people who once cheered him on as a suburban high school phenom, Kobe scored, scored and scored some more on his way to winning the game MVP honors. For his efforts, through the entire game, true-to-form Philly fans booed him worse than they’d boo Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem in a Santa Claus outfit. Trophy in hand, Kobe left holding back tears while getting run out of town on a rail. “My rookie year, I came out of high school, my first game here, they booed me a little bit, too,” he told reporters. “And that really, really hurt, because it was like my homecoming... That was very, very hurtful.” From that moment forward, he consciously stopped waiting for the kind words of others to inspire him to greatness. It’s much easier to feed off the hate, bitter as it tastes. “I'll use it as motivation, definitely,” he said. “I'm the type of person where if something occurs in my life that's hurtful, I'm going to turn it around and use it as some type of motivation.”

Still reeling from The Infamous Snow Bunny Incident in Colorado, and after successfully urging his GM to run the Lakers’ other marquee players and coach out of town, in 2004 Kobe entered the regular season knowing full well he’d starve waiting to be fed praise. He knew he’d spend the full season getting booed everywhere outside of Tinseltown.

While he was prepared to accept the booing, the hecklers were a different story. These cats pay top dollar to sit real close to the road club’s bench, and they come armed with every weakness and imperfection a baller carries, or is gossiped to carry, both on and off the court. Whether it’s his inability to take the ball to his left, defend their best dribbler, handle his liquor, or get it up with his girlfriend, they’re ready to remind him all about it, in the most distasteful terms imaginable. Anything goes, to get the player off his game just enough that the heckler’s team gets the advantage.

Some players simply cannot handle the persistent needling. Occasionally they’ll snap and give the Maxwell-like punch, Rodman-ish kick, Iverson-ian slur or Barkley-esque spit that, properly aimed, could guarantee the heckler big-time money and great courtside seats for years. After the way the previous year’s tumultuous season started, Kobe certainly couldn’t afford any more court settlements. He needed to find other ways to silence his growing legion of detractors.

Jump to the end of the second quarter at the O-Rena, where the Magic was chewing up all of the Lakers’ 18-point lead. When Kobe wasn’t getting hounded by a surprisingly spry Grant Hill and nursing a throbbing left foot, he was spending the better part of the quarter on the pine jawing back and forth with a Magic fan at courtside who brought his full bag of heckler tricks that evening. Kobe was fine with the booing, even the cussing. But this particular heckler managed to get under his skin with some sincerely vulgar words. Obscenities between the two escalated the repartee. It is unclear, to this day, what exactly was uttered, or whether the heckler was ushered out after things got heated. But it was quite clear to newswriters when he approached the fan at the end of the half, and stated these prophetic words:

No one in Central Florida could have foretold what Kobe meant by that plain proclamation. If they could, they might have called down to the Magic locker room to warn #1 draft pick Dwight Howard, fresh outta high school like Kobe, not to lace up his shoes for the second half.

Third quarter. Kobe was biding his time, waiting for the offensive play to open up. Ordering a screen from his new second-fiddle Lamar Odom, he blew around DeShawn Stevenson and past a flat-footed Pat Garrity and barreled straight to the hoop toward a wide-eyed franchise rookie, arms raised in a gesture of complete futility, as if to say, “Touchdown!” Newly awakened, Kobethought as he launched of his sore foot, now it’s time to revive the rest of the basketball universe. Starting with the air traffic controller beneath the boards, Mister Howard. Welcome to the NBA, young fella.

A game-long chorus of “boos” from the stands suddenly turned to even louder “ooohs,” and Orlando’s heckler was never heard from again. Kobe certainly would be heard from, as the play kick-started his drive, not only in this game (ending with a 41-point performance) but also his season. On a moribund Laker squad that would fall short of the playoffs for the first time in a decade, he would become the season’s second-leading scorer while reaching all-time highs in assists.

“Well, let me tell you something…” was about all longtime Lakers commentator Stu Lantz could tell you, before bursting into bewildered laughter. What in the world was THAT about? Some of Kobe’s own teammates stood up and glared, astonished. Where did THAT come from? Anyone within earshot of Kobe’s comment to the instigator, including a few photographers, understood completely. A teammate on that fateful 2002 All-Star squad who remembers the jeers and soothed Kobe’s ego, Magic guard Steve Francis recognized his poster dunk for what it meant instantly. The first to greet Kobe coming down for a landing (the dazed Dwight had stumbled away), Francis greeted him with a semi-serious shove, as if to say, “OK, you proved your point… now cut it out.”

Reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back, Kobe essentially invited the idealistic young Dwight to come on over to The Dark Side. That really isn’t the worst thing in the world for Dwight when you think about it. Dwight should just ask Ben Wallace, just another marginal, undrafted player going through the motions with the Wizards when Kobe chose to crown him Fool of the Year in an otherwise meaningless 1998 preseason game.

Consider, at barely more than three points and one measly block per game, would Big Ben even be in the League today were it not for the instant notoriety Kobe provided him? With one play, Kobe showed the would-be perennial D-Leaguer that his 6-foot-9 body was not built to take charges from guards, and as a result Ben developed the surliness and aggressiveness that morphed him into shot-block master, DPOY, and NBA champion.

In the span of just five seconds, the heckler got his message: don’t make Kobe angry… you won’t like Kobe when he’s angry.
All signs suggest Dwight is getting his message: Nice Guys Finish Last, and some will finish with a face full of an opponent’s shorts. Trying to be Mr. Nice Guy will only get your feelings hurt when the fans turn on you. You’ve got to be cold-hearted from the start, and make sure everyone knows it, if you want to succeed in this business.

And the basketball world got the message: when Kobe Bryant wants to send a message, he will authoritatively end all Play of the Year debates before the season gets a chance to warm up.

(2008 UPDATE: Almost 4 years to the day. Dwight Howard has meta-morphed his in-game composure, from one of a Clark-Kent-nice rookie to that of a Man-of-Steel-nasty All-Star. He may lead the league in dunks every season for the next decade. He’s dedicated to leading the pack this year as DPOY, maybe even MVP. And he knows exactly who to thank for steering him onto the Ben Wallace track from infamy to mega-millionaire superstardom. Kobe knows, too. “I baptized Dwight,” he’d declare with glee to reporters eager to remind him of his filthy feat anytime the Magic and Lakers face off. “I turned him into a defensive force!”)


November 7, 2008

Fright Night Part I: Look Out… Behind You!

It’s fitting that hoops season kicks off around the week of Halloween.  At the same time ballers are getting back in peak condition to routinely soar above the rim, the rest of the free world is making their best efforts to get a good hearty scare out of people.  All the blood-bath, hardware-power-tool date flicks come out.  Fake blood and spider webs and green goo are everywhere.And parents dress up their kids to look like some washed-up-president or a werewolf or a space alien.  Over the years the NBA missed out on an opportunity to capitalize on some of the hardest-on-the-eyes players’ faces by making Halloween masks that would scare the flower pattern right off Granmama’s mou-mou.  They could’ve made a killing off of costumes featuring the ghoulish muggs of Sam Cassell, Paul Mokeski, and Tyrone Hill.

Now come Halloween time, Richard Jefferson needs nobody’s help when it comes to dressing up to look like an extra-terrestrial.  The bulby forehead and extended ears create a brutha who looks like he desperately needs to Phone Home.  That “oww-you’re-pinching-my-nose” voice doesn’t help his cause either.  But you’d best not be fooled by his otherworldly countenance and persona.  Just ‘cause RJ channels “The Great Gazoo” from the Flintstones doesn’t mean he won’t make you take him to your leader once he gets on the hardwood.  He’s made a career out of making opponents in the paint look foolish, even downright frightened, when he catches dunks on ‘em.  Here’s a couple where Jefferson produces some Close Encounters of the Filthy Kind (hey, why does a brutha always get victimized first in these things? It's a conspiracy, I swear)…

Tyrus Thomas would eventually slay the posterizing beast when he spiked one over RJ… OR DID HE????

Little did he know he created a Headless Horseman.  Or is it the Great Pumpkin? 

Tyrus couldn’t get to the League in time to save one Kevin “Whachootalkinbout??” Willis.  RJ’s windmill dunk over Willis’ shoulder in the 2003 Finals generated a lasting image of this past-his-prime-time player that’s perfectly suited for Depends undergarments ads.  As the tomahawk-wielding Jefferson springs out of seemingly nowhere , just witness the abject terror on Kevin’s face the moment he KNOWS what’s about to transpire over his head.  “It’s an Alien Invasion!  AHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Willis’ classic reaction to RJ’s monster mash was the inspiration for a series of dunks-on-defenders that focus on the reactions that make poster-worthy dunk victims, well, victims.  A “Night Gallery,” if you will (anybody remember that show? Dang, I feel old!)

This first installment of Nasteedunx Fright Night focuses on the situation when some unfortunate crab gets dunked on from behind.  These in particular create the oddest variety of momentary crap-inducing reactions from unsuspecting defenders, perfectly captured on camera for our collective humor.  You get the full gamut, from wide-eyed gasps, to cowering cringes, to spooked-out dudes scrambling desperately to just get outta the picture.

So, in honor of Halloween, here are some of the best examples of tricks gettin’ rudely treated…

You’d think teammates could be a little more helpful in communicating, especially when they get beat badly off the dribble and their dude they were fronting zips past them to the rack. Their freed opponent is either bringing the ball with him or flying in for the tip slam… heading right for another would-be defender with his back turned and eye off the play.  Instead, you get dialogue probably resembling a bad John Carpenter script:

BROKEN-ANKLED DEFENDER: Jethro!  Look out, behind you!

POSTER-BOY-IN-THE-MAKING: What?  I can’t hear you, Elroy!  Can’t you see I’m busy staring up at the rim waiting for the cherry-pick rebound? Gee, I wonder why I’m isolated down here by myself?


VICTIM-IN-WAITINGEvery now and then I get a little bit tired…

B.A.D.: No! Turn your dumb a$ around! He’s coming right at you!  Above you!

ABOUT-TO-GET-PUNKED:  What? Who? Where?


HUMILIATION-PERSONIFIED (eyes big as saucers, then squints, squirms, screams): Oh … AHHHHHHHHH!

B.A.D. (shakes his head in shame)

POSTER-BOY (rubs the back of his dome): Oww, man… Dawg, why ain’t you warn me?

B.A.D.: Oh, never mind.  My B.A.D.  Check ball.

Here are some Dishonorable-Mention snapshots.  Just when you thought it was safe not to box out…


What? What?