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.)


What? What?