The dunk. It’s become a stylized weapon of African-American athletic brilliance and creativity that has been passed down from the inner city playground essence.
It has reverberated for generations with the undeniable power and aesthetic beauty of Blackness, pushed out of the parks and into pop cultural lore from cats with mythical and mystical powers like The Goat, Jumpin’ Jackie and The Hawk, among many others.
Dr. J was the manifestation of that cultural and artistic expression who displayed it for mass consumption. Michael Jordan, Dominique, Kobe and Vince Carter elevated the art, and now there’s a young fella heading to Duke next year named Zion Williamson who will be adding his name to that remarkable continuum.
As I sat watching this year’s Pac 12 championship between Arizona and USC, the Wildcats’ Rawle Alkins rammed one down with such viciousness that it made holla and throw up both my hands!
Rawle Alkins throws down a massive dunk against USC during the second half to ignite the Wildcats. Arizona went on to win the game and the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament title, 75-61.
And as a basketball junkie with thoughts around the intersection of sport and culture, that moment of spontaneous slam dunk-tion took me back to ’83, when Sweet G had the block rockin’ with Games People Play, when Grandmaster Flash was warning cats to stay away from coke and crack, when Malcolm McLaren had two Buffalo Gals going round the outside and when Run D.M.C. changed the whole trajectory of Hip Hop with Sucker MC’s.
Run DMC sing Sucker MC’s and battle Kool Moe Dee and Special K. Pay close attention to the young Italian guy in the Kangol hat.
Watching the extent of the speed, power, grace and above-the-rim artistry in todays college basketball landscape, Im always taken back to 1983. Most college hoops fans associate 83 with Jim Valvanos sprint across the court as North Carolina State defeated the heavily favored Houston Cougars with a buzzer-beating dunk to capture the National Championship.
But for me, 83 will always be about the Final Four game between the nations Tallest Fraternity and the Doctors of Dunk, who were responsible for furthering the evolution of the aerial game. It was a contest that was so scintillating in its elevation, it prompted a courtside scribe to pass a note down press row that read, Welcome to the 21st Century!
The Louisville Cardinals and the University of Houstons astonishing Phi Slamma Jamma crew bridged the expansive divide and connected the dots from the original sky-walker Elgin Baylor and early progenitors like the Baltimore Bullets Gus Johnson, the trailblazing American Basketball Association and the singular geniuses of David Thompson, Darrell Griffith and Julius Dr. J Erving, to the flight-time genius of Vince Carter, Shawn Kemp, Kobe, LeBron, Blake Griffin and numerous others.
The Ville, as they were known in my New York City neighborhood, was a pedigreed program of national recruits. Cardinals coach Denny Crum boasted the brothers from Money Earnin Mount Vernon, Rodney and Scooter McCray, who could both get buckets and dish the rock with equal aplomb.
Michael Young, Benny Anders, and finally Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, with Akeem on the boards. (from the semi-final game of the 1983 NCCA Basketball championship against Louisville.) In addition to the shorts, they played with no clock and no 3 point shot.
In the backcourt, Mississippis Lancaster Gordon formed an intimidating duo with Camden, New Jerseys Milt Wagner, both of whom could post 20-point offensive outbursts with regularity. The Cardinals also featured Wagners former teammate from the powerhouse Camden High School program, the ballyhooed 6-foot-8 freshman sensation, Billy Thompson.
Houstons roster, on the other hand, was a spicy stew of local ingredients, with two major exceptions. Hakeem Olajuwon was a gift from both heaven and Lagos, Nigeria, and Benny Anders, an athletic freak of nature, was a native of Louisiana. The hometown Houston flavor was provided by locals like Clyde Drexler, Michael Young, Alvin Franklin, Reid Gettys and Larry Micheaux.
In a game filled with dunks, it was Houston’s Clyde “The Glide” Drexler who helped the Cougars advance to the 1983 National Championship Game with plays like this. “Phi Slama Jama,” as the team was known, defeated Louisville 94-81 to advance to the final against Jim Valvano’s NC State Wolfpack.
When the smoke cleared, Olajuwons transcendent 21 point, 22 rebound, eight block masterpiece foreshadowed his remarkable transformation from raw prospect into The Dream.
The majestic Final Four matchup between Louisville and Houston that brought college basketball into the 21st century, however, has faded into the obscurity of a national sporting consciousness, forever marginalized by N.C. States incredible upset win over Houston in the Finals.
Cougars’ player Hakeem Olajuwon gets a huge block leading to a fast break dunk by Young
But Phi Slamma Jamma and The Ville in 83 was one of the most awe-inspiring, paradigm-shifting displays of raw athleticism, speed, power and hops ever witnessed. It was a sustained, Russell Westbrook-like, full court sprint that transported us across time and space to the doorstep of todays game.