The year is 1988 and Casey is an assistant to coach Eddie Sutton at the University of Kentucky. Shawn Kemp, a six-foot-eleven forward destined to be an NBA All-Star soars for a dunk in an exhibition game against a touring Russian team.
“They had a big kid, a seven plus,” Casey remembered. “It seemed like Shawn just kept going up and up and up. He jumped over the guy and dunked it. It was one of the most vicious dunks I’ve ever seen.”
In the buttoned-down business of the NBA, the dunk remains the calling card. The throwdown is a throwback to the tarmac and Vince Carter and the thrill of the dunk.
Spud Webb, five-foot-seven in heels, played 814 games but is remembered exclusively for winning the 1986 dunk-off.
Points to any of you who remember Darryl Dawkins and the ‘Game Delaying-Backboard-Swaying’ dunk. Double if you can recite his masterpiece, the ‘Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam-I-Am Jam.’
Somewhere in France, a seven-foot-two retired club player named Frederic Weis is staring forlornly into his glass of red while being reminded about Vince Carter dunking over him at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
The dunk is to the exclamation mark what the exclamation mark is to the comma.
Saturday in Houston, Terrence Ross will carry the Raptors colours in the NBA slam dunk contest against five others including defending champ Jeremy Evans of the Utah Jazz.
In boxing and in slam dunks you’ve got to knock out the champ. Ross, a rookie, is trying to become the first Raptor to win the competition since Vince Carter trumped the field in 2000.
It’s more complicated that it sounds. Ross has poured through videos of dunks from 1987 to 2010. In that time, every theme, gimmick, novelty and high wire act has been trotted out. Devising a new dunk is no harder than figuring out the 10,000th new way to drink a glass of water.
“I’m all over the place right now,” Ross said. “It’s crazy. People are giving me unrealistic things to do.”
Everywhere he turns, someone is asking Terrence Ross about the dunk-off which would be absolutely perfect if anyone had a worthwhile idea to share.
“Somebody asked me to tap both sides of the backboard as I do a 360,” he said. “Just weird things. NBA Jam-type things I would never be able to do.”
Carter still casts a long shadow here and Ross quakes at the notion of being viewed as the Fresh Vince of Air Canada Centre.
“There’s no way I could do a Vince Carter dunk with the power he did it with,” Ross said. “That’s the unrealistic part: do something like Vince. You can’t do something like Vince. The only person who can do Vince is Vince.”
For the record, Ross’ first real dunk, the one that counted, came when he was a six-foot-three 13-year old.
It came, as most good things do, after a humiliating series of failures.
“I got a steal. I just sort of went up and closed my eyes. I was trying to dunk up to that and it was embarrassing. I dunked and I thought I was on top of the world.”
For the record, Ross says he has some new wrinkles for the contest. As for the Dawkins-style nickname, well he is leaving that to someone else. Hopefully, he said, it will name itself.
Casey, meanwhile, is of two minds. He remembers Kemp’s moment instantaneously but as a coach he prefers the higher percentages that come with a layup.
“People get caught up in the athleticism but I’ll take a layup over a dunk from a coaching standpoint,” he said. “As long as it goes in it’s a great shot.”