By TED SILLANPAA
Readers who mistook my determining that LeBron James is achieving other-worldly heights as a basketball player for knocking all the generations who came before him have to understand that I remember seeing my first slam dunk on television.
That’s how old I am. I remember never having seen anyone dunk a basketball. The time when a dunk, let alone anything the least bit acrobatic was a novelty, is very clear to me.
I was sitting on the sofa in our living room when I was 8 or 9 years old and the only NBA games that I ever saw back then aired on Sunday’s in the late winter and spring on ABC. Chris Schenkel was the play-by-play guy, with former Cincinnati Royals’ great Jack Twyman doing color. (Really. I saw all those history-making NBA players like Wilt, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Rick Barry. Well, mostly I saw the Celtics, 76ers and Knicks play each other over and over. ABC wasn’t big on rotating teams through the 11 a.m. PST tip off.)
The Celtics trailed, either the Sixers or Knicks, by one point with so little time left on the clock that I knew there was simply know way they could throw an inbound pass, catch and shoot. After a timeout, Celtics guard Sam Jones (voted one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history) set up near mid-court to throw the ball in for a shot I couldn’t imagine even the great Celtics having time to take in the smoke-filled Boston Garden. (I told you I remember way back in day. Like, way back when people could smoke cigarettes and cigars in a public sports arena.)
When the official handed Jones the ball, he lofted what looked a lot like a two-hand set shot (I remember when they shot those in the NBA) toward the rim. Bill Russell leaped, grabbed the ball and slammed it home. Celtics win. Celtics win! Celtics win?
I’d imagine I’d seen other dunks, although NBA players didn’t dunk as routinely then as now. The layup was a safer shot, so the dunk wasn’t all that routine. Russell’s dunk off an inbound lob pass from Sam Jones was definitely the first awe-inspiring dunk I ever saw — the first dunk that left me jumping around the living room explaining to family members who couldn’t care less what I’d just seen.
So, I’m enjoying the back-and-forth between readers who insist the greats of the 1960s and 1970s were superior to LeBron, Kobe, Jordan, Magic, Tim Duncan, et., al. Really enjoying it … even though I can’t imagine any circumstance where my boyhood heroes (save Rick Barry who I think could play in today’s game at a very, very high level) do anything but get trounced playing the modern-day greats who are bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled.
Imagine a 9-year-old kid getting excited by a lob dunk today? The fact that it was a big deal in, oh, 1966 indicates something about the athleticism that I’d rather not consider for long given that it indicts my boyhood heroes as lessers among all-time greats.