Dunk-In contestant Gordon the Clark Kent of the group
Posted Feb 1 2010 11:12AM - Updated Feb 1 2010 4:40PM
Only Superman can fly, but that doesn't stop all of us Clark Kents from having opinions about how well he does it, where or when he goes, how he stows the glasses and the fedora, and of course, how we'd do if we were the ones with that super-duper power.
Therein lies the appeal of the NBA's annual Slam Dunk contest at All-Star weekend. It's an opportunity for all of us below-the-rimmers, gravity-challenged as we are, to ooh and aah and imagine what we'd do and how we'd do it. When the only time your sneakers get more than a few inches off the ground is when you flip the lever of your La-Z-Boy, vicarious is the lone option available.
Funny thing is, Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Gordon never much dreamed about dunking. He certainly never conjured images of himself competing in something called a Dunk-In. How could he, when such a thing never existed until this year's 2010 All-Star Weekend in Dallas? Yet Gordon and Toronto rookie DeMar DeRozan will be pioneer participants in the new format, clashing at halftime of the Rookie Challenge game Friday for the right to be Contestant No. 4 in the main dunking event on Saturday.
DeRozan embraced this event long before he was invited, putting up a Web site to lobby for a spot and reminding folks that, when he enters dunk contests, he wins dunk contests. "I don't care if [Michael] Jordan is in it,'' the Raptors rookie told reporters.
Gordon? Not so much. Either that or he's doing the ultimate job of sandbagging.
"I don't know, I'm not really [a dunker],'' he told me after Clippers practice the other day. "I can do some dunks, but ... I don't know. Maybe [they chose me] because I'm flying under the radar a little bit. I can play, on the court, and probably don't get as much respect as some guys, but ... ''
Last year, Gordon scored 19 points for the newbies in the Rookie Challenge game and he remains more excited for that event than the halftime act in which he'll participate as much out of curiosity as anything. "It's just a dunk contest,'' said Gordon, who has averaged 16.7 points this season for L.A. "It's fun for the fans to watch and all. But I'm not going over the top -- I'd rather be in an All-Star Game playing. Dunk contest? That's fine, but you can only do that for so long.''
Keeping this on the down low hasn't stopped Gordon from getting all sorts of unsolicited advice, from teammates, players on other teams and from the earthbound among us. "Definitely. I've heard from a lot of people. It's all a matter of being capable of doing it,'' he said.
The 6-foot-3 shooting guard is well-represented in the YouTube world of highlight dunks, throwing down against the likes of Portland, Sacramento, Oklahoma City and New Orleans. But they're all similar -- soaring, right-handed power dunks, a style that can electrify a crowd in the context of an NBA game but might not "pop'' when everyone is expecting aerobatics. Not to mention comedy, drama and props.
"He hasn't been one of those guys who's been too flamboyant or tried to generate crowd enthusiasm,'' Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "He's been a guy who has just been able to go up, from distance, over people. A powerful kind of dunker. I haven't seen him try to do stuff that some guys do, like bouncing it off the backboard. Eric is very explosive and gets up really good, but I don't know the critieria for how they picked guys.''
No one could blame Dunleavy if he wasn't exactly bubbly over the possibilities. His team finished January with four consecutive losses, closing the month with a 3-9 run. And Gordon already has missed 12 games this season. He had a strained left groin in November, a strained left hamstring in December and a strained left big toe in January -- which leaves four toes on that foot and a whole right side to hurt over the next three months if he's so inclined.
So not aggravating or initiating an injury is one worthy goal. Another: Not disappointing his Clipper pals. "He's got something up his sleeve,'' forward Al Thornton said.
Swingman Ricky Davis, who participated in two Slam Dunk contests but says "I'm a shooter now,'' added: "So many guys got so many skits and stuff these days, it's crazy. 'Just work on your creativity' is all I tell him. I told him to practice in warmups, so he can get that kind of crowd and atmosphere. Not everybody's watching, but at the same time, you can get the feel of it. And make sure that ball goes in.''
The Dunk-In is a new format and, contrary to Davis' experiences in earlier dunk competition, missed dunks won't officially count against Gordon or DeRozan. Each man will have two minutes to execute a successful dunk, alternating through two rounds, so do-overs are technically fine. But when TV viewers cast their votes by text or online at NBA.com, it's possible that they could hold some botched dunks against them.
That's just one of the reasons Gordon is filtering all the advice he's getting. Also, he doesn't want to be boring or repetitive.
"You definitely don't want to do somebody else's dunk, something that's been done,'' he said. "If you do, I would say, add a little more to it. I'm just going to try to do something that's different. I might, y'know, shock a lot of people. Whether I win or not, I just want to show people how athletic I can be.''
But no capes, no dunking over Spud Webb or Dwight Howard for Gordon. The worst suggestion he's gotten? "Just doing simple things like windmills,'' he said. "Since I'm a little shorter, it's better to be creative when you're a shorter guard.''
That got us to my Clark Kent moment. I had a brainstorm for Gordon, based on footage I had seen of some dunks he pulled off at a "Midnight Madness'' practice with Indiana. In that video, he was bouncing the ball hard off the court from the corner, then rushing out and up to slam it. My twist: Send a lookalike onto the court in a hoodie and Clippers gear to practice a few such bounces. Right when fans in Dallas think it's him, Gordon -- in street clothes -- could bolt in from a front row seat and dunk the alley-oop bounce, turning the element of surprise into victory!
Gordon looked at me with a blank expression. "Right. Yeah, you could,'' he said. "Eh ... I'm still thinking about it. Got a ways to go.''
With dunking, everybody's an expert, whether they can touch the rim or not.
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