Sunday, February 17, 2008

Who'da Dunk It?

Tonight, a legend was born, and his name is Dwight "Superman" Howard.

What the 6-11 Orlando Magic center did in the 2008 NBA slam dunk contest will be talked about for as long as the National Basketball Association continues to exist. It was the best series of dunks I've ever seen. At least as good as Michael Jordan in 1988. Better than Vince Carter in 2000. Better than … everybody else. Any other player would have won the whole thing pulling off just one of his throwdowns, and Howard gave us four masterpieces back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

And it wasn't just about Howard's size. It's amazing enough to see a 265-pound behemoth fly through the air and ram the ball home, but Howard completed his attempts with a style, grace, and sense of the moment that equaled Jordan. Like Jordan, Howard not only did things we've never seen before, but things we'd previously thought no human was capable of. Throwing down a blind, left-handed jam from behind the backboard? Seeming to defy gravity and hanging in the air for a windmill slam—after plucking the ball off a stationary perch on the board? Tipping the ball to himself off the glass after leaving his feet? Donning a freaking Superman cape and then taking off from the foul line?!?! It was the kind of thrilling exhibition I wished would just keep going until Howard couldn't leap anymore. I hope he defends his title for the next decade because, watching tonight, it felt like he has a whole bag full of tricks left. He just made it look so easy.

It would be rash to predict that this one performance will change the course of basketball like MJ did back in '88. But one thing's for sure: Howard's name is now emblazoned on the game in a way few others' are. He is now synonymous with the slam dunk contest, and he will never be the same.

If Jordan made us believe a man could fly, Howard tonight made us believe giants can, too.

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