The Knight Who Feareth Not the Poster

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Deandre Jordan’s dunk over Brandon Knight on Sunday has caused a lot of buzz on the interweb, the twitter, the facebook, etc. Deservedly so, as it was one of the finest and most ferocious finishes to an alley-oop that any of us have ever seen, or ever will see. What really sold it for me was Deandre’s expression as he walked back down the court. Priceless:

Brandon Knight responded in a funny and self-deprecating way, which is really the only thing you can do when someone nearly posterizes you to death.

In fact, my buddy Matt pointed out to me that if you type the name Brandon Knight into Google (which for those of you who don’t know is a large internet search engine) the first thing that comes up as a suggestion is “Brandon Knight dead.” A 21 year old professional basketball player who is still alive, and this is his first search suggestion.

But this speaks to us as a society far more than it does Brandon Knight. These days, we remember the man being dunked on almost as much as the man dunking. The result is we have created a culture of basketball players who are afraid of ending up on somebody’s poster, so when a big dunker like Lebron or Blake or Deandre comes roaring down the lane, they step aside like a cowardly matador and try their best to get out of the photograph.

Enter Brandon Knight.

Several weeks earlier, during the all-star break, Knight had been “embarrassed” because he, unlike every other player in Houston that weekend (with the exception of 4th quarter Kobe Bryant) tried to play some legitimate defense. Unfortunately for him, he did so against one of the quickest men and best ballhandlers on earth in the form of Kyrie “Uncle Drew” Irving. This is what ensued:

 

Yes it was cool. Yes this is the sort of spectacle that people love on All-Star weekend. I confess that I exclaimed, “OOOHHHHH” at the site of it, and proceeded to text my friends and ask them if they too had seen what just happened to Brandon Knight. But what really did happen? Irving dribbled in place for a minute, went right, Knight cut him off, Irving crossed over and took a step back jumper from 20 feet, and as Knight lunged forward to try and contest the shot, he slipped and fell down. If you can force a player as good at getting to the basket as Irving a to take this shot every time, your coach will love you. But twitter won’t.

So on Sunday night, Brandon Knight could have done something different. The All-Star embarrassment still festering somewhere in the corner of his subconscious, he could have made the PR choice. Despite his tongue-in-cheek tweet, the lob is of course on everyone’s scouting report for the Clippers. He saw the pass thrown, and he surely saw 6’11 270lb Deandre Jordan roaring down the lane in his direction. But instead of fleeing, he threw his 6’3 189lb frame in Jordan’s way and contested the shot. Instead of finishing an easy dunk, he forced Jordan to complete one of the greatest alley-oops of all time. An alley-oop which could have been completed by less than a handful of guys in the league, three of whom happen to play in the City of Angels. Youtube loves it, but Pistons Coach Lawrence Frank should love it more.

Me, I’ll take the player who contests despite being outmatched any day. His teammate Greg Monroe can sympathize. A few weeks ago, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did this to him:

 

That is a ferocious and phenomenal dunk. But let’s look at Monroe’s play throughout the sequence leading up to it.

Monroe cuts Gilchrist off on his first drive to the paint. He gives it up to Gerald Henderson, who attempts to go baseline. The Pistons execute perfectly in the frontcourt as the baseline is cut off and Monroe steps in to trap. But things fall apart because of Jose Calderon. He stands at the top of the key uselessly, instead of stepping over on Kidd-Gilchrist and closing off Henderson’s only outlet from the trap. Henderson desperately flings the ball, it goes right to MKG, and he charges unimpeded into the lane. Monroe tries his darndest to get off the baseline and contest, and all things considered he does a pretty good job. But Kidd-Gilchrist skies over him and throws down a ridiculously difficult one-hander. Greg Monroe has done his job, Kidd-Gilchrist has done his, and Jose Calderon has done nothing. Kidd-Gilchrist gets the glory, Monroe gets the shame, Calderon is forgotten.

It’s interesting to view some of basketball’s most famous posterizations through the lens of valiant effort, rather than humiliating result.

 

Everyone remembers Jordan dunking over Ewing, but the person who should be the object of ridicule is Charles Oakley, who, in an atrocious piece of help defense, stands upright and fails to close off the baseline. Jordan makes him pay with the quick spin move, and Ewing steps away from his man (the bespectacled Horace Grant) at the last second to try and bail Oakley out. He goes straight up with two hands, as you want your big man to do, and 99.9% of the league has their shot attempt blocked. Unfortunately for Ewing, the player in question was Michael Jordan, but he didn’t have time to think about who it was. His job was to play help D around the rim, so he stepped up and contested. He could have stayed out of Jordan’s way, and no one would have remembered him for the play, but it would have been the coward’s way out.

Here is what I consider to be the greatest dunk in the history of competitive basketball.

 

Poor, poor Frédéric Weis. If you look him up on Wikipedia (and why wouldn’t you??) you will see that his summary describes him as a retired French basketball player known for being dunked on by Vince Carter in the 2000 Olympics. This of course raises the question, if not for the dunk, would he have a Wikipedia entry at all? The French refer to this play as the “le dunk de la mort” which of course means the dunk of death. But let’s take a closer look at what actually happened here as well:

The French guard turns the ball over in transition, and Carter immediately has a four on one with only the 7’2 Weis in his way. Weis knows he is not quick enough to stop Carter and he certainly isn’t quick enough to guard three of his American teammates. So he does the only thing that makes sense; he steps in the way and hopes that Carter will crash into him and he will draw the charge. A smart player would have dished the ball to one of his teammates, but Vince Carter is Vince Carter. So he plays right in Weis’s hands and runs and jumps right at him. Charging, French ball, right? But it was Vince Carter, so instead of crashing into Weis, he goes over his head and dunks the ball, much to the amazement of his teammates, opponents, the crowd, the announcers, and physicists everywhere.

This is the price you pay for good defense. You step in, do what you are supposed to, and force amazing athletes to do amazing things. These plays are remembered because they are rare because most people can’t do them. Sometimes you will end up in the famous photograph, like Brandon Knight did this week. But he understands what it means to be a professional basketball player, and he can sleep easy at night knowing that he did his job.

 

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