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Shawn Kemp dunks to time travel: Journey down the rabbit hole

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

Shawn Kemp and Iverson will give us the keys to time traveling.(Getty/USATSI)
Shawn Kemp and Allen Iverson will give us the keys to time traveling. (Getty/USATSI)

College football technically started Thursday night (how about that USC-Hawaii game that you watched on CBS Sports Network?), but really we won't see the bulk of the action until Saturday when everybody starts jockeying for BCS position. While you're killing time waiting for your local tailgating lots to open, you could probably use a little help killing some time. After all, that's why you clicked this link, right?

Let's get tangential and journey down the NBA rabbit hole to see what's out there on this Friday.

First Stop: Shawn Kemp Q&A with Dime Magazine

Reebok and Shawn Kemp have had a good relationship for a very long time. In mid-August, they released the Kamikaze II Mid "Letter of Intent" edition, bringing back a throwback shoe from the 1990s that was pretty popular. The former Seattle SuperSonics legend was recently at the EBC Finals at Rucker Park and Bryan Horowitz of Dime Magazine had a pretty cool Q&A with Kemp to see what he's up to now, talk about the challenge of facing the Chicago Bulls in the 1996 NBA Finals, and the feeling of dunking on someone.

Dime: As a guy known for being one of the best dunkers of his generation, are there any in particular that really stick out to you?
SK: I was known for a lot of dunks, but my first big dunk really came here in New York. I had some others back then, but my first major dunk came against the Knicks and Kenny “Sky” Walker. So, you know, New York has a lot of meaning to me.

Dime: I'm 5-7, so obviously, I'm never going to dunk. I was wondering, could you describe what is it like to really dunk on someone? What does that feel like?
SK: Oh man. (Laughs) It's a great feeling, man. The best feeling is when you dunk on a big guy bigger than you, then you can give him that look. It shrinks him down a bit! You're not quite 7 foot any more.

You always get into a bit of a tricky situation when comparing today's stars with stars of the past. Because of advancements in dietary and training philosophies along with the basic evolution of the game itself, it's always tough to compare eras and talk about what a player could or couldn't do during a different time in the league's history. As we've seen high-flyer Blake Griffin sore above defenders and fill up the YouTube channels with highlight dunks, it's natural to wonder if we've ever seen anything like him.

I can tell you that not only have we seen something like him before, we saw it during an era in which it was easier to celebrate these kinds of exploits. Sure, YouTube wasn't around and all we had were Top 10 play segments to truly experience the otherworldly athleticism of such a player, but Shawn Kemp was that guy and then some. And this isn't just someone reminiscing about a childhood favorite of mine; Kemp was the perfect highlight.

The Shawn Kemp YouTube life is never-ending

Before we go any further, I have to warn you about what we're about to see:

Going down the Shawn Kemp YouTube rabbit hole is a lot like tantric sex. It will last for days.

We're going to hit some of the highlights because quite a few videos have music that I'm just not allowed to put on this page due to explicit lyrics, but really it's the dunks Kemp performs that end up being the most explicit things on the page. You'll see a bit of repetitiveness in these videos because they're all grabbing the top plays but the attitude and showmanship of Kemp can't be seen enough.

This first video is a great blend of incredible Shawn Kemp plays along with a perfectly placed beat. It almost felt like one of the early And 1 Mixtape VHS tapes (Google "VHS tapes" kids and be amazed at how archaic things used to be). But it's definitely not my favorite Kemp video that I found out there when I was thumbing (mousing? clicking?) through YouTube.

It seems as if this YouTube user "krachunis" (or as I like to call him, "hero") took a bunch of Sonics' games VHS tapes he had lying around and converted them all to throw onto his computer. From there, he did great things by editing it down to a bunch of Kemp dunks and posting them on YouTube for our enjoyment.

It's great hearing Kevin Calabro, one of the best play-by-play basketball announcers in the history of the game, without a soundtrack just reacting to the sheer athleticism and power Kemp brought to these games. There are a lot of great sequences in this, but my favorite ones probably came from a game against the Charlotte Hornets in February of 1995. There are some big dunks in there, including a great moment (1:00 mark) when the Sonics break a Hornets' full court press, which results in a left-handed dunk all over Alonzo Mourning.

Why was it so great? Other than the dunk on one of the best shot-blockers of the past 20 years, there's a fan in the bottom right corner with an amazing reaction:

The Sonics actually lost this game by two points. It's not really that significant but did you know after this game, George Karl actually said official Ted Bernhardt should be shot and was fined $10,000 for those comments?

But this is not where our long, tantric journey down the Shawn Kemp YouTube rabbit hole ends. Our buddy krachunis did a little more uploading with this video that is a compilation with some of the same highlights, some new ones that weren't in the previous video, and the song "Nothing like the rain" by 2 Unlimited. It's titled "Nothing like the reign" after the Reign Man moniker Kemp owns. This is legendary video editing work right here.

There's just so much here to love, which is why I think Shawn Kemp, thanks to a perfect storm of talent and the environment of the NBA and its culture when he was with the Sonics, is the NBA YouTube King. There are so many levels to his highlight reels that you don't get to see with any other player, even with Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Magic Johnson, and Blake Griffin.

Because Kemp was allowed to hang and twist on the rim after dunks as he brushed his abused defenders with his legs, he had so much more flare than just about any other basketball player. Not only that, but he constantly celebrated his exploits on the court by trash talking, taunting, and selling his own highlights in real time with his reactions.

He rocked his body after finishing alley-oops. He got dapped by Chris Gatling after he dunked on him because that's the kind of respect his athleticism garnered. It was almost an honor to get dunked on by Kemp, which is probably why the Golden State Warriors seem to let him do whatever he wants in a lot of these highlights.

For crying out loud, the infamous "Lister Blister" was him taking the ball down the lane, dunking on Alton Lister, and then pointing at him in a mocking fashion.

This was all fair game and part of the reason he has the best highlights. He was allowed to meld his reactions to the reactions of those watching in real time. It was just a different way of enjoying the NBA that has since been taken away from us.

You wouldn't see much of this SWV "Weak in the knees" celebration today because it was start a referendum on the lack of sportsmanship today's athletes have, which sounds guano crazy.

Shawn Kemp wasn't the last to be able to celebrate on the court, but he certainly was the best at it when you factor in the entertainment value of the highlights he was creating.

One last Shawn Kemp video before we move on, this is him during his days with the Orlando Magic (yes, that happened; it wasn't a bad dream). He doesn't do anything here during the play, per se. Tracy McGrady gets a game-winning block against Jamal Mashburn and afterward, Kemp sort of fake beats up T-Mac to celebrate.

Drew Gooden on an NBA bench in a Dominique Wilkins throwback jersey! The days before the NBA dress code were sort of legendary.

Allen Iverson and his Georgetown days

Speaking of dress codes and celebrating on the court, it's hard not to think of Allen Iverson right now, especially after the news from a little over a week ago that he's officially retiring from the NBA. We all know about how iconic and incredible Iverson was in the NBA, but if you were a kid that grew up watching college basketball in the 90s, AI's time at Georgetown was the groundswell to the eventual greatness.

Our friend Matt Norlander at Eye on College Basketball posted a video of Iverson's top dunks at Georgetown when we were all amazed that a 6'0" kid could play up top with the big kids.

Before he was ranting about practice (thanks, GP), had cornrows, and was sporting copious amounts of tattoos in Philadelphia 76ers gear, Iverson looked like a clean-cut kid in a Hoyas jersey just wrecking shop on a college level that was not only trying to figure out how to defend him but how to officiate his crossover.

It's one hour and 25 minutes long so I won't embed it in this post but you can watch a full game of Allen Iverson and his Georgetown Hoyas against Corliss Williamson and the eventual national champion Arkansas Razorbacks here.

Allen Iverson vs. Ray Allen in college

For me as a teenager, the Allen Iverson vs. Ray Allen battles when Georgetown and UConn faced off were probably the most anticipated games I remember from that time. You had two of the best guards in the country going at each other just knowing they were both bound for great things in the NBA. If you search for these games on YouTube, you won't be disappointed.

There's this cut of highlights from 1995 when Georgetown and Connecticut faced off:

But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find a user named 215hoops1 that has full games (cut into multiple videos) of Iverson against Allen and even AI going against Stephon Marbury when he was at Georgia Tech.

Above The Rim conspiracy

It's hard to think about Allen Iverson and his Georgetown days without thinking of the movie "Above the Rim." ATR stars Duane Martin as Kyle Watson, a basketball phenom who has to choose the right path between rolling with heavy hitters in the drug game that run the basketball in the city or the straight and narrow path that involves listening to a new mentor and his high school coach as he learns maturity.

SPOILER ALERT: In the movie, Watson ends up finding the correct path that eventually lands him at Georgetown University. This movie came out in 1994, a few months before Allen Iverson attended his freshman year for the Hoyas, and the similarities between the fictitious Kyle Watson and the flashy game of Allen Iverson are plentiful. There was even AI's involvement with the "Above the Rim" brand.

It made me wonder aloud on Twitter if the two events, so close together in timing, were maybe just a little too coincidental...

Welp, never mind. Moving on...

Did the era Allen Iverson play in poorly shape his future legacy?

It's hard to deny Iverson's greatness but the measure of just how great he was in a legacy sense is something that can be debated for hours, especially on Twitter. Some people feel Iverson, despite a lack of efficiency in shooting percentages, was one of the greatest scorers we've ever seen that blazed trails and set trends that opened up the idea of individualism and expression for today's players. Others feel his exploits on the court from his career are overstated in memoriam and that we fetishize something from our memory banks that might not actually be this good.

In a piece on GQ.com, Bethlehem Shoals brilliantly articulated the struggle when discussing Iverson's mark on the basketball world's psyche:

Retirement for Iverson and T-Mac was a formality. If anything, it's hastened the process that turns legacy from idle discussion to burnished consensus. Iverson was once the one-man embodiment of basketball's culture wars. He's now an icon whose place in history is indisputable, no matter how one feels about its effects. It's also difficult to tell whether he laid the groundwork for present-day ballers or was the moment they found a way to move past. As a player, the high-scoring guard was neither as brilliant nor as mortifying as the two sides held him to be. Iverson was always somewhere in between.

It made me wonder again about the great time travel debates we tend to have about players going against players from different eras (see how we're coming full circle here?). What if Allen Iverson had his prime either 10 years before his time or 10 years after his time? His era was an awkward transition in which the league was trying to find a replacement for Michael Jordan and didn't really have an identity it was comfortable pitching to corporate America for sponsorship.

Not only does Iverson's legacy take a fascinating turn by moving him around the space-time continuum, but if you go to someone like LeBron James, whose career has grown up in the social media/blogosphere/24-hour news cycle age, and take him to a different era, his legacy could be pumped a lot more by those of us that tend to skew toward the "glory days" of learning about basketball at a much younger age, even though today's game is much better than any other era.

How do we not have time travel yet?

Luckily, we have the fine users at Reddit to look into something like this with LeBron James.

As many of you may already know the '62 season is famous for an extremely fast pace style of play that led to some crazy records. These include Wilts 50ppg and 24rpg as well as Oscars triple double season.

I was bored this morning and was curious to see what Lebrons 2013 season would look like in 1962.

...

LeBrons final statline is. 35.7/13.8/8.0 compared to Oscars 30.8/12.5/11.4

However, the big O played 44 mpg compared to Lebrons 37 mpg.

Their per36 numbers: Lebron 34.6/13.4/7.8 and Oscar 25/10/9.2.

In case you're wondering Wilt averaged 37/19/2 per36 that year.

(By the way, I highly recommend the first comment by Jymtarr on the post.)

It's frustrating that we still don't have time travel even though it's 2013. We've figured out how to microwave just about every type of food to make it technically edible, we've put people into space, and we even invented whatever it is that SnapChat is supposed to be. Yet, somehow we still can't move particles to different time than the present.

At least we have Morgan Freeman on the case.

Have a good weekend, everybody.

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