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George’s dunk one for the ages

George’s dunk one for the ages

Paul George’s reverse 360 dunk toward the end of the Pacers’ win over the Clippers on Saturday is still all the rage around the NBA, the subject of endless video replays and verbal debate.

It deserves lingering reflection. It wasn’t just a 360-degree spin. It was better than that, because George spun in a clockwise direction. For a right-handed player, that’s more than 360 degrees. And, he had the courage to do it in a game, when a missed attempt would leave him embarrassed and his coach disgusted.

Frank Vogel said he would have taken George out of the game if he had missed, and he probably would have. The outcome was decided and a failed launch of a showboat would have been cause for a hook. But George didn’t miss, and that’s the point.

I’ve seen all of the great dunkers in Pacers history, from Darnell Hillman to Terrence Stansbury to Kenny Williams to Fred Jones, and now George. The one George executed is the best in-game dunk in franchise history, and arguably the best ever by a Pacer. But I’ve seen one after a practice that could be regarded as good or better.

You know the Julius Erving dunk at the ABA All-Star game, when he ran from the other end of the court, took off from just inside the foul line and dunked? I saw Jonathan Bender surpass that following a practice in Vancouver. It had to have been in the 1999-2000 season, or the following one, since those were the last years of the Vancouver franchise.

Bender, egged on by teammates, ran and took off from the foul line – not in front of it – and dunked.

Twice.

Left-handed.

So if anybody can rule on the athleticism and artistry of George’s dunk, it would be Bender, who saw the highlights of it.

“The fact it was in a game separates it,” Bender said, from his home in Houston. “To do that in the game, off a steal, most people would think, Let me just put the ball in the basket, or would do a simple windmill. To take the direction he took and the spin, yeah, he took a little risk there. It was nice.”

Bender said he would have been capable of George’s dunk early in his NBA career, but remains impressed by the audacity of it.

“But when you’re doing something in a game, it’s different than when you’re out messing around,” he said. “That’s one of the best dunks I’ve seen in a long time.”

Darnell Hillman and Fred Jones both won NBA slam-dunk contests while with the Pacers – Hillman in 1977, although it’s not officially recognized by the league because it didn’t come over All-Star Weekend, and Jones in 2004. Both of them say they’ve executed 360-degree dunks, but not in games.

Hillman wouldn’t have dared to try, for fear of his coach’s wrath.

“Slick (Leonard) didn’t tolerate a whole lot of nonsense,” said Hillman, who joined the Pacers in 1971. “Which would have been every coach’s way during my time. They didn’t go for a lot of showboating. That kind of thing can come back and bite you. But if you can pull it off, more power to you. It shows the confidence that young man is playing with.”

Jones scored a perfect 50 in the dunk contest in 2004 with a 360-degree dunk, but executive it by throwing the ball high into the air from right of the goal, running underneath the basket, jumping while spinning and slamming the ball through with his outstretched right hand. Which wasn’t quite as difficult as George’s dunk, and also in a setting when he could take more than one crack at it.

George, in fact, used Saturday’s dunk when he competed in the dunk contest two years ago – with the lights out – but didn’t win the competition.

“He should have won the dunk contest,” said Jones, who attended Saturday’s game.

Jones gives George extra credit for pulling off his dunk in a game.

“No. 1, you’ve got to be full of confidence,” he said. “And two, you’ve got to be a superstar, because you don’t want to come out of the game. You have to have a certain kind of status to do it. But he’s a superstar.”

About The Author

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Mark Montieth has more than 30 years of experience as a reporter, columnist, and feature writer for major media entities, and his work has been featured both in Indiana and across the country. This is his second full season contributing to Pacers.com, though he spent many years as the team's beat writer for the Indianapolis Star. Montieth also hosts a radio show called "One on One" on 1070 the Fan.

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