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Saturday, August 21st, 2010 at 10:00 am  |  25 responses

Super Fly

SLAM 2: Shawn Kemp led the League in style. But he never led the Sonics to an NBA title.

SLAM 2 Feature: Shawn Kemp.

Still, the man who has been Kemp’s teacher for the past four years, Coach Karl, is impressed with his progress and optimistic about his future. “The thing about Shawn is that he has a tremendous upside: he’s not even close to what he’s going to be. His low-post game can be developed a little bit more. He’s gotta learn to play around the double teams and gotta learn how to make the pass, but I think he’s done a great job of fundamentally getting sounder. His shooting percentage is big-time improved. His turnover-to-assist ratio has improved. I don’t care about his sugar, I just care about respecting the fundamentals of the game of basketball. I love behind-the-back and fancy plays when the game allows you to have them. But when you force those things, then it hurts the team and you’re screwing the other players.”

Kemp also realizes his game can improve. “When I first started I was basically an inside player,” he says. “Now, I’ve created a jump shot, and I handle the ball a lot more. They even let me run the point forward, sometimes bringing the ball up, and you know, creating shots for others. In the next couple of years, I really think my game will even improve a lot more.” As Kemp improves over time, he’ll be growing not only as a player, but as a man.

Among black men, basketball is almost always a manhood contest. Sports have historically been a safe place to acquire and show off masculinity, and basketball has always had a special place in that pantheon: In black hands, a basketball is about so much more than a score.
“The question has never been simply scoring on the other guy in the black community,” George says. “It’s never been about a guy who can just hit a set shot. It’s always been: What extra flavor can you put on it? Can you shoot from 30 feet out? What kinda ball fakes can you pull out? Can you embarrass your opponent? I think that’s really what we’re seeing translated in the pros.”

In streetball, style is paramount, but in the pros that translates to winning titles. No amount of stylistic dominance-even that of Dr. J and Jordan-can free you from criticism if you’re titleless. In hood hoops, two points equal less than two nuts, but in the pros real manhood is to be baaaad in the clutch. To take it to the hole in the fourth quarter. To win. This represents nothing less than the life of black men, forever against the wall, in a game where winning is survival. The Right Stuff? White boys ain’t got a clue. We baad because that’s the way we get to be men.

Magic hinted that all this was going on at the All-Star game when he said in the pre-game interview, “There’s a game within a game here ‘cuz the guys wanna know: who is the man of the NBA?” But that consummate winner knows the All-Star game isn’t where men become men. Right now the league is filled with nascent megastars, but in 10 years most will be human highlight films with naked fingers. As Disneyization tumors through the NBA, one question will get louder and clearer in the ears of more stars: can you dominate between commercials?

Or as George says, “Shawn has a really nice commercial, but he’s a guy who needs his team to win the championship to go to the next level.”

——

The chaos of a pregame shoot-around makes it appear as if everything but concentrating on the game is going on: at mid-court one group of spandex-clad female dancers is surrounding the small patch of court not ruled by shooting, stretching, post-upping, T-shirted basketball players to another group of women who will practice singing the national anthem. Overhead, the Madison Square Garden lighting effects are being tested, and spots for “Blue Chips” run endlessly. On one baseline, cables are being untangled and photographers are setting up, while on the other kids are yelling, “Shawn Kemp! Autograph my shirt! John Starks! Sign my forehead!” And everywhere fans are filling in, including Spike Lee who finds his courtside seat and plops down, attracting as much attention as any player.

Once the game starts, Seattle jumps out to a large lead and stays there until late in the fourth quarter. Kemp is everywhere, running the floor, making steals and igniting breaks like a guard, posting-up and patrolling the big guys, Oakley and Mason. Because Seattle is such a balanced team Kemp is never called upon to dominate. With fellow All-Star Gary Payton at the point, reliable Kendall Gill and Detlef Schremp shooting, bringing up the ball and grabbing a few rebounds, as well as Sam Perkins-whose three-point shooting tonight makes him look like the Dana Barros of big guys-Kemp has a balanced cast of cable guys around him. Still, he does lead at the half, Seattle is ahead by 13 and Kemp has the same.

For 18 minutes of the second half Kemp scores four points, though the Sonics manage to maintain a lead in the double figures. But when the Knicks, thanks to some Starks treys, roar back to within six with three minutes to go, Seattle calls timeout and tries to snap the Knicks’ momentum. After the huddle, Kemp responds by hitting a short, baseline jumper that seals it. Commenting later, Coach Karl says, “That would’ve been a big momentum swing if he didn’t make that hoop.”

True, but it barely gave the momentum back to the Sonics: rarely will you see a quieter prime-time deuce. It was the tentative J of a man not at all certain he could nail the shot all night. He hit it, but his body language added nothing: It was only two points. A few plays later he would find himself open under the basket and slap down a two-handed slam; but again it was as quiet a big dunk as you’ll see. No rim-rocker to silence the crowd and excite the team, just another quick two. Seconds later, when Ewing misses a baseline three with under a minute to go, it’s over, save for the garbage baskets that make the final margin 11.

The winner’s locker room is noticeably brighter, though no noisier. The vibe is lighter, but there’s no laughter. Just showers, dressing and interviews. Reporters converge around Kemp, leaving his neighbor Payton little room to dress, but he hasn’t time for a lot of talk. The bus leaves for the airport in 10 minutes; where a plane will take the Sonics to Atlanta. Tonight, the best team in the west has beaten one of the best in the east, but if there is cause for celebration, there’s no time for champagne: another visitors’ locker room and another 82nd of the regular reason beckons with a bus leaving in five minutes for yet another chapter in a long season where there’s only one locker room worth being in.

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  • underdog

    Thanks! Kemp is my all-time favourite.

  • http://google c_cantrell

    kemp was a beast

  • http://fatshawnkemp.com zack

    “As Disneyization tumors through the NBA…”
    how prophetic. i think it’s full blown cancer by now.

  • JTaylor21

    It’s crazy how many of the young 90s stars faded quickly either due to injuries or personal problems. Guys like GHill, Penny, Kemp and a few others were on the fast track to the pantheon of GREATNESS. It’s goes to show that you can’t take things for granted.

  • hammer

    The reign man. Short lived career success yet left his imprint on the game. The hair cut,the dunks(lister blister!)the reebok shoes, formed 1 of the best tendems in league history w/gp,the trip 2 the 96 finals r a few. And say whatever about how things ended n seattle,sonics management did disrespect kemp. They gave jim mcilvaine all that cream while kemp was denied his request 4 a raise. Its a shame how his career ended

  • Benjamin Stone

    One of my all time faves. Always wished he had worked on his game a little harder…thought he relied on his athleticism too much and it came back to bite him. But man was that fun to watch: Payton chunkin’ the ball off the backboard for Kemp on the break was a thing of beauty. Kemp in the playoff game cradling the ball, delivering the facial then pointing at the dude with both fingers. The alley-oop dunk over Mourning. Good stuff.

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    SLAM 2 with Kemp was my first issue. Have every single one since then, but the ‘Superfly’ issue will always be special. Kemp was a manchild when he came into the league. A beast, to bad he got so fond of hamburgers when he got older, loved to watch him play.

  • Benjamin Stone

    BTW how you gonna be a cokehead and gain 40 pounds…just asking.

  • German Reignman

    The Real MVP of the 1996 Finals … but the since no losing team gets MVP honors Mike got the trophy … but Kemp was the player of the seies …. blocking shots, throwin down, sitting on Rodmans shoulders …

  • Jetballer

    failed to score 700 on the SATs? How retarded can you be?

  • Chris

    yeah, saw that 96 finals not too long ago. Kemp was indeed the best player in that series, while MJ actually had a subpar Finals showing.

  • JD

    Thank you SLAM – Kemp was the man

  • http://www.rich-imaging.com Dutch Rich

    What did Karl mean “I don’t care about his sugar”.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    REIGN MAN is classic. Great player, sad ending, but you can’t front on what he did during his short career in the NBA. AND he was sh!tting on Rodman in that ’96 Finals, no offense to the Worm.

  • hoodsnake

    @ German reignman Jerry West was MVP in 1969 on a losing team

  • http://slamonline moneymellz

    Man was kemp sumthing to watch bakk in the day..I remember he dunked Over chris gatlin pointed at him wit two fingers but wat was more crazy was dat gatlin got up n dapped kemp as if to say “yea dat was disrespectful byt I gotta give yu yur props”..dat was crazyyy..but does anyone in todays game remind u of kemp?

  • hobbes

    Kemp > Malone > Webber > Duncan > KG > Dirk > Amare > Gasol , the best PF in the league in order since 96.

  • hammer

    @dutch rich. What karl was referring 2 was the fancy playmaking (example:behind the back passes,between the leg dribbles,tomahawk dunks)things of that nature. Or as manolo in scarface would say the “pizzaz.”

  • JTaylor21

    @Hobbes come on son, Amare has never ever been the best PF in the league. Not even for one milli second, the best PF has to be able to REBOUND the ball and play defense which AMARE does absolutely none of those things.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Gasol is NOT the best power-forward in the league.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    @ JTaylor: Amare doesn’t have a great track record of rebounding the ball, but 8-9 is NOT that bad at all for a forward.

  • JTaylor21

    So Teddy-the-Bear, if you were a coach and your 6-10 245 uber-athletic PF avgs. 8.9 rpg would you be happy with that, or better yet if you had Amare’s size and athletic ability would you be satisfied in knowing that you can only muster 9 rebounds a game. I think NOT.

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  • http://brimartin13@gmail.com Brion

    The only jersey I own…#40 The Reignman.

  • German Reignman

    @hoodsnake:

    heads up, your right … but that was the only time, no ?

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