Slamadamonth, SLAM #14: Shawn Kemp

shawn kemp

Originally published in SLAM 14

Shawn Kemp’s vicious reverse jam over Dennis Rodman in Game 4 of the ’96 NBA Finals may not have been enough to lead the Sonics past the Bulls for their first Championship since ’79, but it was clearly the play of the series. Of the entire postseason, for that matter. That’s right—no MJ switching hands in mid-flight or Paxson triple-killers for the Bulls this year.

Seattle didn’t have enough in the tank to push the 72-game winning Bulls to four straight losses—which woulda been the biggest upset ever—but aside from MJ cryin’ on the floor, this is what people are gonna remember:

After two tight losses and one downright embarrassing one, the Sonics woke up. They spent the first half of Game 4 putting the Bulls on the ropes, then Kemp came out strong in the third quarter to deliver the knockout punch.

With Mike, Pip, Kukoc and Randy Brown lingering on the perimeter, No. 40 pounds the ball into the hardwood on the left wing, over and over as he backs the Worm into the paint. Then it happens. Bam! Kemp spins toward the right baseline. Switches the rock to the left hand as Rodman squirms to recover. Driving underneath the tin, he lunges out and up; with the ball at chest level, he whips it back over his head with both hands—boom!—and the Rain starts to fall.

But Kemp isn’t done. After pulling himself up into the twine, Kemp comes down on the Lite-Brite head and Etch-a-Sketch shoulders of the Worm. He glares down from his perch, as if to say, “This series ain’t over yet,” while Rodman raises his hands in his best “Hey-ref-isn’t-it-time-you-called-a-technical?” manner.

The dunk, Kemp’s first of three in the quarter, gave the Sonics their largest lead of the game. It even earned him a pat on the back from Rodman.

The Sonics went on to extend the series to six games, before finally succumbing at the United Center. The Sonics fell short—Kemp grew up.

—Jeramie McPeek