One of the very first sports memories I have as a kid–besides watching Hulk Hogan win every wrestling match ever, or playing little league as deftly as a bear with a trash can stuck over its head–was an NBA home video about the late 1980’s dunk contests. To be honest, we didn’t watch much sports in general when I was a kid. My father, much like his father before him, was about as well coordinated as a self-prepared Stevie Wonder outfit from the post-disco, ’80s funk era. He ran like a wounded gazelle, swung a bat like Shelley Duvall in The Shining, and thought a “Hail Mary” was an old shipping vessel from the Civil War. So we never really spent time enjoying sports together at home; watching “his” teams, or reliving his glory days.
But for some reason we had this old VHS about the dunk contests of 1985 through 1988. And it was glorious. Wilkins, Webb, Jordan. Windmills, 360s, foul line slams. Spectacle, pressure, and a pre-Marv Albert Marv Albert. Never had sport seemed so awe-inspiring, so incredible, so important. I was hooked. I would spend a good portion of my formative years imitating the slams (or more accurately jumping over a trash can in my living room and throwing my koosh basketball at my koosh hoop while slamming full speed into a door), and gobbling up every year’s slam dunk contest. Sure they weren’t as impressive as the ones I watched on that old video tape–mainly as they included commercials and the likes of Stromile Swift, Antonio Harvey, and Bob Sura–but the contests were always still exciting. They had Kobe Bryant (pre “Black Mamba,” more of a “Black Electric Slide” Kobe), the height of “Vinsanity,” and heck, even Nate Robinson bringing back some of that Spud Webb glory. They weren’t by any means perfect, but they weren’t… well they weren’t what the Slam Dunk Contest is now.
Honestly, the whole “All Star Weekend” has become a sham of what it once was. The 3-point contest is bland as ever, Skills and Drills features all the excitement of watching six NBA players PASS A BALL INTO A SIDEWAYS NET AND RUN AROUND, and the Shooting Stars competition… is only relevant as the most exaggerated use of the word “star” in human history (or at least since Dancing With The Stars egregiously featured Bristol Palin). The game has sold out so badly we are one or two years, max, away from a Doritos Loco Taco slamming home a Sprite for MVP Honors; and my beloved Dunk Contest–well, the Jordan vs. Dominique of old–has been replaced by the thrilling battle of Gerald Green vs. Jeremy Evans, a headline that sounds more like a Connecticut high school JV tennis match, not a competition of two former slam dunk champions.
Still, I want to help. I want people to watch All Star Weekend–watch the dunk contest, and the 3-point challenge, and the game itself -and know and care about the players. And I think the easiest way to do that, the easiest way to connect with these players, is to connect them with something you care about it, things you already know and love. And what better thing is there than the sweet nostalgia of 1990’s teen sitcoms? You could have answered porn, and that’s definitely right, but let’s stick with ’90s sitcoms. The second best thing you know and love.
Onward to fond memories and fake sick-days of old!
Kevin Durant aka Cory Matthews, Boy Meets World
Now of course KD lacks the pep of a Phillies-loving, heck-raising, Topanga-banging(?) Mr. Matthews–but he is by far the most universally lovable player in today’s NBA. Just as Cory was hard to hate, so too is Durant. He’s a genuine, nice guy, close with his family (even though his sister was replaced by another actress halfway through his childhood), and no matter what, you can’t help but root for his success. Of course one would be remiss to talk about Cory without his sidekick Shawn, just as Durant can’t escape his connection with friend and teammate Russell Westbrook. The parallels there are eerie too. Sure he doesn’t live in a trailer, or have hair that would make any straight man question his choices, but Westbrook–just like Shawn–is that perfect fusion of cool and crazy, best pal and guy who wants to stab Metta World Peace during the playoffs. If Westbrook left the NBA tomorrow to find himself, and asked KD not to tell Mr. Turner that he was going away, I would not be the least bit surprised.
Chris Paul aka Zack Morris, Saved by the Bell
In Clipper Land all things run through Chris Paul. In Bayside High all things ran through Zack Morris. Both of these guys are the cool, collected, and stylish center of an eccentric cast of characters. Chris has an up and coming star (Griffin), a wily veteran (Billups), a troubled former star (Odom), and the skeletal remains of Grant Hill (Hill). Zack had a pill popping–so excited, yet so scared–Showgirl (Jessie Spano), a TV-hosting machine (AC Slater), and a lovable nerd who for the sake of purity never grew up, never used a video camera in his bedroom, and instead died after the final credits of the Hawaiian Wedding (Screech). Neither one makes all the plays, or is the centerpiece of every episode, but without them there is nothing. Without Zack it’s Good Morning Ms. Bliss. Without Chris it’s the Charlotte Bobcats 2.0.
Blake Griffin aka AC Slater, Saved by the Bell
This one is a no brainer. If Chris Paul is Zack, than Blake Griffin has to be AC. AC was an uber-ripped, charismatic, dimpled masterpiece of a man, always capable of stealing the spotlight from Zack at any time. Blake is a hyper-athletic, painfully lovable star who at any point can potentially slam a ball so ferociously that you forget about anyone else on the court. Sure sometimes they come off a bit fake–somehow AC only had sleeves like 32% of the time, and Blake dunking over that car had to be the most forced NBA plot point since anyone being surprised Lebron didn’t want to STAY in Cleveland–but you can’t help falling for AC, or Blake. Even when they’re on Extra! trying to make Selena Gomez a thing. And even when they’re trying to shill you a KIA, the car equivalent of store brand cola. You just don’t quit Blake Slater. AC Griffin? Wow both of those sound great. One a tough cop with a drinking problem, the other a skateboarding mythological creature. Both of them protecting the means streets of San Diego. That’s a tough choice right there.
Kobe Bryant aka Cody Lambert, Step by Step
Kobe, at least on this roster, is the odd man out. Playing in his 45th season in the league, and making his 39th All Star appearance, Kobe is just a touch older than his top tier peers. He’s a bit reserved and isolated because of this, yet still he’s an invaluable part–if not a highlight of–the team. So too was Cody Lambert, the lovable oaf from Step By Step. Cody, like Kobe was just a bit older than all of his contemporaries. As such, he lived on the outskirts of the group, quite literally in a van in the driveway (which by the way, NO ONE WANTED TO LET HIM IN THE HOUSE? What a tight-knit family). He still was a highlight of every episode he was in, was a master at hilarious one-liners (not as good as some of Kobe’s, but worth a TGIF laugh, definitely), and like Kobe, could never really be forgotten. Even when their team/show was hysterically forgettable (See Lakers 2013, Step By Step every year it was on). Also they worked with a really talented, yet lovable, old dude (Patrick Duffy/Steve Nash) and their names sound really alike. Case rested.
Dwight Howard–Baby Sinclair, Dinosaurs
Baby Sinclair was a terribly annoying baby dinosaur. He was CONSTANTLY complaining, never really funny, and was as original and creative as an Air Bud sequel. Everything he ever did was the exaggerated echo of a previous child actor, and showed no real hint of authenticity or self. Still, at the end of the day you couldn’t help but watch his exaggerated antics. Like when he would yell “Not the Mama!” eat tons of sugar, or wreak havoc on his lovable dinosaur family. Dwight Howard is a terribly annoying basketball player. He is CONSTANTLY complaining, never really “good,” and is as original as an Air Bud sequel. Everything he does is an exaggerated echo of Shaquille O’Neal, and shows no real hint of authenticity or self. Still at the end of the day you can’t help but watch his exaggerated antics. Like when he would yell “I want to stay in Orlando, just kidding no I don’t, I don’t not not want to not be traded,” have tons of “injuries,” or wreak havoc on any team he ever played for. Finally, look at their arms. They are both freakishly chiseled, yet for some reason lack any real muscle or strength. Double finally, I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a comparison in my life.
Carmelo Anthony aka Eddie Winslow, Family Matters
Even though he was a big part of the success of Family Matters, nobody really ever remembers Eddie Winslow. Sure he had some quality screen time, and some big parts, heck he even had a weird Jazzy Jeff rip-off sidekick “Waldo Faldo” (Good Lord the ’90s were such simpler times). Yet at the end of the day, no one really remembers Eddie. He gets overshadowed constantly by the antics of the things around him. The crazy shenanigans of Steve, the general bad-assery and awful-heartery of Carl, even the feisty wit of Estelle “Mother” Winslow. It’s hard not to feel a similar plight for Carmelo, even in the amazing season he’s having right now. He’s playing as consistently good as we’ve ever seen from him, and has quietly led the resurgent Knicks to 2nd in the Eastern Conference. Yet he’s always overshadowed by something. “Linsanity” stole the spotlight last year, and this year it’s more of the same. Can Amare Stoudemire re-integrate fully into this offense? What can we expect long term out of JR smith? Can the Knicks keep up their 3 point shooting? Do they need to make a trade? Can they beat the Heat? WHAT IS GOING ON WITH IMAN SHUMPERT’S HAIR? No matter what, Carmelo just doesn’t get a chance to be the star he deserves to be. Much like poor Eddie Winslow… never being able to escape the shadow of Steve Urkel. Which speaking of…
Rajon Rondo aka Steve Urkel, Family Matters
Now I know some of you are already a bit thrown off by this one. Rondo isn’t a giant nerd, and is extremely far from a klutz. How could he be Steve Urkel? Oh how simple it is. Fact: no matter what, Rondo is always the center of the circus in Boston. If the Celtics do well (minus their late post-injury surge), Rondo is doing well. Even if their game isn’t headline material, Rondo’s antics and general craziness can keep them in the lime-light. Fact: There were two Urkels, there are two Rondo’s. Urkel split into two distinct personalities, Steve and Stefan. Steve was a jittery ball of akwardness who always screwed up in a big way. Stefan was a chic, cool, white suit wearing mama-jama who always said the right thing. Rondo is likewise split into two personalities. There is Rondofan (tried to make that work but it just sounds like a really wizard, let’s go with “Playoff Rondo”), who is a suave b-ball assassin. “Playoff Rondo” stays intense for the whole game, flirts with–then gets–a triple double, and makes you wish you could have this guy on your team forever. “Regular Rondo” makes you wish you had traded his ass last year when you tried. He fluxes in and out of games at will, makes stupid passes that look like he was aiming for fans, and once in a while throws a ball at a ref, and exclaims “did I do that”? As if that weren’t enough; Fact: he once also drank “Bruce Juice” with Shaq, and fought off an army of thugs in a Boston warehouse. Sorry if you didn’t hear about that, it’s the liberal media’s fault.
Dwyane Wade aka Carlton Banks, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
If you’ve ever watched him play–especially when he’s in the zone–it’s difficult to argue that Dwyane Wade is just a stone cold killer on the court. He’s able to slice through defenders in traffic, post up a ridiculous off balance shot, and 90% of the time you watch it and just know that it’s going in. He’s easily one of the best players in the league, but often gets overlooked as he’s been fortunate enough in his career to play alongside some of the greats. Carlton Banks to me carries the same burden. Carlton easily could have been the center piece of his own show yet he never got the shot. He was fortunate enough to star alongside Will Smith–just as Dwyane has Lebron and Shaq before him–but that meant he never got to soak up as much credit as he deserved. His timing was impeccable, his dance moves unparalleled, and his thoughts on the Trix Rabbit transcendant. And even though he often stole the show, he will likely only be remembered as a side note to larger stars. But most importantly, these guys both wear sweaters, and are short. They’re like twins! Come on!
Kevin Garnett aka Every Bully From a ’90s TV Show
In the nineties, every teen drama had one–if not hundreds–of bully characters. Kevin Garnett is the cobbled-together corpse of their remains. Bulk and Skull from Power Rangers, Harley from Boy Meets World, that guy in the opening credits of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, that punk who tried to make Zack smoke a joint in Saved By the Bell: Garnett is the worst of all of them. On the court he’s a defensive antagonizer, making sure to not only stop you physically, but mentally. He will say anything to get under your skin, no topic is off limits. Moms, dads, siblings, teammates, beloved children’s cereals, there is nothing he won’t harass you with, just in the interest of stopping you from getting to the basket. In the end though, he finds a way to teach you about yourself, or how important it is to overcome adversity. Or he says that your wife tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios. It’s really a 50/50 shot I guess.
Lebron James aka Tommy Oliver, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Lebron is by far the toughest person to pin down, as everyone out there has their own opinion about him. Some love him, some hate him. Some think he’s going to be the best to play the game, some think they’re going to kill him if they ever see him in Cleveland again. Love him or hate him though, you have to admit he’s playing on an entirely different level right now. That’s why Tommy Oliver is the perfect comparison point. Just like there is the league and Lebron, there was the Rangers and then Tommy. He operated at a level above the group, with a kung-fu skill and pony tail that no one else could imitate. And much like Lebron, he was a person beloved, and be-hated (yep, totally a word). As the Green Ranger he was–technically speaking here–a total dick. He fought the Power Rangers, tried to kill the entire town, and declared he’d win multiple championships before even setting foot on the court with his new team (wait…right?). As the White Ranger he was a God. He destroyed everyone he faced, single handedly rescued the entire team, and was a natural born leader and field general. He was a bag full of traits, and sometimes hard to define, but the show just wouldn’t have been the same without him. Same can be said for Lebron, love or hate him.
But wait! There’s More!
Erik Spoelestra aka The Putties, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
He’s there in every episode, but he never really does anything. He runs around waving his arms, but has anyone ever heard him talk? Also, you can take him out by just punching him really hard in the sternum. And God I pray somebody does.
Gregg Popovich aka Mr. Feeney, Boy Meets World
The wise old sage that just knows more than everybody else. Sometimes he oversteps his bounds–resting players, telling Cory what to do WHEN HE IS NOT HIS FATHER–but he does it for all the right reasons. One of the most important reasons for his team’s success, although sometimes people forget that.
Derrick Rose aka The Wheel Chair Girl Zack Once Dated, Saved by The Bell
A really nice guy, great talent, who happens to be in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. The good news is that he teaches the gang to play wheelchair basketball. The bad news, it’s not a fundraiser for him, he’s still stuck in the chair for forever.
Steve Nash aka Mr. Turner, Boy Meets World
An older guy, who is a beloved bad-ass who educates the youth around him about life. Also, THE HAIR. Holy God the gorgeous hair.
Kris Humphries aka Michelle Tanner, Full House
Nobody likes you. Nobody.
Luol Deng aka Waldo Faldo, Family Matters
Years from now you will look back on this game, and try to think of who that guy was. Much like Waldo, there is no chance you will remember Deng’s name. Not until you look it up on Wikipedia.
David Lee aka Billy Cranston, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
The Blue Ranger was a nerdy guy that everyone totally forgot about in the end, but was super important to the team. The same could be said about David Lee.