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Someone affiliated with the NBA should find a way to set up radar guns to measure how quickly dunks go through the hoop.
That's because the dunk LeBron James threw down on the Bulls in the final three minutes of Sunday's nationally-televised matinee would have either set a new ball-speed record or broken the gun. The game featured the Bulls putting it all together to stretch out an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter, only to watch the homestanding Cavaliers rally, thanks in large part to former Bull Joe Smith knocking down a series of big shots. Then King James put the game away in the final minutes with a hanging lay-up, the dunk, a mid-range jumper and a pass to Wally Szczerbiak for a crushing trifecta.
I've had a chance to watch James at different points in his career, starting with a post-season All-Star game at the United Center at the end of his high school career in which he was so clearly a man among boys. In his rookie year I attended a Bulls game in which he assisted on something like six of Cleveland's first eight baskets and then hit all the big shots late in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Last year I watched in amazement (on TV) as he scored Cleveland's final 25 points in the absolutely epic, double-overtime, conference-final playoff victory over Detroit. Then there was Friday's dunk (again on TV). Let's just say how fortunate it was the ball didn't hit Luol Deng, who provided slightly less-than-effective-help defense on the play, in the head. Then again a concussion would have been the perfect final chapter in the story of Deng's 2007-08 season, one that has been notable for injuries and injuries alone.
Today we're going to spend a little more time on basketball:
* A radar gun would also be a great way to liven up the first full day of All-Star weekend, which had seemed to be on its last legs for oh, about a decade until Gerald Green and Dwight Howard gave the dunk contest new life in New Orleans a few weeks back with gloriously imaginative throw-downs. But even this year's much-improved event was a long, long way from the heyday (and so is the three-point contest - has anyone done anything even remotely as exciting as Larry Legend essentially calling his shot back in the 80s, i.e. walking away with his No. 1 finger held high as his contest-winning three was on its way and then swished through? The correct answer is no).
* In honor of Leap Day last Friday, ESPN's SportsCenter asked the audience to vote on the greatest leaps in sports history. The answer should have been a, well, slam dunk of a different sort. It should have been Bob Beamon's otherwordly gold-medal-winning long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics - the one in which he broke the 29 foot barrier before anyone had broken 28. It still stands as the greatest leap of all time.
But of course Mr. Beamon's jump is ancient history now, having happened all of 40 years ago, so it didn't even make SportsCenter's top five.
The number one "Leap" in sports was found to be Michael Jordan's legendary dunk-contest winner - the one where he took off from the free throw line with the ball held high in one hand, brought the ball down just a bit as he ascended, but then brought it back up just before he jammed it, giving the impression that he had continued to gain altitude all the way to the hoop. If it wasn't going to be Beamon I suppose it was OK they honored Michael's slightly exciting signature slam.
* Unfortunately a bit more must be said about at least one current Bull. Ben Gordon hit some sweet shots in the second half on Sunday, but Bulls fans knew one of those shots would almost certainly lead to trouble a little further down the line. That was when Gordon slipped through two defenders and into the lane with a slick dribble move, faked a pass to a cutting teammate as he came to a jump stop to freeze the Cavaliers' Anderson Varejao, and then tossed in a beautiful floater.
Unfortunately it was just the sort of move Gordon executes every once in a while before deciding that his greatest strength is playmaking (as opposed to his true specialty - cutting off a screen, catching a pass and shooting). And the almost invariable result is turnover after turnover. Sure enough Gordon gave away crucial possessions in the second half of the fourth quarter with an offensive foul, ill-advised passes and out-of-control penetration attempts.
* The Bulls have had so many brutal losses this season, and so many brutal losses at home, but Friday's debacle against the depleted Washington Wizards will claim a spot in the top five at the end of the year no matter what. Two of Washington's three best players, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, were out with injuries, but that didn't prevent the Antawn Jamison-led Wizards from rallying to outscore the Bulls 35-14 in the third quarter and obliterate the home team's 18-point halftime lead. The Wizards held on in the fourth to win by a half-dozen or so as the boos rained down on the team that is now down to putting the finishing touches on a remarkably disappointing run.
Afterward the thought occurred: Hey Bulls, just so we're clear, you aren't playing to try to squeak into the last playoff spot in the brutally bad Eastern Conference anymore. I know it would be great fun to get killed by the Celtics in the first round of the postseason, but that is no longer the primary focus. You are now playing to give young guys a chance to develop and to showcase tradeable assets (and I am sorry Jim Boylan that this means you probably won't turn your interim head-coaching gig into a longer-term job).
So the worst thing about the game with the Wizards wasn't the third quarter collapse. It was the fact that Tyrus Thomas only played nine minutes. He got more playing time against the Cavs and responded with his usual handful of spectacular plays (including a couple of blocks and, yes, dunks).
And we have to say at least a little about the Bears and Blackhawks:
* There was a pretty good team that dumped its top receivers at the end of last season. They had enjoyed some success during the 2006-07 campaign but had decided anything short of the Super Bowl just wasn't good enough. The necessary cuts were made. Then the team went out and signed a whole new crew. And it worked out awfully well for . . . the Patriots. For 18 games at least.
I'm not saying the Bears have the slightest chance of turning similar receiver turnover into anything remotely resembling the Pats' passing offense. But I am saying that there was no way Bernard Berrian was worth the franchise tag (and a guaranteed salary of seven-plus million dollars) and there is no way he's worth the guaranteed $16 million the Vikings apparently decided to pay him (the overall deal is much larger but the only number that matters in NFL contracts is guaranteed money).
The Pats came up with Wes Welker, Randy Moss and Dante Stallworth (and it must be noted they grabbed the first two in trades; so just because there aren't a whole lot of free agent receivers left on the market doesn't mean the Bears can't do anything). Of course that free-agent market does still contain one receiver in particular, that very same Mr. Moss. What do you say, Jerry Angelo? At least talk to the man.
* If the Cubs or the White Sox find themselves desperate for hitters at some point this summer, maybe they can look to the Blackhawks. During a very impressive 4-1 victory Sunday over a Vancouver team that had earned 13 points in its previous eight games, the Hawks' Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane both scored by swatting pucks out of mid-air and into the net. If a guy can hit a slender disc with a skinny stick, surely he can pound a nice, round ball with a nice, round bat.
Jim Coffman brings you the city's best sports roundup every Monday. He does so out of love.