If you’re of a certain age, Reign Man Shawn Kemp was the apogee of the high-flying dunkers of 1990s basketball — back when the annual Dunk Contest still meant something. It wasn’t just slams, though. Teamed with Gary Payton, Kemp also came close to winning it all for some fantastic Supersonics teams (RIP). At the Reebok Classic Breakout hosted at Philadelphia University this past week, Dime spoke with the former star forward about his own legacy, dunk contests, and his favorite young players today.
During 14 professional seasons, Kemp was a six-time NBA all-star and on three occasions he made the All-NBA Second Team (against some pretty stiff competition at the forward slot). Yet all most younger fans remember are the rim-rattlers. Kemp was more than that, even if his flights at the rim could take your breath away.
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Dime: You were obviously one of the best dunkers of your generation. A dunker’s legacy tends to be defined by their performances in dunk contests, rather than in live-ball, in-game situations. Given that the best usually sit out the dunk contest, who do you think are the best dunkers in the league today?
Shawn Kemp: Blake Griffin has got to be at the top of the list. There are just so many young fellas, you know LeBron [James] is still at the top of the list, I still like Dwight Howard also. When Kobe [Bryant]’s playing he can still get up there too and dunk it really well.
Dime: You’ve said in the past that the dunk contest is a good opportunity for young players to come in and express themselves. Who are some of the young guys you’d like to see participate in the dunk contest?
SK: I’d like to see all the guys just free themselves, just come in and put their own style into it. I think that so many times that you see these guys, they come in and their styles are directly from who they’re compared to. And it shouldn’t be that way. You should be able to come in and have your own style, your own approach to the game of basketball.
Dime: Speaking of legacies, why do you think dunking defined yours? You scored 15,000 points and probably not even a quarter of them were off of dunks.
SK: No, it wasn’t, and that’s what a lot of guys don’t understand. Man, it took so much time just to learn how to shoot the basketball properly, whether it be a pull-up shot, whether it be shooting the ball from a distance, from twenty feet, those are all the things that don’t get noticed. Most of the time, your dunks, your power plays are gonna get discovered, but it all really just came from the hard work of just shooting the ball from the elbows, knowing how to dribble the ball, left hand, right hand, being able to make the simple basketball plays, the IQ basketball plays, that’s what made me who I am.
Dime: One more question. The game has changed a lot since you retired, and specifically the power forward position has evolved a ton. Who are some players in today’s game that you think embody your game a little bit?
SK: Well I think Blake Griffin does a great job. And also I’m looking forward to seeing this kid from Kansas play, [Joel] Embiid. I really like his game. I think he’s gonna be a great player. I’ve watched these guys come along for a while, and he’s probably the best big man I’ve seen in a long time.
What do you think?
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