Who’s The Better Dunker: Blake Griffin Or Shawn Kemp?

02.29.12 6 years ago 26 Comments
Blake Griffin

WHERE WAS BLAKE? This year’s dunk contest set itself up for an inevitable disappointment when the league’s preeminent smashing machine decided not to come through for the fans. Last year, despite what you thought of Griffin’s winning performance, he created excitement, a buzz. This year there was none of that, and we were left with some average guys trying to uncover drama by dunking over small celebrities and turning off all the lights.

We wanted Griffin because he truly is – even in barely a season and a half of basketball – already shaping up to be one of the greatest dunkers ever. But is he better than Shawn Kemp? It’s an easy comparison to make. And the Reign Man gave his take recently, basically saying Blake couldn’t touch him, couldn’t touch his straight-up vert or the way he used to “tomahawk” instead of just “alley-ooping.”

So now we ask: who’s the better dunker? Griffin or Kemp? We argue. You decide.

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Longtime Shawn Kemp fan here, but first-time critic. Well, maybe that’s not right. Choosing between Blake Griffin and Shawn Kemp is any gamers’ dream. So it’s not like I’m going to bash Kemp — after all, I backed him in a who’s better over Amar’e.

This is about believing in Blake.

He’s not the game’s best power forward (see: Love, Kevin), but he is the player who will carry the NBA’s torch the next five years, and that’s all because of his slams. How they’re received by people outside the lines doesn’t warrant rehashing because we know social media turns them into events and Clips games into must-see TV for the first time in … never. They’re outlets Kemp never benefited from (debating which Kemp dunk was better at school the next day isn’t the same as putting it up to a world of debate on Twitter).

But there’s a difference between his dunks and Kemp’s in their intent, and you only need your eyes to see it. Part of the reason we all love Kemp is because his throwdowns had no off switch. Feast or famine. Only one ingredient on these dunks’ labels: power.

Griffin’s are the rare in-air skills that make you question whether his offseason has been spent as much at Cirque du Soleil as Funny Or Die. He’s more artistic with them and more agile in the air. Whereas Kemp knew he was going to mug you right on your face every time, Griffin seems to make up his mind just before he reaches his highest point about how he’s going to posterize you.

Let’s put it in a way those in the City of Angels can appreciate it: Just like some of the comedians he spent time interning with this summer, he’s deft with improvisation. His dunking has the kind of range would-be actors all over Hollywood are taking classes for.

Take this one over Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. During his virtual fly-by of LAX he adjusts over Bynum in a way I don’t know Kemp could have while still delivering the goods.

Describing his flight as artistic doesn’t mean I’m omitting its strength. There’s nothing weak about them (and if you think there is you can just write him on Twitter yourself, hombre).
The difference is whose I’d rather see given the slo-mo Phantom camera treatment. What that reveals is in a splitting-hairs, do-I-have-to-choose face-off between two of the nastiest dunkers alive, Griffin’s acrobatics just getting to the hoop are as worthy for applause as much as the finish.

His versatility I’ve touched on, but what about this: Griffin’s dunks require you to be more versatile, too. Lobs to solo shots, Griffin is more complete, making his the more sensory experience. Kemp is best appreciated by closing the eyes and listening for the audible POP when hand meets rim and the rim mic nearly breaks. Griffin’s you hear coming first from the crowd’s realization that anticipation has met reality. He’s gonna dunk. Then, as you barely believe your eyes, you watch it all unfold, start to finish.

The last sense, of course, is touch — when you hit the keyboard immediately after to tell all your friends about his latest slam.

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