Organized Sports is a recurring sports column named for a seminal DC avant-hardcore song by the equally stupid and brilliant (to me, “equally stupid and brilliant” pretty much just means “brilliant”) band Void. Take from that what you will.
The lights go down. TNT’s Kenny Smith, freshly changed from his old uniform into his new uniform of suit, dress shirt, collar undone, no tie, steps to the center of the court, microphone in hand, as Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller give him an untold level of shit and Kevin Harlan laughs at every dig, all the while sounding like Marv Albert. The Public Address Announcer’s voice echoes through the arena as instrumentals from Watch the Throne shudder the speakers.
“And now, your ringleader for the Sprite and Kia synergy dunk circus, Kenny Smith!”
“That bright red pocket square is just turrible,” Barkley says. Harlan laughs.
“This is what you’ve all been waiting for,” says Smith, ever-present smirk on his face. “You done sat through the BBVA Compass Fundamentals Shooting Stars of Yesteryear, Tomorrow, the Present, and the Never, plus otherwise photogenic WNBA stars with ill-advised neck tattoos. You have seen point guards sort of try to dribble through cones and bounce pass the ball into things you’d find at the NBA combine.”
“Tebow would not find them with his throws at the NBA combine,” says Barkley. Harlan and Miller laugh. “Because he’s turrible,” Barkley adds unnecessarily, but charmingly. “Also, Skip Bayless is the biggest jackass in the history of journalism.”
“You have seen four All-Stars and two no-names jack threes, with one of them winning because the red white and blue ABA looking basketball counts for more points. You have seen a self-serving mini-documentary showing NBA All-Stars half-heartedly painting the siding on a Habitat for Humanity house while the diamond studs in their ears twinkle in the sunlight.”
“It’s really refreshing to see those stars doing that hard charity work,” says Miller. No one acknowledges him.
“But now, the main event. The Sprite-Kia Slam Dunk Challenge sponsored by Sprite and Kia, brought to you by Sprite and Kia.”
The crowd cheers. Courtside, Spike Lee, wearing Jeremy Lin’s grade school jersey, composes Lin/Landry Fields slashfic on his iPad, and every NBA star not participating in the dunk contest adjusts his Rivers Cuomo glasses.
“What we had planned for you tonight was four underwhelming non-stars utilizing an excessive amount of terrible props,” Smith continues. “But Sprite, Kia, the NBA, Sprite and Kia all came to their senses and listened to everyone, from the bloggers to the mainstream columnists to Charles Barkley—”
“—and convinced everyone you want to see to appear in this year’s Kite-Spria Chunk Dallenge.”
Spike Lee looks up mid-sentence: “This couch sure is crowded,” Jeremy said. “Are you sure we can both—”
“Tonight’s four representatives in the Spree-Kighta Dall Chunkage are as follows. Last year’s dunk contest winner, Kia spokesperson, guy who revitalized sick dunking in the NBA and also making crying-face at the refs every time he misses a ten-foot jumper, Blake Griffin!”
Blake Griffin emerges from the entryway, wearing the juicy suit he wears in the Kia commercials.
“The man who lazy columnists always say has an Avon-Stringer type feud with Kevin Durant, when the obvious Wire comparison is Bodie, Russell Westbrook!”
“This my corner!” Westbrook exclaims, bumping Griffin as he steps out onto the floor. Griffin looks offended that someone bumped into him. Westbrook looks at Griffin with murder in his eyes. Griffin shrinks back, shaking his head.
“The star of last year’s NBA draft broadcast, the Eastern European Blake Griffin, Jan Vesely!”
Camera pans to Vesely and his statuesque, sculpted from alabaster girlfriend, approaching second base in the tunnel. The spotlight hits them. Vesely sheepishly breaks the kiss. The tall blonde smacks him on the behind as he runs out to the court.
“And last, but not least, the man who will benefit from this year’s contest only having three rounds instead of four, LeBron James!”
“Beard gets any longer, he gonna start combing it over that hairline,” says Barkley. Harlan laughs.
“That’s rough Chuck, rough,” says Miller.
“Nah, man, I love LeBron. But he bald, man, bald. Bald. Skip Bayless is turrible.”
“New rules for this year,” says Smith. “The winner will not be determined by the fans, as previously stated, nor will it be decided by NBA sponsors, as happened last year. It will be decided by those who made the dunk contest something to watch. Your judges!”
The spotlight illuminates a table at the other end of the court. Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter and Michael Jordan are seated behind it. Jordan, a backwards Kangol on his head, lights a cigar with a copy of the collective bargaining agreement that’s been set on fire.
“Tonight’s competition will be three rounds. Unlike in past years, the dunk must be completed on the first try. Each round, one competitor will be eliminated. Following the third round, the winner will be determined. Corny-ass props have been banned. We’ll begin after these messages.”
Commercial 1: A desperate man, alone, covered in sweat, picks up a revolver. He opens the cylinder, loading one bullet. He spins the chamber, then places the gun to his temple. He pulls the hammer back, then squeezes the trigger. It snaps on an empty chamber. Relieved, the man sets the gun on the table in front of him, then looks up. Across from him is Blake Griffin, in the same velvety warm-up suit. “You know what’s not like playing Russian roulette? The new Kia Optima.” Awkward silence. Griffin picks up the gun, aiming it at the man’s chest. He pulls the trigger. Another snap on an empty chamber. Cut to Griffin behind the wheel of the Optima, smiling at the camera.
Commercial 2: Kobe Bryant, wearing a Laker-esque but, because it’s a commercial, not really Laker, uniform, practices a fadeaway jumper in an empty gym. Swish. He walks over to the bench and picks up a Sprite, taking a swig. “I suppose you want half of this Sprite, too, bitch,” he says, shaking his head. “I hate everything.”
Commercial 3: Narrator: “Mark-Paul Gosselaar is a lawyer with kinda long hair! No one will watch this show, but these things keep getting greenlit! It’s TNT’s Only Pussies Pass the Bar Instead of Going to Drink in the Bar.” Gosselaar does a body shot off of a girl in a bra and panties. “TNT: We Know Drama.”
“And we’re back,” says Kevin Harlan. “Let’s get the expert picks on who’s going to win the dunk contest this year. Reggie?”
“You know, Kev, I think we’re going to see an upset this year, much like the time my Pacers upset the New York Knicks, as depicted in the documentary Winning Time. Have you guys seen that documentary?”
“You didn’t win the title any more than I did, Reg,” says Barkley. “I’m gonna go with LeBron to win the contest.”
“I think for the upset it’s Russell Westbrook,” Miller says. “Gotta like those point guards who can dunk.”
“You couldn’t dunk, Reggie,” Barkley says.
“Well let’s take it back to Kenny,” Harlan says.
“Up first in the Spreet-Kaya battle for all the Dunkaroos, it’s Washington Wizards forward Jan Vesely,” says Smith.
“Vesely reminds me of the name Vecsey, Peter Vecsey,” Barkley says. “Turrible. I think he’s gonna fail.”
“Give the kid a chance, Chuck,” Miller says.
“I hate you,” Barkley says.
Vesely steps to mid court with the ball. The cameras focus on his girlfriend, standing on the sideline, eyeing him with a cold intensity that gets the blood of many viewers boiling. The cameras return to Vesely at mid-court. He palms the ball, running in, and jumps from just after the free throw line, attempting the Dr. J dunk. He comes up a little short, having to throw the ball a little bit, an impressive dunk but no Dr. J/MJ. The crowd cheers. He turns around and runs back to mid-court. The girlfriend meets him halfway, tackling him to the floor. Microphones pick up uncomfortable loud kissing/clothes rustling noises.
“I don’t think Vesely is going to have any trouble getting to the rim here,” Miller says. “You know who did? Patrick Ewing, as depicted in the documentary film Winning Time. I used to hold the record for most three-pointers made. Did you know, as a past winner, I specifically gave tips to each and every one of the shooters in the 3-point competition?”
Vesely and blonde are still rolling on the hardwood as Westbrook takes the floor.
“Bringin’ that Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s Russell Westbrook!”
Westbrook dribbles in from half-court, already breaking a sweat, intense. He picks up the ball at the free throw line, takes a step, and launches into a furious double-clutch dunk that rocks the rim. The crowd goes wild.
“I’m tellin’ ya, Chuck,” Miller says.
“The dunk was the absolute antithesis of turrible,” Barkley says.
“The man who took his talents to South Beach, LeBron James!”
LeBron pushes his headband back on his head, palms the ball at midcourt. He slams it into the floor a couple of times, a furious dribble, then trots up easily, underhanding it so that it bounces off the backboard as he leaps from just inside the free throw line. He catches it and windmills it home. The crowd erupts.
“Think I’m ahead here, Reggie,” Barkley says.
The crowd cheers as Blake Griffin takes the floor. On the jumbotron, his dunks over Timofey Mozgov and Kendrick Perkins, as well as his Kia-sponsored over-the-car dunk from 2011, garner more cheers. The world is collectively reminded that Baron Davis is the one who threw the alley-oop through the sunroof. Griffin drives in, 360s and slams it home with both hands. It rivals LeBron’s effort. More cheers.
“The judges will confer, and then the second round after the commercial break.”
Commercial 1: Grant Hill sits in his living room watching TV. He picks up the remote, muting the TV, then looks over to the camera. “Look, assholes, don’t say ‘faggot.’ It makes everyone in the NBA look stupid and backwards, so cut it out, all right?” He turns his attention back to the TV and turns up the volume.
Commercial 2: That weird Rajon Rondo commercial with Primus playing in the background because I can’t make anything up that’s more absurd than that.
Commercial 3: Narrator: “Some of these nerds seem more like offensive gay stereotypes than nerd stereotypes, but hey, this blonde girl is hot! It’s Big Bang Theory, 75 times a day on TBS. TBS: We Possess the Funny.”
“And we’re back,” says Kevin Harlan as the commercial break ends. “The judges have conferred, and we have our first elimination. Jan Vesely.”
“Voted off the island,” Barkley says, shaking his head. Vesely and his girlfriend stand up, adjusting their clothing back into place, as Kenny Smith approaches. Kenny holds the microphone out to Vesely. His girlfriend pushes him aside.
“We had a bet,” the girlfriend says.
“A bet, you say?” Smith says.
“Jan win, I let him take his talents to South Beach tonight.”
“Oh my,” Barkley says.
“For our young viewers out there, I don’t think we need to know what that entails,” Smith says.
“The behind,” the girlfriend says, as Kenny Smith yanks the microphone away.
“Well let’s continue here,” Kenny says, shaking his head. Barkley is doubled over laughing, along with Harlan. Reggie Miller is just confused. “From the scoring of the previous round, we’ll be going with the lowest score first. Time to make up some points, Russ!”
Westbrook casually walks out to the floor, taking the ball. He dribbles down to the corner, then approaches the rim from the side, underhanding the ball off the side of the backboard. He leaps, catching the ball in mid-air, and spins 180 degrees for a reverse jam.
“That’s right, son, that’s right,” Barkley says.
“That should count for three points,” Miller says. “Like the shots I used to make—”
“That one’s going to be tough to top,” Harlan says.
“If anyone can do so, it’s Mr. Lob City himself, Blake Griffin!” Smith steps aside, allowing Blake back to the floor. Blake runs in and stops at the free throw line, pulling up as if for a jumper, putting a lot of backspin on for a self-alley oop off of the bounce. He jumps, grabbing it with his back turned to the basket, and attempts to spin all the way around for a 540 reverse. He does not make it, but the crowd cheers at the audacity of even trying. Blake shakes his head, walking to the sideline.
“If LeBron makes this dunk, it’s Bron-Bron and Russell Westbrook in the final round,” Smith says.
LeBron steps casually in, dribbling the ball to the free throw line, and, like Griffin, backspins the ball for a bounce alley oop. He catches the ball with his left hand, switches to his right between his legs, and windmills it home. The crowd goes wild yet again.
“LeBron and Russ, in the finals, after this!” Harlan says.
Commercial 1: A nightclub scene with flashing lights, slow-motion grinding hotties of all races, and an unknown rapper in an Adidas track suit on the stage. “Rap so hard my rhymes abort a fetus, never gettin’ seen without these new Adidas.” Derrick Rose, off to the side, looks embarrassed to be part of this. “Like Run-DMC had that song ‘My Adidas,’ I can’t think of nothin’ else to rhyme with Adidas. Adi-Zero out.”
Commercial 2: Narrator: “This summer, the show with that one perennially young-looking doctor from ER returns. Produced by Steven Spielberg, Aliens are Scary, Except When They’re Not. TNT: We Know Drama That’s Also Sci-Fi.”
“We’re back for the final round of the Sprite Lemon-Lime Kia Optima Dunking Challenge brought to you by Sprite, Kia, Kia, and Sprite,” says Kevin Harlan as the program resumes. “We’re down to two players, with last year’s champion, Blake Griffin, eliminated in the semi-final round.”
“Guess Kia really don’t have this rigged,” Barkley says, shaking his head.
“Let’s take it back to Kenny for the last two dunks of the night,” Harlan says. “Kenny?”
“All right,” Kenny says. “I think this is gonna be tough. Two young superstars, going head to head. Up first, Russell Westbrook.”
Westbrook trots slowly out to the floor. He receives the ball on a bounce pass and dribbles slowly in to the three point line, then, with a quick burst, covers the space to the rim in two dribbles, before exploding upwards, passing the ball from left hand to right between his legs, spinning in the air, and dunking in reverse, the crowd standing up as one. Westbrook hangs on the rim for a moment, his time to shine, then drops to the floor, eyeing LeBron murderously as he heads back slowly to the sideline.
“Gon’ be tough to beat that one, Reg,” Barkley says.
LeBron is passed the ball at center court. He dribbles, waiting for his announcement.
“Unless this results in a tie, this is the final dunk of the night,” Smith says. “Make it count.”
“I guess we in the fourth quarter of this here dunk contest,” Barkley says.
“I was known to be a clutch shooter in fourth quarters, many of which were depicted in the award-winning documentary—”
“LeBron has not been known to be clutch.”
“Everyone knows that.”
LeBron stops his dribble, palming the ball, and runs in, full speed, long strides. He jumps from well beyond the foul line, beyond Dr. J’s spot, beyond Jordan’s spot. He sails in, ball extended, and slams it home after a seemingly unfathomable amount of time in the air. Microphones cut out as Russell Westbrook swears audibly. Barkley and Miller hold each other back like benchwarmers applauding in-game action. Kenny Smith shakes his head. He says nothing before the final commercial break.
Commercial: Narrator: “Sprite and Kia have united to co-opt this fantastic dunk you’ve just seen.” LeBron sails through the air in slow motion, slamming the ball home. Cut to: Blake Griffin behind the wheel of the Kia Optima, smirking awkwardly, taking a sip of Sprite.
Cheryl Miller stands at center court, holding the dunk trophy. LeBron stands next to her.
“LeBron, on behalf of Sprite and Kia, I’m here to present you with the Sprite-Kia Slam Dunk Challenge trophy. How do you feel in this moment?”
“Good to finally participate, bring this dunk contest back.” LeBron takes the trophy, holding it up. “Not the trophy I’m looking for in the end, but this’ll have to do.”
“It’ll have to do indeed,” Cheryl says.
Cut to Barkley, Miller and Harlan. “So, basically this is what happened, right?” Barkley says. “Instead of no-names, three superstars and one aspiring rookie participated in the dunk contest, used no props, impressed everyone, the crowd was into it, and on top of that, LeBron came through in the clutch and the crowd was really into it.”
“That about sums it up, Chuck,” says Harlan.
“Not turrible. Not. Turrible.”