Of Desert Dunking and Horseplay


Left to the devices of fan text voting, Lex Luthor — TNT’s on-air moniker for Nate Robinson — tugged on Superman’s cape in the Sprite Slam Dunk Championship in Phoenix Saturday night.

Do you really believe Robinson outperformed the defending champion Dwight Howard?

It definitely says no here.

Now Nate, adorned in his kryptonite green Knicks jersey and sneakers, certainly improved upon the title he brought home in 2006, when it took him about a million tries to complete his finale dunk that fleeced Philly’s Andre Iguodala of the crown he should have worn.

Robinson’s small stature, he’s somewhere between 5′6 to 5′9, makes him the choice of the everyman. But unlike land-locked mortals, KryptoNate has incredible leaping ability and even stepped on teammate Wilson Chandler’s back for one slam. He also pushed himself off Howard’s shoulder to leapfrog over the Orlando center’s head on the flush, with a green ball, that probably earned him the Sprite laurels.
But Howard’s props were better, not to mention his slams. C’mon! He came out of a phone immersed in smoke wearing his superman cape, after the U.S. Airways Center maintenance man rolled out a 12-foot rim for him on a forklift…With injured teammate Jameer Nelson bouncing the ball off the board, Howard slammed easily with two hands.

Later in an homage to Dr. J, MJ and Brett Barry before him, Howard hovered from inside the foul line, cupped the ball momentarily with two hands, before throwing down a vicious one-hander. Something about being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…

But Howard’s best effort — and the top dunk of the night — was his carom off the right side of the backboard and the bring-it-back-past-his-shoulder-windup-with-authority flush into the cup. Fluid, ferocious and absolutely ridiculous.

So, was Rudy Fernandez, who gave new meaning to the term reverse. The Blazer rookie, who famously dunked over Howard during the gold medal game in Beijing, took a pass from Laker and fellow Spaniard Pau Gasol from behind the backboard and then emerged from under the basket to yam it with his right hand.

Unfortunately, it came on the 10th or 11th attempt. Fernandez, from this perch, had the third best finish of the night.

TNT, of course, could be sitting on an even better finale and Nielsens with NBA All-Star Saturday Night from Jerry Jones’s new palace for the Dallas Cowboys next year.

As Kenny Smith, Reggie Miller and Kevin Harlan wondered aloud about Howard being able to surmount the 12-foot mountain, the Jet got the scoop: LeBron James said he would be levitating in the competition next year.

As for the initial GEICO H-O-R-S-E competition on Saturday afternoon, Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, who won the MVP in the sophomore-rookie game on Friday night with 46 points, made it double.

After going down G-E-I-C, Durant finally found the range, including a heave from just inside the stands on an outdoor court at the NBA Experience. He took the measure of Memphis O.J. Mayo and Atlanta’s Joe Johnson.

Kudos to TNT’s ad sales team for successfully and tactfully integrating the letters GEICO into the on-air scorecard that identified the players and indicated how close they were to elimination.

But a significant product placement opportunity was missed and I’m afraid its going to leave a permanent scar. In keeping with the light-hearted spirit of the event, Durant’s deed was rewarded with a plastic horse inside a box that corralled the insurance company’s name.

As Durant held his trophy aloft in triumph, it would have been far more meaningful, at least to this watcher, if the cameras could have zoomed in and depicted a the Geico Gekko — perhaps sporting a cowboy hat, or at least a basketball jersey — astride the plastic pony.