No, I’m not such a Neanderthal as to propose a return to the Lew Alcidor Rule (1967 to 1976), in which dunking was banned in college basketball. Alcindor’s remarkable performance during his sophomore year at UCLA suggested to the old white men in authority that this athletic giant and his successors would make a mockery of Mr. Naismith’s game. Those reactionary days are well behind us. To play now without the dunk is unthinkable. 5-4 guards as well as 7-1 centers heed Bill Walton’s command to “throw it down.”
Dunking has become an integral part of the men’s game, an art form, a crowd pleaser, and a team energizer. When coaches insist that their players take high percentage shots, one has to admit there is none better than the dunk. (That is, assuming one isn’t vertically challenged.) Coaches rightly chastise a player for going up with a weak shot in the lane against defensive pressure when a firm dunk would either seal the deal or draw a foul. The dunk, of course, too frequently becomes a spectacle in itself, detached from the game, a highlight in search of the next ESPN Sports Center, as Bob Knight reminds us. But there is no going back to the days when referees hung around the men’s pre-game lay-up drills to enforce the no-dunk rule.
But note that I said, men. Yesterday Candace Parker, the Tennessee Lady Vol’s brilliant all-court player (30 points, 12 rebounds, six blocks, four assists and one steal), dunked in a game at the University of Connecticut. Hers was not a showpiece formality at the concessionary end of a blowout. UConn and Tennessee are national powers and bitter rivals. The dunk came early in the second half with the game very much in play. Tennessee was up 18 at the time but the UConn players seemed to take offense and rallied to within three points before losing 70-64.
It was the sixth time that the 6-4 Parker has dunked during her career. Five or six other women have done it in games over the years, college and pro, but the event is still enough of a novelty that Parker’s dunk drew sports headlines, even above the result of the game. And therein lays the problem. I don’t follow the women’s basketball at all but I do believe that few women in my lifetime will be ever be able to dunk as men do, to make the dunk an integral part of the game rather than a novelty. Thus the risk – that those high school girls and college women who aspire to push the ball over the rim will spend increasing time in practice attempting to do so. They will look for opportunities in games to make the highlight reel. The occasional dunk – however pedestrian – may become the standard of excellence, instead of a well-executed screen and roll, a solid defense play, or a clever bounce pass.
In short, the women’s game will tend increasingly toward the bad features of men’s basketball, with the lack of team play, poor intermediate-range shooting and the substitution of style over substance. Modern women’s basketball always sold itself proudly as being a below-the-rim game, a team sport with solid fundamentals, not a pale imitation of the men’s jump-out-of-the gym version. The dunk-as-spectacle (with the associated rim-hanging, chest bumping and general bad sportsmanship) has become an unfortunate part of the men’s game, even for those of us who love it. From afar, one sees the women’s game moving in that direction. Dunking may be a minor part of the problem. But if I’m correct -- and I defer to those more knowledgeable -- there is still something we can do about it.
So my suggestion to the powers-that-be in the NCAA: ban the dunk in women’s basketball. Call it the Candace Parker rule.