Kenny Smith’s designation as “coach” to the Clippers’ Blake Griffin for Saturday’s NBA dunk contest at Staples Center (5 p.m., TNT) comes with some trepidation.
“I just have to make sure I don’t mess things up,” the TNT analyst admitted from his home in Tarzana.
During his 10-year NBA career, Smith competed in three mid-season televised dunk exhibitions. The closest that the 6-foot-3 point guard out of the streetball courts of Queens, N.Y. came to winning was coming less than two points away on the judges cards from defeating perennial champ Dominique Wilkins in 1990 (see video above).
The dunk that nearly won it for Smith involved standing at the free-throw line with his back to the rim, bouncing the ball between his legs so that it hit the backboard, turning around, timing a leap to catch the ball off the glass, twisting around and pulling off a reverse slam.
Now, the master meets the rookie.
“I wanted to give him some ideas to see if he could put a new twist on them,” Smith said about meeting already with Griffin. “All of the sudden, we came up with a dunk that’s never been seen before. If he pulls this one off, it’ll put dunking into another stratosphere.”
Without giving anything away, will Griffin’s dunk will be prop-heavy, or just based on his athletic abilities?
“It’s a combination of everything you could imagine,” Smith said. “Absolutely, it’s never been done. Only an incredible athlete like him could fathom even trying it.”
OK, you’ve got our attention.
As for those who think that the wear-and-tear of dunking may cut down on Griffin’s long-term ability to play in the NBA, Smith uses one of his former teammates as example.
“Did it hurt Dominique?” Smith asked, referring to Wilkins’ 26,668 career points (currently 11th in league history) over 15 seasons in the league (including a stint with the Clippers) and not returing until he was 39.
“Dunking isn’t going to hurt him. What it does it force people to watch him and then assess his acutal game. Dunk contests are more about bringing people in to see your game and skill level. You can’t say Blake is just a dunker. When he scored 47 points (last month in a win over Indiana), he only had six dunks. The one thing you have to understand is he’s a very talented player. You don’t make an All-Star game as a rookie just being a dunker. His overall skills outshine his dunks when all is said and done. He has special skills.”
Smith will host two charity events related to All-Star weekend, starting with his ninth annual bash Friday (9 p.m. to 2 a.m.) at the Music Box on Hollywood Blvd. to benefit his charity, The Aim High Foundation. On Saturday (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) he has a fan fest at Paramount Studios on Melrose that includes invited 2,500 kids from various youth groups to live entertainment and clinics.
“Every year, there are so many expensive events during the weekend, and many people can’t get to them all, and some are pretty exclusive, so I want to make sure my friends have a good time,” Smith said.
Smith will be a studio analyst for TNT’s coverage of the Rookie Challenge game (Friday, 6 p.m.) and the NBA All-Star Game (Sunday at 5:30 p.m., starting with a pregame show at 4 p.m.).