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With dunk contest, NBA is grooming Ibaka for stardom



Few events have created more stars than the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest. From its inception at the 1984 NBA All-Star game, many of the league’s marquee moments have occurred as part of this mid-season exhibition. From Julius “Dr. J” Erving’s free-throw line slam and the mano a mano battles between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, to Dwight Howard’s Superman influenced antics, fan favoritism is created during this showcase.

In 2011, two Oklahomans will be part of the event. Blake Griffin, who grew up in Oklahoma City, played for the Sooners, but is not on the Thunder roster — so will, therefore, not be spoken of again in this column — is one of the participants.

Another is the Thunder’s International Man of Mystery, Serge Ibaka.

(Two other guys will be involved, but who cares about them?) For those who have not seen Ibaka play, you are missing out. Whenever he takes the floor, a highlight is only an instant from occurring. Whether it is flying out of nowhere to grab an offensive rebound and flush it back home, or rejecting the shot of an opponent who looked wide-open, the frequency of such events makes me exclaim his name so often that my youngest son’s first word is likely to be “Serge!” On the other hand, a lot of NBA fans are scratching their heads at the inclusion of the 6-foot-10, second-year power forward from the Congo. In fact, many reading the roster saw the funny-named guy from a small-market team and wondered aloud, “Who?” This is actually a very likely reason the powers that be invited Ibaka. Sure, they could have attempted to pressure LeBron James to bring his talents to Los Angeles (site of All-Star Weekend) or cast a retread like 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson to miss 16 more dunks en route to winning his fourth title as the best dunker in the league. The thing is, those guys already have been exposed to the masses. Now, Ibaka is someone they want the general public to meet.

The players generally remembered as slam-dunk champions tend to be superstars. Jordan, Wilkins and Vince Carter were all very popular. When they were being judged on the merits of their artistry in putting the ball through the hoop, however, they were simply young guys with promise. Very rarely does the league showcase a player simply because they are good at dunking the ball. Thunder fans should be happier about this than the fact that they will have someone to cheer on, aside from that Clipper player I said wouldn’t be mentioned again. Ibaka’s presence means he is a player the NBA front offices are grooming for stardom. With Kevin Durant already an MVP candidate and Russell Westbrook developing into one of the most unstoppable guards in the league, Oklahoma City may soon have just as much star power as the Miami Heat.

Matthews is an editor of the local news and entertainment blog

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