When Corbin Smith first saw this week’s dunk, an atrocity exhibition, he was troubled and shaken to his core. He takes very little pleasure in sharing it with you.
Joy Division's 1980 masterpiece "Closer" begins with the band's most nightmarish depiction of human suffering, the six minute long torture chamber opus "Atrocity Exhibition." Ian Curtis, seeming to croon from the afterlife, the album having been released several months after his suicide at the age of 23, describes a journey through a torture chamber run by some sadistic wealthy man, marked by the refrain that draws the listener deeper and deeper into the chamber.
This is the way, step inside.
When I first saw this week's dunk, in a mostly decent and moral compilation of dunks the NBA put together for the edification of humanity, I was troubled and shaken to my core. I thought about burying it deep in the ocean, making sure no one ever saw it again. But that is not my responsibility. As the author of the VICE Sports Dunk of the Week Column it is my moral duty to bring you The Dunk of the Week even if it is a horrible abomination. Even if I take very little pleasure in doing so.
This is the way. Step inside.
Asylums with doors open wide,
Where people had paid to see inside,
For entertainment they watch his body twist
Behind his eyes he says, "I still exist."
Watch as Danny Green, a three point shooting cog on the Spurs, an NBA player who is a Gregg Popovich dream manifested into the real world, striving in this, his 30th year on earth and his 9th year in the NBA, to break out of the prison of success and glory he's been gifted in all these years with San Antonio, to become, for even one second, more than a basketball machine, to become, for one fleeting moment, an off-the-dribble dunker.
But the vibe is all off, unnerved instead of liberated. Danny's goatee floats down the court, he raises in the air, and does a TWIST off the rim all in one motion, no stutters, no energy, no explosion. A dunk as crisp and iron as the man's three-point shot, bloodless, a soul trying to break out of a body and failing. A chill runs down the spine of the world.
In arenas he kills for a prize,
Wins a minute to add to his life.
But the sickness is drowned by cries for more,
Pray to God, make it quick, watch him fall.
See Danny knock down Steph Curry on his drive to the rim. No remorse, no consequence, no passion. Steph's role in the Dubs defense is often to guard off-ball shooters, save his energy for offense, protect him from fouls, and keep opposing point guards from wreaking havoc under the longer, more watchful eye of Klay Thompson and the like. Here he is, the biggest star in the NBA, taking a flop on one of his spot up assignments, and yet the world does not squeal, in either pleasure or horror. Even this rare and theoretically exciting play—a superstar getting owned on a dribble drive by a role player—is rendered in muted colors amongst the soulless machinations of the Spurs.
Danny can find no pleasure, no freedom in basketball or basketball-esque actions. Even as he tries to escape, tries to dunk his way back to being what was once the Danny Green he knew, his consciousness slips deeper and deeper into the grey puddle.
You'll see the horrors of a faraway place,
Meet the architects of law face to face.
See mass murder on a scale you've never seen,
And all the ones who try hard to succeed.
Does it even hurt, KD, to get dunked on by a puppet striving for one second of purity and freedom, a random fluctuation in the machine? Danny Green dunking like this is a mistake. A rogue act of what remains of his deeper nature trying to crawl out of the robot's body and soul installed in him at San Antonio, an airborne computer virus, a northern hemisphere tornado of the soul, spinning counter clockwise. Is he ashamed, or simply in awe of nature acting up?
And I picked on the whims of a thousand or more,
Still pursuing the path that's been buried for years,
All the dead wood from jungles and cities on fire,
Can't replace or relate, can't release or repair,
Take my hand and I'll show you what was and will be.
But, really, the most truly upsetting part of all this, is the twist move. Danny Green seeks humanity in style, and finds none. Take another dunk that happened this week, Jarrett Jack dishing to Porzingis, who throws one down over some weak contact from the Suns. Jack clumsily augments his pass with an awkward little spin move, the kind of shit he probably saw Chris Paul do in New Orleans, a rank role player backup guard shittily appropriating the steez of the beautiful ones to try, for even one second, to be included in their ranks. It is a failure. His rhythm is one second off, Phoenix's defense is so inept as to invite the dunk itself, Jack simply reaches for true style and fails, an act of hubris that makes the viewer pity him and his small ambitions.
But what happens here, Green flipping off the rim, is so much more terrifying, unnerving, upsetting. He manages the spin flip perfectly, with such unnerving precision as to suggest a man whose singular consciousness has been totally consumed by the Spurs collective. His striving in this moment, his aping of entertainment for entertainment's sake, does not embarrass the viewer as Jack's does, it simply confirms that, even when he reaches for it, the showmanship that marks the basketball of a younger man's game is no longer there, killed dead by Pop's ambition.
The forested heart of his youth has been burned away, replaced by a million grey roads, all lined with statues of Tim Duncan. It's all been strip-mined by Pop, all that's left is the mechanics of fun, an outline you can see only vaguely, as you squint as hard as you can at yet another act of supreme efficiency from the tire that makes the SpursMobile go. This dunk is, simply, a warning shot in the War on Dunks. It's purpose is clear and unmistakable.
This is the way. Step inside.