“It’s an honor to be in the dunk contest. It’s something you dream about as a little kid.
“No Net has won since The Doctor. Those are big shoes to fill.
“Tonight is bigger than just me. It’s about the borough. Creativity is one of the most important things in the dunk contest. I’m looking at this as a competition. “I’m not just here to have a good time, I’m here to win.”
Those, folks, were the immortal words of Mason Plumlee on Saturday in the video package before he made his entrance. From the rafters, I have to admit I felt a thrill up my wing, hoping the hometown kid would stun a crowd that generally expected the much-hyped Zach LaVine to destroy the competition.
But then our boy jogged out of the tunnel like he was a humble member of the Washington Generals, shirt tucked into his pants, with an obligatory wave to the crowd. The plot was already lost. Cheerleaders in sexified Brooklyn uniforms lined his entrance, gyrating awkwardly to the bizarre death march of “Broooo-klyn.”
Commentator Reggie Miller: “All right Kenny, do you like the entrance here? I mean, does he look like he’s into it?”
Kenny Smith, trying to help out Young Plums: “He’s ready. He’s definitely ready.”
Reggie: “There’s a lot of pressure here when you have to do it in front of the hometown peeps.”
After his non-entrance, Plumlee then tossed the ball to his former Duke teammate, Kyrie Irving, and removed his sweats. Kyrie bounced the ball off the side of the backboard, and Plumlee jumped … but failed to catch it. He then completed a glorified reverse layup off the catch that Reggie called a “squeak dunk.”
Kenny: “Does that count as a dunk right there? Is that actually a dunk or does he get another dunk?”
On the third try, Plumlee put it down with some authority, but any sense of anticipation was gone.
Reggie, on what Mason had shown the judges: “They saw the intent.”
Mind you, at this point I had been getting absolutely wasted in the upper reaches of Barclays for a couple hours now. Sure, the three-point contest was as-advertised, but between the skills competitions, the dance troupes, Ella Henderson — I needed something to take the edge off. Did you really expect any less of old Crums?
But in my stupor, I was struck at how Young Plums’s dunk contest performance was basically a grand metaphor for the first couple years of the Brooklyn Nets. Much like trying to build a franchise and fanbase from scratch, Plumlee was put in the unenviable position of trying to rouse the crowd as the first contestant out of the gate, while saying his performance was “about the borough” that he has represented — but not lived in — for about a year-and-a-half.
But where such circumstances might lend a guy a certain underdog status, Plumlee’s lurching 6-foot-10 frame made his dunking far less impressive than his smaller competitors. Likewise, the Nets’ Russian soon-to-former owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s lavish spending on players upon the team’s arrival in Brooklyn turned the Nets immediately into a pseudo-juggernaut, foregoing any grace period where they could have won over fans as a scrappy upstart.
And where Orlando’s Victor Oladipo lightened the mood by making his entrance in a fedora and tuxedo shirt, singing Sinatra’s “New York, New York” — and the eventual winner, Minnesota’s LaVine, entered to the freaking Quad City DJs (a Crummy favorite) performing the “Space Jam” theme song as he donned a Tune Squad jersey — Plumlee’s entrance had all the measured marketing-consciousness that has come to define the Nets so far. Jay Z’s stamp of approval and the reserved cool of the black-and-white palette are great, but sometimes NBA fans just want to see something goofy, corny, uninhibited. Or just the Quad City DJs.
As for the dunks themselves, Plumlee turned in a workman-like effort. Unlike Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (who thankfully bombed harder than Plums, but gets a pass because he’s still learning English) or Oladipo’s attempt to wow the crowd in the championship round, Plumlee never completely failed to make either of his attempted dunks. But he also never gave the crowd anything to go wild about. Similarly, the Nets have been a middle-of-the-road team in the awful Eastern Conference since arriving in Brooklyn, having too much talent (and money invested in it) to completely tank, but not enough chemistry to ever really throw down with the contenders.
In other words, to cop a line from Reggie, Nets fans “have seen the intent” in building a successful franchise in Brooklyn. It’s the execution that’s still missing. Like I said, I was pretty bombed when these revelations were hitting on Saturday, but it was pretty powerful stuff. After several minutes of staring off into space, I suddenly realized the roof was spinning and went outside to spend some time bent over a storm drain.