Webb clings to wings of success
DALLAS -- Spud Webb didn't last a dozen years in the NBA because of his dunking ability. But that's definitely what people remember best about him.
How could you forget a 5-foot-7 rookie pulling off a high-flying upset in a slam dunk contest held in his hometown?
That's what Webb did in 1986, when the Reunion Arena crowd rallied behind the kid from Wilmer-Hutchins High. Webb, who was blessed with a 42-inch vertical leap but didn't have hands large enough to palm the ball, showed off a surprising repertoire of slams. He sealed the victory over Atlanta Hawks teammate Dominique Wilkins by lobbing the ball off the hardwood, catching it high over the rim and throwing down a reverse dunk.
"I was like, 'Spud, where'd that come from?'" Wilkins, aka the Human Highlight Film, said at the time.
There was good reason Wilkins didn't know Webb had such a dunking arsenal. Webb said he didn't practice his show dunks before the contest. He just pulled out some of his old tricks from the playgrounds and rec centers in the Highland Hills neighborhood of Oak Cliff.
"I was so busy trying to make the team and learn how to play," said Webb, who will be one of the judges at Saturday's dunk contest at American Airlines Center. "I didn't practice [dunking]. Then, like a week before that, I hurt my ankle. So I thought about practicing, but my ankle was messed up. And the night before the dunk contest, I had to fly to L.A. to do Johnny Carson's show. I didn't have time to practice."
Doc Rivers, another Atlanta teammate, told Webb that the dunk contest would stick with him for the rest of his life. Rivers was right, but Webb didn't want to be defined by dunking.
"You just want to be known as a basketball player," said Webb, who also participated in the '88 and '89 contests. "You just don't play 12 years in the NBA just being about sideshow slam dunks.
"You can't go a day without someone wanting to talk to you about it. It had to grow on me, because I just want to play basketball."
It's that passion for the game that made Donnie Nelson, the Dallas Mavericks' president of basketball operations, think of Webb after becoming the co-owner of a D-League franchise that will begin play in the Dallas suburb of Frisco next season.
Nelson, who wanted people with close ties to the local basketball scene, called Webb and asked whether he'd be interested in working for the franchise. Webb expressed interest in a front-office role and was given the same title Nelson holds for the Mavs.
Spud Webb's five favorite dunkers:
"His dunks were so powerful. We'd see them in games [on opponents] and try to do them by ourselves. People didn't appreciate just how powerful his dunks were."
"You just don't do those type of dunks he does. It's sick. You need to watch it again on TV to explain those kinds of dunks. It's crazy."
"Dr. J was doing the dunks that all of us did and made them look real easy because his hands were so big. I wish I could palm the ball like that."
"Michael was just so graceful. You look at him and just think, that's a basketball player."
"Underrated. He was just so low-key that people didn't really recognize the dunks that he put on."
"When you're 5-7 and lock horns for that long with the world's best and biggest, you've got to learn every little shortcut, nuance and angle to survive," said Nelson, who gave Webb final authority for all personnel decisions. "He really knows the game. We're absolutely amazingly lucky to have him."
Webb, 46, didn't need the job. He lives comfortably in Addison, having wisely invested the millions he made in the NBA, spending many days on the golf course. He's excited about the new challenge, though.
Webb frequently travels to Austin and Hidalgo, Texas, to see how the D-League teams there operate. He went to the league's showcase in Boise, Idaho, to evaluate players and talk to coaches and front-office executives from other teams.
If coach Nancy Lieberman wants Webb's help during practices, all she'll have to do is ask. Just don't expect Webb to do anything above the rim.
"I wouldn't even try anymore," said Webb, who last dunked four or five years ago on his backyard court. "There isn't enough money out there for me to try."