This past Saturday night, the Bucks played the Knicks in New York. And this was not something that I was all the way interested in or excited for, until all of a sudden I extremely was. Five minutes into the first quarter, Mario Hezonja stole a pass intended for Khris Middleton. (This was something I found to be mildly upsetting, because Khris Middleton has been shooting the ball very well this season and I like him so I want to him shoot as often as possible.) When Hezonja got the ball, he Hezonja’d his way down the court, angling toward the rim. And right as he got there, he gave Middleton just enough of a shoulder bump to prevent him from trying to jump to block whatever was about to come next, and everything looked exactly right.
The move worked, and Hezonja jumped up to dunk it. What he’d not noticed, though—but what all-caps EVERYONE else had noticed—was that Giannis Antetokounmpo had zeroed in on him from behind the play, sprinting all the way up to try to block the dunk. And so when Hezonja jumped, so too did Giannis, and it looked like it was going to be another wonderful and impressive clip in Giannis’s already wonderful and impressive career highlight reel. Hezonja was going to jump, Giannis was going to jump, Hezonja was going to reach the ball out to dunk, and Giannis was going to smack it down Pennsylvania Plaza.
That’s not what happened, though. Instead, Hezonja had just enough room to get the dunk in, and so he dunked it. And that’s where things got interesting. Because the dunk itself was nothing too special. But because Giannis had come running up so fast from behind the play, his balance was slightly off when he reached out to try to block the ball. So he fell down, and Hezonja saw that he fell down, and Hezonja insta-computed all of the parts of all of the pieces of the play, and he decided to, on his return up the court, step over Giannis as Giannis readied himself to get up off the floor. And that’s when everyone lost their shit. Because intentionally stepping over someone, which is absolutely what Hezonja did here, is a top-level sign of basketball disrespect. It’s been that way for the better part of nearly two decades, since back when Allen Iverson did it to Tyronn Lue’s bones at the end of Game 1 of the 2001 Finals. Here’s the Hezonja play:
(For the record, Scottie Pippen famously did the stepover thing before Iverson, as have a handful of others in NBA history, but Iverson’s remains the most iconic because, in addition to the stakes of the game, it was the first one that felt like a purposeful move that was an extension of a player’s personality and general ideology. It is, in all manners and all ways, too perfect to ever be usurped. It’s better than the time Dwyane Wade stepped over Anderson Varejão, and it’s better than the time Jeff Green stepped over Jason Maxiell, and it’s better than the time DeAndre Jordan stepped over Brandon Knight, and it’s better than the time Dwyane Wade stepped over Tayshaun Prince, etc.)
At any rate, that dunk-to-stepover happened, and I immediately thought, “OK it’s time for the first installment of this season’s Disrespectful Dunk Index,” which is a recurring column that we’ve been running here for the past three years. The way it works is we look at a handful of big dunks that have happened to that point in the season then run them through our grading rubric and figure out exactly how disrespectful each dunk is. (The first installment has always been during a one-week window from the end of November to the beginning of December.) Here is a recap of the categories measured to score each dunk, along with an example score for the Hezonja dunk:
- Category 1 — How difficult and/or impressive was the dunk? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 20. The harder a dunk is that a dunker tries to pull off, the more disrespectful it is. In the case of the Hezonja dunk, it was mostly a routine or traditional move—he legit just jumped up and dunked it; he had no idea he was going to be dunking it on someone—so it scores low here. 10/20.
- Category 2 — What did the dunker do immediately after the dunk? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 20. The bigger a dunker’s post-dunk celebration is, the more disrespectful it is. (Note that sometimes there’s an anti-reaction: After a player has just made some miraculous or incredible play, he purposely stays blank-faced. That scores highly here too.) With Hezonja, he gets points for staring at Giannis for a second, and he gets points for stepping over Giannis, and he gets points for egging the crowd on as he ran back up the court. HOWEVER, he loses points for wearing a shirt under his jersey, which isn’t an actual and technical violation but I’m making a judgment call here. 13/20.
- Category 3 — How hard did the defender try to stop it? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 20. If a player tries with all of his might to stop a dunk and still gets yammed on, then it’s a high score. If he ducks out of the way right before the dunk, then it’s a low score. This one’s tricky because Giannis definitely tried hard to stop it, but he tried hard chasing him down from the back, which is way different than if he’d been under the rim waiting for Hezonja and tried to stop him with that same force. Let’s go with 15/20 just to be fair.
- Category 4 — Is there a backstory between the dunker and the dunkee? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 15. Backstories always make everything better, so the more intricate and involved the backstory is, the higher the score here. There’s no legit or deadly backstory between Hezonja and Giannis, but it still scores high here because it activates the back end of Category 4, and what I mean is that this is a dunk that creates an instant connection between the two players. After the game was over, reporters asked Giannis how he felt about Hezonja stepping over him, and Giannis responded that he didn’t like it, and that if he tried it again he’d punch Hezonja in the genitals. And more stuff has happened since then, but the easiest way to summarize it is: The next game between the Bucks and the Knicks (ON CHRISTMAS DAY!) is already now a must-see game. And that’s because of the dunk. It insta-created a backstory. 12/15.
- Category 5 — Did the ball go straight through the rim or did it rattle around a little? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 5. If the ball swishes straight through the rim, it’s a perfect score. If it doesn’t, then it’s not. Art is important. Hezonja’s dunk was a clean dunk, so he gets the full score here. 5/5.
- Category 6 — How did everyone who was not directly involved in the dunk react? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 20. Similar to Category 2, the bigger and wilder the response from everyone else — the other players, the crowd, the announcers, etc. — the higher the score. (Unlike Category 2, however, an anti-reaction from the other players, crowd, announcers, etc., does not lead to a higher score.) This is how you know it wasn’t that big of a dunk, because the New York crowd—which has been desperate for a good basketball thing to happen in front of them for, fucking, like two decades now—didn’t explode. They got loud, yes, but they didn’t explode, which is a hard thing to define but an easy thing to point out. The Knicks bench was also not altogether in hysterics. Neither were any of the players on the court (the only one who really did anything was Enes Kanter, who waved his arms around a bit). 12/20.
So, neat as it was to watch Hezonja do the stepover move on Giannis, and thankful as we can all be that the next Knicks-Bucks game is going to be 600 percent more intense, his dunk on Giannis gets a disrespectful score of 67 out of 100. Let’s do four more.
That’s Miles Bridges turning Dewayne Dedmon into a bowl of menudo.
Category 1—Difficulty/impressiveness: Here’s a screenshot of Miles Bridges mid-dunk:
See the shape that his body is making? Here, I’ll highlight it for you with a red line:
That’s a beautiful shape. It’s like the edge of a waxing crescent moon. It’s a thing that very good dunkers do because (a) it looks extremely cool, and (b) it makes the dunk harder to block, because they’ve both moved the ball farther back and also have generated way more force to push it past a defender’s block attempt. (This is why Bridges falls after the dunk. He’s anticipating that Dedmon is going to at least make a little bit of contact with the ball, so Bridges cocks it back extra far and smashes it forward extra hard. Since Dedmon isn’t able to get up where Bridges gets up, Bridges is thrown off-balance, like when you go to open a door that you think is very heavy and so you push it real hard but it turns out the door is light and you end up just whipping it open like an idiot.) If a player does the waxing crescent thing on a dunk, it automatically turns into a top-level kind of showing. Big score here for Bridges. 16/20.
Category 2—Dunker’s reaction: You get a decent little flex from Bridges, which is always appreciated, but more importantly he gives you the I’m Revving the Motorcycle celebration as he bounces back down the court, and of course that’s notable here because it’s one of Vince Carter’s signature dunk celebrations, and Vince Carter plays for the opposing team. (This, clearly, is not a disrespectful lift of the move. Bridges has been on the record about hoping to imitate Vince Carter’s dunking ability since he was in high school. Choosing to do Vince’s celebration while Vince is in the building is his version of that scene in The Godfather when Bonasera kisses Don Corleone’s ring.) 13/20.
Category 3—Defense: Dewayne Dedmon tried. Dewayne Dedmon died. 11/20.
Category 4—Backstory: This is unfair to Dedmon, but: One of my very favorite basketball things is watching someone who used to play for my beloved Spurs get done up somewhere else after he leaves the Spurs. (The A1 example is when Antonio Daniels, a semi-phenomenon when he played in San Antonio because he was young and handsome and visited many nightclubs in town, got double-crossed up by Allen Iverson in 2006.) Dedmon had the chance to pick up his player option at the end of his contract with the Spurs during the summer of 2017 but opted not to. And so, because of that, I’m going to give Bridges a big score here even though technically he shouldn’t get one. 16/20.
Category 5—Cleanliness of the dunk: I love when the net comes splashing all the way up through the rim. It’s pretty. 5/5.
Category 6—Reaction of those not directly involved with the dunk: It’s the one announcer who says, “Uh oh,” to himself as Bridges is rising up that really lets you know that this dunk is real anarchy. There’s a scene late in Goodfellas where Joe Pesci’s character, a very violent hothead named Tommy DeVito, walks into a room because he thinks he’s there to become a made man. He’s all dressed up in his best suit and he’s very proud. It’s just a great, great moment for him as he’s walking in. As soon as he gets in there, though, he sees that it’s empty. He says, “Oh no,” and then blammo! A gunshot to the back of the head. That’s what this dunk is, in a manner of speaking. And of course you get this wonderful shot of Kemba Walker on the bench reacting to it:
Because Kemba knows what I’m going to tell you right now: It wasn’t a waxing crescent move that Bridges was doing. He was shitting on a dude; that’s what he was doing. 16/20
(Clearly this is a joke. Dedmon is a doll and I like him a lot.)
Total: The Miles Bridges dunk on Dewayne Dedmon was 77 percent disrespectful to Dedmon.
I’m going to cheat here. Vince Carter is the greatest dunker in the history of professional basketball. (I wrote an entire chapter about this exact thing last year in Basketball (And Other Things).) And, because the universe is sometimes a very beautiful and poetic place, Vince Carter scored his 25,000th point in the NBA on a dunk at the end of a game in November. And so, because I like Vince Carter and appreciate his place in history, I’m going to retrofit this section to celebrate him. Rather than it being a Disrespectful Dunk Index, it is, for this one time only, going to be a Respectful Dunk Index. And he’s going to score a greater-than-the-maximum score in every category. Thank you.
Category 1—Difficulty/impressiveness: 25/20.
Category 2—Dunker’s reaction: 25/20. (This was actually really sweet. He shot a jumper in hopes of hitting 25,000 points, missed it, received a pass after an offensive rebound, jumped up and two-hand dunked it in, then caught the ball on the bounce afterward and held it up to his face, clearly absorbing all of the parts of the moment. It was genuinely wonderful, and it was cool to watch the rest of the league vibrate with celebrations for him and congratulations to him. Only 25 other players in the near 70-year history of the NBA have ever scored more than 25,000 points.)
Category 3—Defense: 25/20.
Category 4—Backstory: 25/20.
Category 5—Cleanliness of the dunk: 25/20.
Category 6—Reaction of those not directly involved with the dunk: 25/20.
Total: The Vince Carter dunk on Vince Carter was 150 percent respectful to Carter.
That’s Boban Marjanovic turning the rim into an unusable piece of orange iron.
(That’s a joke, but it’s one of those true jokes. Boban dropped enough of his weight onto the rim during the dunk that he altered it, causing an in-game delay while arena officials tended to it. He did a similar thing a few years ago when he was playing with the Spurs’ G League team. He’s a terror.)
Category 1—Difficulty/impressiveness: There are two ways to look at this. The first way is to say, “Well, of course he dunked it with his feet still on the floor. He’s a million feet tall. It wasn’t hard for him. It was, in fact, the easiest thing for him.” The second way is to say, “HE FUCKING DUNKED IT WHILE HIS FEET WERE STILL ON THE GROUND! I DON’T CARE IF IT WAS EASY FOR HIM! IT’S STILL IMPRESSIVE, SAME AS IT’S IMPRESSIVE TO WATCH MARIAH CAREY SING OR TO WATCH A SWORD SWALLOWER SWALLOW A SWORD!” I’m going with the second option. Let’s go with 17/20, if for no other reason than because the infrequency of this kind of thing happening implies that it’s difficult to do during a game.
Category 2—Dunker’s reaction: This is Boban right after he’s dunked it:
- This is a perfect reaction for someone who has just dunked it during a professional basketball game without really jumping. It looks like he’s saying, “Wait. Are my feet still on the floor right now? Son of a bitch,” after realizing that his feet are still on the floor. I love Boban so much.
- I can’t get over this. I’ll never get over it. I watched Yao Ming do something similar several years ago during warm-ups when I was at a game in Houston and I still think about it every day. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t care how tall a person is, THIS DOES NOT MAKE ANY SENSE. I don’t know how it’d happen, or why it’d happen, but he should be a billionaire for this.
Category 3—Defense: Who fucking cares? You’re looking at a miracle. Nobody was sitting there after Jesus walked across water like, “OK, sure. But can he do it against a tougher defense?” 15/20.
Category 4—Backstory: Here’s your backstory: Boban Marjanovic was born in 1988, and then HE FUCKING DUNKED IT DURING AN NBA GAME WHILE HIS FEET WERE STILL ON THE FLOOR IN 2018. 11/15.
Category 5—Cleanliness of the dunk: 5/5.
Category 6—Reaction of those not directly involved with the dunk: I guess the only reaction here that matters is the reaction of the people working at the arena who realized that Boban had wrecked one of their rims. 18/20.
Total: The Boban Marjanovic dunk was 76 percent disrespectful to the rim, and to the general physics and measurements of the game of basketball.
That’s Cody Zeller turning Aaron Gordon into a plate of pasta.
Category 1—Difficulty/impressiveness: Make no mistake about it, Cody is a big-game hunter at the rim. The first time I saw this quality in him in real time was a game between the Spurs and the Hornets last year when Cody dunked it from the dotted line on a fast break. He’d gone the whole game chipping people on screens on the perimeter and banging around in the paint in the most invisible way possible. But once he got an opening to attack the rim (he’d stolen an errant pass during a full-court press and then sprinted down the floor toward Charlotte’s side of the court), it was like he fucking insta-morphed into a serial killer. Here’s a shot of him during that dunk:
My favorite part of the play was that Kyle Anderson was absolutely in a position to challenge Zeller, but was like, “Oh, nah. You got it, bro,” and just slid off to the side and pretended to reach for him the same way someone who doesn’t really want to pay the bill reaches for it at the end of dinner.
The dunk Cody had against the Spurs was the same kind of dunk that he had against the Magic, in that he was able to get a running start before taking off, which is when he is truly at his most dangerous (as opposed to, say, someone like Boban, who could dunk your eyeballs down the back of your throat from a standstill). Cody set a screen for Nic Batum out at the 3-point line, then shot off at the rim, knowing (a) that Batum was going to hit him with a pass in stride, and (b) that it was dinner time and there were a whole bunch of gazelle grazing in the lane. Here he is at the point of attack:
It’s beautiful. It’s a big, big dunk. 15/20.
Category 2—Dunker’s reaction: There are two things that need to be pointed out here. (1) Cody lets out a small yell as he dunks it. I can’t tell if it’s a joyful thing, or if it’s a functional thing, like how weight lifters yell when they’re trying to pick up a very large amount of weight. Either way, it’s wonderful. It’s like watching a lion cub roar for the first time, except this lion cub is a 7-foot-tall white man from Indiana. (2) Cody walks away from this dunk like a farmer walking back toward his house after he’s just finished plowing a field. It’s his signature celebration move. I love it. Strong score for Cody here. 16/20
Category 3—Defense: Aaron Gordon, for as much of a leaper as he is, mostly only uses his jumping ability as a weapon on offense. (He’s averaging less than a block per game this season.) So he’s less of a threat in this situation and more of just a guy who’s in the way. And Mo Bamba, who gets pulled into the play by accident, makes no real attempt to slow down Cody. Middle-of-the-road score here. 10/20.
Category 4—Backstory: Aaron Gordon and Cody Zeller are not tethered together in any real sort of discernible or substantial way, and this was also not a dunk like Hezonja’s dunk on Giannis where it immediately created bad blood. Maybe we can drum up some kind of controversy about how Zeller was trying to prove right here that he’s the better no. 4 draft pick? (Zeller was picked fourth in the 2013 draft; Gordon was picked fourth in the 2014 draft.) 3/15
Category 5—Cleanliness of the dunk: No rim. 5/5.
Category 6—Reaction of those not directly involved with the dunk: The thing of it is, this is a road game, yes, and the crowd reaction is typically less raucous for an opposing player’s dunk, but it’s also a road game IN ORLANDO, and so any noise at all has got to be considered a net win for the dunker. Plus, it happens on Charlotte’s side of the floor, which means we get to see their bench respond, and that’s always good. And plus-plus, we get a wonderful EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE from Kemba, which is also very good. (An EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE is one where a player dunks it with so much force that it causes another player on the court to bounce around or hop around, like what happens to stuff during a big earthquake.) 14/20.
Total: The Cody Zeller dunk on Aaron Gordon was 63 percent disrespectful to Gordon.