There’s not a delicate way to say this, and also there’s a very good chance that this was not even a thing at all, and honestly I feel silly even bringing it up, but: During the fourth quarter of an early February game between the Wizards and the Bucks, Eric Bledsoe dunked on Trevor Ariza and then, for just a tiny moment and in the briefest of ways, appeared to pretend to masturbate while he hung on the rim.
What happened was: Giannis Antetokounmpo was at the line shooting his second free throw. Bledsoe was milling around just outside the 3-point line the way most point guards do during free throws. Just as Giannis let go of the ball, Bledsoe, whose Spidey sense told him that Giannis was going to miss the shot, came sprinting into the lane. The ball bounced off the front of the rim, then hit the back of the rim, then bounced out, and right as all of that was happening, Bledsoe gathered his momentum and sprung up into the sky. Two other people jumped for the ball, but Bledsoe outmuscled them, grabbed the ball, then thunderdunked it home.
He hung on the rim with his left hand and then, as the crowd cheered him, turned the basketball game into the shortest burlesque show. Here’s a GIF of the play. Watch closely, because it happens very quickly:
And again, listen—LISTEN—I don’t figure that pretending to masturbate is really what Bledsoe was doing here, but it’s juuuuuust close enough that I also can’t eliminate it as a possibility entirely. And so if we’re talking about how we now live in a world where The Eric Bledsoe Masturbation Celebration is a real thing that happens after dunks … well … then I guess let me just say: I am glad to be alive in America in 2019, and I will gladly and proudly pay homage to Eric Bledsoe, our new king.
Let’s use this as a springboard into Part 2 of this season’s Disrespectful Dunk Index. As always, here is a rundown of the criteria used to score each of the dunks chosen, along with an example score for the Bledsoe 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. With regard to the Bledsoe dunk, timing it just right so that you slam back a missed free throw is an exceptionally hard thing to do, which you know has to be true because it happens so rarely. That being the case, let’s go with a 15/20 for the score. It’d have been higher if there were bigger guys in the lane fighting for the rebound. As it were, though, Trevor Ariza was the only Wizard who was interested in trying to get the rebound, which is a pretty good indicator of how their season has gone thus far.
- 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.) And since there’s nobody here to really check us on this, let’s pretend like we know for certain that the Masturbation Celebration was what was happening, meaning he gets 18 of the possible 20 points here. (He’d have gotten the full amount if he’d have confirmed that that was what he was doing.)
- Category 3 — How hard did the defender(s) 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. For the Bledsoe dunk, poor Trevor had no idea what was coming. He wasn’t trying to stop it from happening; he just happened to be in the way as it was happening. Low score here. 5/20.
- 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. And while there’s no real Ariza-Bledsoe rivalry, there is a Wizards-Bucks rivalry, which is good enough to get an almost halfway score here. 7/15.
- 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. Bledsoe’s dunk gets a 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.) For the Bledsoe dunk, the crowd was loud, but mostly that was because they had just been in the middle of an MVP chant for Giannis when the dunk happened in the fourth quarter (Giannis had 43 points on 21 shots that night, which is bonkers), so they were already good and worked up. And beyond them, nobody else really did anything. Moderate score here. 10/20.
Tally up all those numbers, and Eric Bledsoe’s dunk on Trevor Ariza was 60 percent disrespectful to Ariza. Let’s do four more.
That’s Dennis Smith Jr. asking Julius Randle whether he’s happy in this modern world.
Category 1—Difficulty/impressiveness: Julius Randle is 6-foot-9 and weighs about 250 pounds. Dennis Smith Jr. is about 7 inches shorter and 50-plus pounds lighter. So that’s one way that this dunk is hard. Also, Smith took off from just inside the dashed arc in front of the free throw line, which is both wild and wildly difficult, so that’s another way this dunk is hard. Also, Smith cocked it back, and I don’t know whether that makes a dunk harder than if you don’t cock it back, but I do know that it makes it more ferocious, and being more ferocious is always the same as being more impressive, so there’s that part to consider here, too. And lastly, Dennis is already a known Dunk Murderer, and being a known Dunk Murderer is no different than being, say, a known Long-Range Murderer in that defenses are always actively trying to stop you from doing the thing that you’re the best at. Strong start for Smith here. 17/20.
Category 2—Dunker’s reaction: We get a scowl, and a muscle flex, and a staredown of the Pelicans bench, and it all gets multiplied by five because it ended up being an and-1 dunk. On any other day, this would’ve been an easy 15/20, possibly even a 16/20. But right now it’s following the Masturbation Celebration, and the brightness of that moment makes everything else just a little bit grayer and a little bit dimmer. 13/20.
Category 3—Defense: Julius tried. He really, really tried. And then he died. He really, really died. Let’s go with 14/20.
Category 4—Backstory: There are two versions of a backstory here, one of which makes sense and the other of which is a stretch. The one that’s a stretch is: Dennis Smith Jr. already knew that he was likely on his way out of Dallas by the time this game happened in late December. And he was angry about it. And he knew that Julius Randle was born in Dallas. And so Julius Randle had to pay for the sins of his home city. The one that makes sense is: Just a couple of minutes earlier in the quarter, Smith had gone up for a mega dunk but got blocked by Anthony Davis. On top of that, the play sprung a fast break the other way that ended in an and-1 dunk for Solomon Hill. Smith, as fearless a paint aggressor as there is, went big-game hunting again in response. And this time he collected his trophy. 10/15.
Category 5—Cleanliness: Touches the back of the rim but not enough to remove any points from the score. 5/5.
Category 6—Reaction of those not directly involved with the dunk: The two announcers do a great job as a team here. You need one person to relay the excitement and the energy of what’s just been seen (in this case, it’d be Mark Followill yelling loudly as Dennis starts his attack, “HERE COMES DENNIS SMITH JR. CUTTING! OH!”) and you need one person to relay the preposterousness of what’s just been seen (in this case, it’s Derek Harper who giggles to himself and then says, “Oooooh weeeeeee”). It’s an exactly perfect announcer combination. And so you take that and then add to it the sound that the away crowd makes for Smith (it’s the same sound a group of friends make when they’ve just seen someone they know get fucking rocked in a fight), and then you also add in the part when Randle accidentally slaps the ball away after the dunk (it looks like he’s saying, “Man, fuck this ball!”) and you end up with a strong Category 6 score. 16/20.
Total: The Dennis Smith Jr. dunk on Julius Randle was 75 percent disrespectful to Randle.
That’s Lauri Markkanen reminding Nikola Vucevic that it’s hard keeping it so hardcore.
Category 1—Difficulty/impressiveness: Lauri is a 7-footer and he received the ball out past the 3-point line and then attacked the rim, and I am very happy that 7-footers catching the ball out there and then charging into the paint to dunk it is a thing that happens often in today’s NBA. I remember when a center ending up with the ball that far from the rim meant only that something had gone terribly, terribly, terribly wrong. Seeing a center with the ball 23 feet from the rim in 1996 was like walking into a Home Depot and seeing a baby trying to eat a lawn mower, in that you didn’t exactly know how it was going to end but you knew it was going to be something you’d be talking about the next day at work. 13/20.
Category 2—Dunker’s reaction: Lauri dunks it and then yells and stares down Vucevic for literally less than a second before he’s hit with a technical foul for taunting. That, to me, seems unfair. Were I allowed to institute any two rule changes in the NBA right now, the first would be to eliminate all anti-taunting penalties. I love taunting. It is, without question, one of the best parts of basketball. I might even go so far as to say that players are required to taunt following big plays, and if they don’t then that’s when they should get penalized. That’s my vote. (The second rule change I’d institute, by the way, is that all teams are allowed twice a season to bash one opposing player over the head with one of those aluminum trash cans they use in pro wrestling if said opposing player is having a big game against them.) 10/20.
Category 3—Defense: I know that Vucevic isn’t an especially feared shot-blocker or enforcer or anything like that, and that’d normally result in a low score here (probably something like 4/20 or 5/20). But he’s averaging as many blocks per game this season as he ever has in his career and I would like to be respectful of that, so let’s split the difference and call it a square 10/20.
Category 4—Backstory: When I’m working on this column and get to this section of each dunk, what I do is I spend an hour or two digging through old video clips and news stories and things like that to try to sniff out whether there’s a backstory in place that I maybe don’t know about. That’s what I was doing here when I got derailed by a music video by a Finnish rapper named Victor Nordis for a song named after Lauri Markkanen. And I’m sure this is the kind of thing that is already on the radar of Bulls fans because it’s exactly the kind of thing that gets passed around and celebrated by local fan bases. But I am not a Bulls fan and so this was the first time I’d seen it, or even heard of it. And I don’t know what language they’re speaking in the song (likely Finnish), and I also don’t know what they’re even talking about. (I suspect this is one of those songs that’s named after a player but is not actually specifically about the player, like when RiFF RaFF had a song called “Chris Paul” or when Migos had a song called “Dirk Nowitzki.”) But I do know that it goes hard, and that’s good enough for a solid score here. 8/15
Category 5—Cleanliness: Clean enough. 5/5.
Category 6—Reaction of those not directly involved with the dunk: This guy is my favorite guy:
Also: We have to give some kind of award to the Orlando bench for not reacting to the dunk even 1 single percent. Look at all of these monks:
Not a peep.
Total: The Lauri Markkanen dunk on Nikola Vucevic was 60 percent disrespectful to Vucevic.
That’s James Harden letting Rudy Gobert know they’re far from the shallow now.
Category 1—Difficulty/impressiveness: Well, on the one hand, it’s a fairly standard dunk for Harden, who has spent the past two seasons doing extraordinary things often enough that they’re beginning to seem like ordinary things for him. And on the other hand, he did it over Rudy Gobert, who is 10 feet tall and a master rim protector. 14/20.
Category 2—Dunker’s reaction: Harden does the thing where he looks at his own hand, which is a thing that a lot of players do now. (The best was when Klay told his hand that he’d missed it after he finally made a jumper following what felt like an extended cold streak.) Let’s go with a middle-of-the-road score here for a middle-of-the-road celebration. 10/20. (The best post-dunk celebration Harden has given us this season was when he dunked JaVale McGee’s teeth down his throat and then stood there and flexed like he was in a Mr. Olympia contest while poor JaVale went tumbling down the court.)
Category 3—Defense: He’s Rudy Gobert. He has the second-most blocks of everyone in the league this season. He’s been an All-NBA Defensive First Team selection the past two years. And he was motivated. And he still got yammed on. Harden earns a 16/20 here, which is the highest score that can be given for this category on a dunk that does not end up being an and-1.
Category 4—Backstory: James Harden versus Rudy Gobert is one of the most entertaining secret rivalries. There was a Rockets-Jazz game in early December when Rudy Gobert got ejected for slapping multiple cups of water off the announcer’s table after he got called for two quick fouls. (That’s the game where he posted a shirtless picture of himself in the weight room as the game was being played, which is fucking hilarious.) And there was a Rockets-Jazz game last season when Gobert intentionally crashed into James Harden after Harden ran over Ricky Rubio. And actually not that long after the dunk highlighted here, Gobert and Harden got into a bit of a tangle when Gobert took what Harden felt was a cheap shot at him to stop a fast break. 11/15.
Category 5—Cleanliness: Clean. 5/5.
Category 6—Reaction of those not directly involved with the dunk: This goes back to the point I was making in the first category: James Harden has done so many incredible things that his teammates have almost become immune to them. The crowd gets excited for the dunk, and so do the announcers, but his teammates react like they’ve just watched an Eric Gordon layup. It’s almost unbelievable how good you have to be at basketball for your giant dunk on one of the best centers in the NBA to be turned into something extremely workmanlike. 10/20.
Total: The James Harden dunk on Rudy Gobert was 66 percent disrespectful to Gobert.
Same as with the All-Star Game this weekend, and same as we did with Vince Carter in the first installment of this season’s DDI, this is a Disrespectful Dunk Index Legacy Pick. And the reason it’s being made is to honor Dwyane Wade, a basketball genius and one of the league’s all-time great showmen (and also, incidentally, one of my five favorite players ever). As such, he’s going to score a greater-than-maximum score in every category.
Category 1—Difficulty/impressiveness: 25/20.
Category 2—Dunker’s reaction: A wonderful thing here is after Derrick Jones Jr. catches the alley-oop and then dunks it, Wade points to the back of his head and then shrugs, the implication being that he has eyes in the back of his head. What I love even more than that, though, is how Wade, who had as clear a path to the basket as has ever been had, knew before he even caught the ball that he was going to throw it backwards for the alley-oop. Here’s a shot of him calculating all of the pieces and then making the decision as the ball is still in the air:
It’s crazy to me that, in this moment, you can know all of the things you need to know in order for a play like this to work out. 25/20.
Category 3—Defense: 25/20.
Category 4—Backstory: 25/15.
Category 5—Cleanliness: 25/5.
Category 6—Reaction of those not directly involved with the dunk: 25/20. I wonder what DeAndre’ Bembry was thinking when he jumped to try and block the shot and then realized that it wasn’t a shot attempt at all, because it looks a lot like he’s saying, “Uh, what the fuck” in this shot here:
Total: The Dwyane Wade alley-oop to Derrick Jones Jr. dunk was 150 percent perfect, and I am already sad that we’re nearing a timeline when Wade will no longer play basketball on my television periodically.