I begin this column about slam dunks as one must: with a clip from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Doctor Bashir is speaking with Garak, a Cardassian spy in exile living on DS9 and working as a tailor. In spite of a fraught relationship with the military leadership on his home planet, he considers himself a Cardassian first and foremost, and tries to share Cardassian values with Federation personnel, here in the form of loaning weirdly inevitable Cardassian novels to his best friend on the station, Doctor Bashir.
“ The problem with Cardassian enigma tales is that they all end the same way,” Bashir says. “All the suspects are always guilty.”
“Yes,” Garak replies , “but the challenge is determining exactly who is guilty of what.
To prepare for this column every week, I occasionally find myself feeling more than a little like a Cardassian mystery novel reader trying to suss out who is going to be guilty of what. I already KNOW a dunk is coming, but who will make this dunk, who might blow their rotation, who is going to end up underneath the dunker in shame? Everyone is going to be guilty of something, but who will be guilty of what?
Each night, the NBA compiles every dunk from every game into a YouTube video, which I watch on the hunt for the dunk I will be writing about that week. Every time there’s a cutaway to a new play, I see an initial image, and a thought flashes through my brain: who’s gonna dunk that bad ball this time? There’s a mystery novel in every rim rattler!
Here, we have the Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies playing in Cleveland, and the ball in Dwyane Wade’s hands. For a second, just a second, the light of possibility is exploding in my head. Is old-ass Wade about to plow through a high-showing Marc Gasol and slam this bad boy down, vintage D-Wade Style? Expectations are high.
But, alas, it is not to be. Gasol executes a show to disrupt a potential drive, and Wade, it seems, will be passing to Channing Frye, who, I suspect, will be catching the ball driving one of two steps into the mostly empty lane, and dunking the ball using his prodigious height.
But then, I think, wait a second, that’s not quite right. When was the last time I saw Channing Frye rise up and slam on a dude? He’s a big man, sure, but he’s a big man shooter, not some pogo stick who’s gonna rumble down the damn lane and finish like prime Tyson Chandler. There’s something afoot, here. Something I don’t see, right away….
Aha! Contrary to my initial impression, this isn’t a triumphant Dwyane Wade dunk at all, the man himself rising over age and finishing on the grim reaper! Hell, this isn’t even a smart, veteran play from an older manifestation of Wade!
Wade attempts to split the converging Memphis defenders but the ball bounces off Gasol’s leg, and a poor, desperate, elderly Wade, collapses to the floor and dives for it in vain. Finally I see this play for what this actually is: A fast break dunk for the Grizz, feasting, for just this second, on the hubris of “Old Man Wade!”
The ball having come loose, Wade takes to the floor, and sprawled out, having quite possibly shit himself, pushes it right into the hands of...a heads up Marc Gasol, who snatches it up with his lovely hands, outlets the turnover to…
...Wade’s old backcourt running mate, Mario Chalmers, who dribbles the ball in transition and lobs the ball up to...
...a streaking Jarell Martin, who sends it home with a gentle, two handed slam.
And so, the mystery is solved. What looks, at the outset, like a Dwyane Wade old-age triumph, was actually a catastrophe that left our man sprawled out on the hardwood, reaching in vain for even a shred of dignity as Marc Gasol takes the ball from his outstretched fingers. The Killer is there on the page, the dunk will happen, but the shape of the crime…is not something we will know until the end. Truly, a tale fit for Garak himself.