On December 3rd, 1990, the classic NBA of the 80s met the new wave of the NBA’s 90s. It was a Pacific coast ‘tsunami’ wearing the Seattle Supersonics #40 jersey by the name of Shawn Kemp. The Sonics’ 2nd-year pro was unleashed by the new head coach K.C. Jones, a Celtics legend who had been around the NBA long enough that he could tell if somebody has what it takes to be a player.
Despite all of his limitless potential, the Reign Man was still pretty raw and unpolished in some of the areas of his game, but he had superstar written all over him. That season Kemp got more minutes, and more importantly, more possessions – in November 1990, he scored double digits in 8 of 11 games.
In December 1990 Kemp, who became a regular starter for the Sonics, took it even further and started posting double-doubles on any given night, no matter who the opponent was.
But what was particularly demoralizing for the opponents was Kemp’s unorthodox new wave flashy style of play – any time he came down the court, he was looking for a way to dunk on you. He wasn’t interested in lay-ups, just high-flying, energetic, and artistic dunks, as a way of posterizing the opposition.
And that’s just what he did that December day in Boston Garden – the Celtics’ frontline anchors Kevin McHale and Joe Kleine epitomized the 1980s. Kemp, a grungy kid from Seattle, ran past them and jumped all over them like a tsunami, fully symbolizing the new wave of NBA basketball in the 1990s!
In one of the most memorable sequences of his stellar career, he ran the distance, and his co-star Garry Payton, already leading the charge, hit him up with an over the shoulder no-look lob. Kemp, who came down the middle, caught the perfect pass and dunked the ball with two hands for an ideal alley-oop! The Reign Man has struck! And this particular play later became a part of the intro for NBA Action!
Kemp was relentless – in only 22 minutes spent on the Boston Gardens’ hardwood, Kemp hit 9-20 shots from the field and one free-throw for a total of 19 points. He added 5 boards and 3 steals.
The 1990-91 Boston Celtics also had a youth movement of their own. Rookie Dee Brown and 2nd year Pro Brian Shaw had taken over the guard positions while swingman Reggie Lewis was well on his way of getting used to the superstar role the Celtics would need to step in once Larry Bird decided to call it quits. Kemp and Dee Brown eventually squared off in the final of the 1991 NBA All-Star slam dunk competition.
That season, the 21-year old Kemp thrived as a new Supersonics star. He started in 66 of 81 regular-season games while averaging 15.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.0 spg, and 1.5 bpg. In the 1991 postseason, the Sonics were eliminated by the eventual finalist the Blazers, and Kemp also made his presence felt in that series.