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Rookie Shawn Kemp was told to take it easy on the dunks


From today's perspective, he is considered one of the most spectacular in-game dunkers of all-time, and an unavoidable benchmark for every young dunker. Shawn Kemp, the high-school phenomenon from Indiana, who worshiped Dr.J, came to the Seattle Supersonics in the summer of 1989. His dominant inside style of play, highlighted with spectacular dunks, changed the game forever.

“One time in NBA, the big men didn't get the chance to dribble. The big men didn't get the chance to shoot threes or any of that. It took guys like me to convince people that the big men have enough athletic ability to do some of those things. And do it very well.”

Shawn Kemp, Basketball Time Machine

Soon enough, after the 1989 NBA draft Kemp found his name stuck in the Supersonics' rotation, looking at the back of more experienced Michael Cage, Steve Johnson, Olden Polynice, and Brad Sellers.

“The day I got drafted by Seattle Supersonics, I looked at the team roster, and I realized that I was the twelfth man out of the twelve men. I knew then that I had a lot to learn, and it's just going to be a lot of hard work. The one thing that I realized was that I wasn't ready to play in the NBA quite yet.”

Shawn Kemp, Basketball Time Machine

But, the youngster from Elkhart, Indiana, kept his patience knowing well that his time will come. Now and then, he put forth an additional effort with the team's assistant coaches to master all the nuances of play at the power forward position. He did so bearing in how much ahead of him were some of the Pacific Division's leading power-forwards such as Karl Malone, Tom Chambers, and Buck Williams.

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“For myself, I just took the assistant coaches, and we just worked on everything, from shooting, from footwork, from my body getting stronger, to me finishing off plays even better. The one thing I never wanted to be known for was just dunk.”

Shawn Kemp, Basketball Time Machine

Knowing how much of an outstanding player he has at the bench, the Supersonics head coach Bernie Bickerstaff decided to put Kemp's 'magic' out there, but in small doses. Being known as a coach who wanted to control every detail on his players, he talked to his 6'10" high-flying rookie. According to Kemp, coach Bickerstaff instructed him to tone it down a little bit and don't do any of the crazy stuff, which could have embarrassed him as a young and still developing player.

“I was told to tone it down a little bit on my dunks when I first got to the NBA. Because they didn't want too much ketchup, they didn't want too much mustard.”

Shawn Kemp, Basketball Time Machine

Kemp listened to Bickerstaff's advice, eventually waiting to make his first NBA dunk for the first couple of weeks into his rookie 1989-90 campaign. Finally, being out there, Kemp was eager to unload and showcase his stuff all across the league. The turning point of his rookie campaign came on December 16th, 1989, in New York, when he made one of the most memorable dunks of his entire career.

“My first big dunk came in New York when we played at the Garden. The double-pump dunk was one of my first big dunks. We couldn't pick a better place to do it then the Garden.”

Shawn Kemp, Basketball Time Machine

Kemp set the pick for fellow rookie Dana Barros, and the guard awarded him with a pass to the middle of the Knicks paint. Kemp received the pass and sky-rocketed up there. He twisted in the air, flying sideways across the Knicks lane, and made a spectacular, emphatic double-pump reverse dunk! This memorable dunk still stands as one of the most creative and spectacular in-game dunks ever.

Even though he was fouled-out after only ten minutes of play, this particular dunk served as a huge confidence booster for the Supersonics youngster. Kemp increased his focus and moved on to the next level by improving his field goal shooting percentage from 40.1% in the first two months of the season to 49.2% in January 1990. On January 5th, 1990, in Miami, Kemp set his new career-high by scoring 19 points to go with nine boards and four blocked shots in 30 minutes of action.

Over his 14-year long NBA tenure, Kemp recorded impressive 1505 dunks over 1051 regular-season games, making an average of 1.4 dunks per game.


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