Desmond Mason played in the NBA for 10 years. He played against Kobe Bryant; he played against Vince Carter; he played against some of the best dunkers of the last decade. Heck, he even won the Slam Dunk Contest in 2001.
All of which is to say he knows a thing or two about stuffing it through the rim.
So, Desmond, just how hard were Zach LaVine’s dunks Saturday night?
“They’re hard,” Mason said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I mean, they’re really hard. I won’t criticize the difficulty of them, but the one thing I will (criticize) is the variety. Even my wife talked about that. (He went) between the legs every time. I think the behind-the-back was great. J.R. Smith did it before as well, but everything was in that vein. But I think by far he was the winner, no doubt.”
Gottlieb then asked Mason, his former college teammate at Oklahoma State, what’s harder: a between-the-legs dunk or a behind-the-back dunk.
“I think around your back is probably harder just because of your hand position,” Mason said. “I think through the legs, especially if you got big hands, though the legs is good. But around the back? That’s pretty difficult. Even after J.R. Smith tried it and did it and made it, I tried it – and it was much harder for me to pick up than it was between the legs.”
Helping LaVine, of course, is his age. He’s only 19. There’s still a lot of juice in those legs. In fact, LeBron James said this weekend that the dunk contest has never been his “flavor.” He called himself an “in-game dunker” and later said he’s “over the hill now.”
James turned 30 in December.
When do the legs really start to go? How long can guys participate in this event without getting sore or risking injury?
“I think they can always compete,” said Mason, 37. “I think (you could) risk injury if you’re a rookie or if you’re a seven- or eight-year vet. You can risk injury in the skills challenge. So I don’t think it’s really that. I’ll tell you what starts to happen over time: One, if you lose a few times or a couple times, that’s a frustrating thing. So what takes a hit is guys’ ego. And the second thing is, do you want to take the rest after a grueling season, especially if you’re actually playing a lot of minutes, or do you want to go out and participate in all the festivities?
“The three years that I did it, I never once went to the Sunday game,” Mason continued. “I always did all the Saturday events, just because it takes a lot out of you. All the charitable things you’re doing, the NBA stuff that you’re doing as well – it wears you down. But I think more than anything, guys’ egos get in the way, especially if they lose.
“I think LeBron got to a point where there were some guys that were pretty good, especially around the Gerald Green time (2007). He didn’t want to go out there and lose. He didn’t really have nothing to gain from it, but he had a lot to lose if he went out and he got beat. When you watch the dunk contest, you’re like, ‘Man, I could’ve won that one.‘Yeah, but you didn’t because you didn’t go because you were a little scared.”