From Dr. J To Kobe Bryant: The Evolution Of The Slasher Past And Present
From Dr. J To Kobe Bryant: The Evolution Of The Slasher Past And Present
The mirror of basketball evolution past, present and future
I wanted to somehow chronicle the evolution and origin of the slasher. The slasher has become the most feared offensive force in basketball. The entity alone changed the game and also its unique characteristics by implementing a mid-range jumper, shelving the jumper and banging it on anyone and everyone because of the entertainment value of the ABA, picked it up again to keep defenses honest and now uses the jumper to become deadly and almost unstoppable. The latter is still a work in progress.
One December night in Philly, Kobe is playing the Sixers–who just so happen to be honoring Julius Erving.
Perfect…a dream realized….
I have to admit, I’ve had this concept of linking Dr. J and Kobe in relation to the evolution of slashing NBA players for at least two years now. Many of the people I spoke to for this piece were physically affected when I mentioned the topic, I surmise they were so enamored with the title, considering every era is focused on the present instead of objectively connecting the past while being able to visualize the future. This sentiment was more pronounced with the basketball historians I spoke with because they’ve seen multiple generations of the “best this” and the “best that.” They were downright giddy to elaborate on the game’s progress, which we don’t allow ourselves to do that often.
Anyway, it’s December of ‘07, Kobe Bryant is in Philly and the 76ers are honoring Julius Erving.
Two of the most dynamic forces to ever lace them up are in the same building which sparks something carnal in the fans.
“Since they are honoring Doc tonight, in an evolutionary sense, are there any similarities in Doc and Kobe’s game?” Phil responds: “No. Doc had those great hands. He had the ability to do a lot of the stuff he did with one hand out there. He had that sweeping move where he would hook and drive to the basket. Kobe has been more of a slasher and more of a shooter perhaps than Doc was. The three-point line has changed a lot of that.”
When you think of Kobe and Doc what comes to mind?
Brian Shaw: “All the guys that are high flyers that came after Doc at some point assimilated his game.
His style. The flamboyant palming the ball…Taking off from a distance and the dunk.”
Kobe walks into the room and answers everyone’s question before it’s asked: “Doc’s the pioneer. He is the first player in the NBA that transcended the game-also in the ABA. He took it and gave it a broader appeal so it just wasn’t mainstream purists and fans watching the game. I wish I had his hands. He could just pick up the ball, go and do so many creative things. To be compared to somebody like that is such a tremendous honor-as well as the others who are compared to him.”
The question was raised if Kobe patterned his game after Doc and Kobe, with a smile, states: “I studied him a lot. He had a long first step. He had a lot of moves when he got around the basket. He knew how to use his body to create contact and still be able to get the shot off. As a kid you don’t know what you are doing, but you just try to mimic what he’s doing.”
Someone then asked if Doc were playing tonight could Kobe have his way with him and he jokingly offers: “If he’s not hitting his jumper, I gotta good shot.”
A question I’ve always wanted to ask Kobe and one that would make all the writer recorders move a little closer to Kobe’s face: “Since your dad wore 23 and played with Julius, was the emulation of Michael natural?”
Kobe, appreciating the question, flashes another smile: “Wow it’s never been put to me quite that way before. I just grew up watching everybody. I was drawn a little bit more to Michael once I saw my dad stole all my height and I couldn’t be Magic. Being 6′ 6”, I was able to watch players like Michael, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson-guys who were closer to my stature. I could study how they got shots off and things of that nature. “
On being a champion: “For us, it’s a day to day thing. If you want to get to that championship level, you can’t skip steps. You have to stay in the moment, take each game as it comes and work at that. We haven’t had any problems adapting to that philosophy. We have great chemistry amongst ourselves. I think the turning point was when I went to the guys and talked to them about how the business side of basketball can mess things up. I wasn’t the only player being talked about in trade discussions. Lamar has been talked about in trade discussions as well as other players. It’s appropriate that you have to separate the business from the game, still come out giving maximum effort and focus on doing what you have to do as a professional to move along for us. This was before the season started.”
MT: Is there a natural basketball link between you, Michael and Kobe?
Doc: “Yeah, I would add a few other guys to that at the beginning.”
MT: Who? Connie Hawkins?
Doc: “Yeah, Connie and Elgin Baylor. I felt as though I followed Connie and Elgin. Then you had Michael, a little bit of Dominique in there and some Vince Carter. I see where you are going with that. Those are the names.”
Upon explaining my hypothesis on the evolution of the slasher, now including Elgin and Hawk before Doc, Michael and Kobe, Jimmy exclaims, “Wow! Without question. I saw parts of Elgin and obviously I saw Hawkins and Doc. You are right on it.
Doc took the game above the rim. When you see the plays these guys make today…Before Doc came along-in that time frame-guys were capable of making those plays, but there was no imagination.
Hawkins with Doc showed these guys what doing with the ball one handed athletically-moving the ball away from the defense and what not. Doc changed the game in playing off the floor.”
Sonny Hill: “Evolution of the slasher? Whew! That’s pretty nice terminology. C’mon! All of them come out of Elgin. If you talk to Hawk, he’ll tell you he got his stuff from Elgin.
Julius will tell you he got stuff from Connie. Later on, Michael comes along, then Vince Carter and guys like that-the sky walkers. In my opinion, there’s not a connection in style.
I wouldn’t put it that way. I think there’s an evolution of how the game has evolved. I don’t see it with Kobe from the point of view you speak of. Kobe is a unique player. Kobe is not competing against guys of this era. He’s competing against the legacy of the game.
He’s competing against the guys on Mount Rushmore and he’s playing in that direction. When you see him play, you see a guy whose style is closer to Michael Jordan than a Julius Erving type player.
One, because he’s a dynamic force on both ends of the floor. When you think of Connie and Julius, they were not dynamic on the defensive end. That’s where the comparison to Michael more accurately comes in. He takes a lot of pride in playing defense and locking people down at that end, then taking you down the floor and punishing you on the offensive side.”
MT: Do you see a player eventually even greater than Kobe?
Sonny: “Yeah, because rules of the game change. As the rules change, it allows players to evolve.
It’s like saying how good would players like Michael Jordan, or Larry Bird, or Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James be in an era where you could two hand check?
How good would they be when you could one hand check? You can’t touch a guy today.
If Oscar Robertson could play today when you couldn’t put your hands on him, how good would he be? Could he be better than he was? I would say yes.
Elgin Baylor would have been better than he was. Earl Strom once said to me that there were two sets of rules when you referee Wilt. You can’t call all the fouls.
The game loosens up as each era goes by. If you look at the game twenty or thirty years from now you’ll say guys couldn’t play in this era here because of the style of play. Maybe the rules will loosen up even more.”
MT: The guy he said reminded him of Elgin was LeBron-physically.
Sonny: “LeBron is closer to Oscar Robertson in style because LeBron is a pass first shoot second.”
Sonny: “Connie Hawkins? There are only a select few of us who saw Hawk when he was young and he could do all the things he could do. Connie Hawkins was like a taller version of Oscar Robertson on the offensive end of the floor.
What he did was put everybody in the game early. When the game was on the line, he had this thing he called “Hawkins time”. Everybody get out the way. Let me put this big hand behind my back and let me make the play-and not just to score.
Each era develops uniqueness in itself. Dr. J was the stepping stone to a Magic Johnson and a Larry Bird. If Doc wasn’t there, I don’t think Magic and Larry could have had their success because the game was waning in its popularity.
Magic and Bird were the stepping stones to Michael Jordan. Michael was the stepping stone to Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant is the stepping stone to LeBron James. We’ll always get those players that will step into that chasm and bring uniqueness that changes the game.”
MT: You brought up something earlier with Wilt Chamberlain. Tell the folks why Wilt was a better player than Michael Jordan.
Wood: “Wilt was…Man please! [We both laugh]. There is no comparison. Michael’s game was made more fantastic in ‘85 with the advent of massive television coverage. His game was beautiful, but it was not going out there and scoring 100 points. It was not going out there and averaging 50 points and 35 rebounds. That’s a whole another level man. People forget about Wilt and what he and Kareem were doing. They forget about what Oscar Robertson did. You can’t put these young cats in the mix yet and people are. Oscar did 30, 12 and 10 for ten years! That is not no baby triple double like you see players today get. People get all excited when they see 10, 10 and 10, like, “Wow you got a triple double!”I’m like wow don’t these people know their history? But, I know they don’t.”
MT: It’s crazy hearing you and Sonny speak. You reference the same names-which add validity to this piece.
Wood: “Well I’m just saying…Wilt used to walk out on the floor and intimidate an entire team. How do you measure that? How do you measure Russell’s eleven championships?”
MT: Do you see LeBron being mentioned in the pantheon of who is considered the best?
Wood: “Yes. I like his game, but there’s time available.”
There you have it. The history of the game and its scorer evolution references many names. Go through this and count how many names have been mentioned. The evolution of the slasher began with the uniqueness of Elgin Baylor and ends with whom some consider to be Elgin’s clone physically, LeBron James. Kobe and Julius Erving happen to be just two names in the pantheon of slashers who have made the game the most exciting athletic spectacle on the face of the earth.