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There Is More To Life Than Slam Dunks: A Brief Look at the Real Highlights of NBA Basketball.

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Compared to the general public I watch a lot of basketball but compared to the online communities with which I choose to associate I watch, at best, an average amount of basketball. Still, over the course of the last ten or so years basketball has emerged as by far my most watched televised sporting event. This is in sharp contrast to the era of setting my alarm for 11:59am and watching hours of football each and every Sunday. I really did waste large chunks of my twenties didn't I? Oh well, at least I had probably been up until four in the morning the previous night convincing myself that I was awesome. Anyway, today I want to take a look at some of the specific things in basketball that make the game such an entertaining spectacle. As a side angle I am going to work to make the case that the almighty slam dunk, as highlight fodder, is an overrated basketball play. I think this is going to be fun.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Before I get into this highlight reel discussion, and start swearing at my family as the frustration mounts over blog post formatting issues around embedded videos, I should quickly point out that one of the primary drivers behind my love of watching basketball is undoubtedly my love of playing basketball. No other major spectator sport, with the possible exception of golf which I can't afford and suck at, is able to be regularity recreated in my own life in essentially the same form that I watch on my television. Football and hockey require too much equipment and violence and baseball (softball) requires far too much organization. Soccer probably comes close but it would be difficult for me to find a game because nobody that I know personally ever admitted to playing soccer until about eight years ago and I personally haven't played since the third grade.

As I watch an NBA game from my living room, and I see a high flying dunk well executed pass or made layup, I can easily imagine myself doing the same thing the next time I play in my weekly pick up game. Occasionally I will even see a player make a play of some kind and I will think to myself "hey, I should try that." Taking this even one step further, I sometimes do actually try to incorporate what I see on television into my own game- often to hilarious effect. You should have seen some of the passes I tried during Ricky Rubio's rookie season. Hilarious.

For me, the impetus for this post comes from the seemingly non stop highlight barrage of slam dunks that we basketball fans are subjected too. Now I want to be clear, my angle is not that dunks are bad or that players should not dunk the ball whenever possible. Clearly they should, Slam dunks are not only a high percentage shot but they can be momentum changers and can also send signal to an opposing team that their defensive approach is of little consequence. I also understand why we more earthbound fans enjoy watching the super athletes of the NBA take flight and slam the ball home. I played Nerf hoop as a kid too you know, I get it. Still, I believe that dunks, purely as highlight reel fodder, have become overrated. This is especially true of wide open dunks. I mean, really, who amongst us wouldn't rather watch the three point contest than the dunk contest? We get it, you are nearly seven feet tall and can jump... but again, it's not my intent here to be negative. Instead I'd like to look at some of the basketball plays that I would rather see more of when I'm watching highlights.

At the rim blocks

Not all shot blocks are created equal. At least not from a visual standpoint- and also not in terms of basketball utility. I once heard commentator Bobby Knight claim that blocks were an overrated play in general because the ball usually ends up back with the offensive team anyway. I suppose there is some truth to this and Knight is so passionate about the game he once threw a chair in response to it so who am I to dispute him? Regardless, my favorite blocks are the ones where the offensive player is about to dunk the basketball and then the defender overpowers him right at the point of entry. Here are some visual examples of this.

Bounce Passes

Passing the basketball is one of my very favorite aspects of the game. I think this is partly because it is one of the very few basketball activities I can actually do. Now I'm not saying I am good at passing as much as I am saying I am physically able to pass the basketball. I could probably spend this entire post just looking at great passes but since passing is such a broad category I am going to look specifically at bounce passes. I especially enjoy long outlet bounce passes and I think you will too.

Chase down blocks

Fast breaks are always exciting in basketball, especially when the defense gets back to defend them. Frequently the offensive team is initiating the fast break because they have recognized some kind of advantage and therefore, even when the defense gets back, fast breaks tend to lead to points. Occasionally however the defensive player will come out of nowhere and make the play of the game. Dwayne Wade, as I remember it, was especially adept at this as a younger man but it's the Tayshaun Prince block against Reggie Miller that I will always think of first in this category.

Interior passing

As I said previously, passing is one of my favorite aspects of basketball. This is, as I also mentioned earlier, partially due to my being physically able to pass a basketball. My love of sharing the ball also has to do with the elements of surprise, creativity, and teamwork it brings to my favorite sport. One under appreciated kind of pass is the interior pass in which one player who is near the basket makes a pass to another player who is also near the basket but who is in a better position. One of the great things about this kind of passing is the unselfishness as often the player giving up the ball is also giving up a reasonable scoring opportunity in order to give a teammate an even better scoring opportunity. I have especially always appreciated front court players who are adept at this kind of passing. Let's take a look a a few examples.

In your face threes

I mentioned earlier in this post that I prefer the three point contest over the dunk contest when it comes to NBA All-Star weekend entertainment. This is in part due to the way in which the shooting contest is a more pure form of competition but it also has to do with the visual aspect of watching an expertly performed jump shooter in action. The mechanics on some of these top shooters is a thing of beauty. Of course its during real live action games that these mechanics are put to the test and, for me at least, one of the most exiting plays in basketball is when a skilled shooter is well defended but makes the shot anyway. I call these the "in your face three" - enjoy.

Getting to the Rim

Warning, there may be dunks in this section but I implore you to consider the highlight of these plays to be the move that allows the player access to the dunk rather than the dunk itself. Go ahead and look at the dunk if you want, enjoy it even, there is no shame in this, but just please also appreciate the set up. Any good basketball defense needs to focus on keeping players from taking high percentage shot and no shot in basketball is higher percentage than shots right at the rim so therefore it would follow that NBA defenses must focus on keeping players from getting easy access to the basket. Because of this I find it to be very impressive when the offensive players are able to find creative ways to get there on their own. Sometimes this is done by a big man displaying crafty post moves in isolation situations while other times it might be a wing player breaking down the defense with a shifty dribble drive. Either way it's often pretty cool to see. Here are some videos of this.

The "alley" that leads to the "oop"

Warning, this part will certainly include dunks. Again, I ask you to focus more on the pass than the actual dunk- although, as before, you are welcome to enjoy the dunk. Approach this as you would a mindfulness exercise in which you listen to a favorite song but train your mind to pay attention only to the bass line, or drums ,or rhythm guitar, or...well, you get the idea. Have you ever done this before? Seriously you should try it. Just set your mind to the task and if you find yourself drifting back towards the vocal melody just gently bring your attention back to the bass line (or whatever) without judgement. Whoops, I got of track. Getting back to basketball, I want to say that I personally really enjoy the pass portion of the almighty ally-oop. This is also a pass that I have never had the pleasure of even attempting, at least not one that leads to a dunk, but once I passed a layup alley-oop pass and even that felt sweet. Maybe someday I'll have the chance but in the meantime let's all sit back and enjoy some alley-oops in which the alley is as sweet or sweeter than the oop.

Well that was fun wasn't it? I sure thought so. I do have one small complaint/confusion that I am hoping you good people can help me with: why on earth are there so many uploaded videos of people playing video games? Trying to track down NBA highlight clips is much more tedious than it needs to be because of this bizarre practice. I just don't get it. Also, get off my lawn.

Anyway, please use the comment section below to share what NBA highlights you would like to see more of. We need to spread the word that the the fine sport of basketball is more than just high flying dunks. However, in the interest of fairness, and because you love dunks, and because I want to try to embed a vine video, I will leave you with this crazy high flying dunk that popped up on my twitter feed today: