Darvin Ham says he, not Kobe, should've won 1997 dunk contest
He'd barely had a chance to introduce himself as one of the Lakers' new assistant coaches before Darvin Ham had a 15-year-old grievance to settle with Kobe Bryant.
"Kobe, you got my trophy at your house," Ham recalls saying during the team's first practice.
Bryant has many trophies. Five championship rings, one Olympic gold medal, two Finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP and four All-Star MVPs come to mind. But Ham was referring to the 1997 NBA dunk contest, which the 18-year-old Bryant won with a between-the-legs slam. Ham didn't even advance past the first round.
"I lost to one of the top five players in history," Ham said during the days leading into tonight's NBA dunk contest. "It's a pleasure for me to lose to that guy. I think I can get him right now. He won't admit it. I think I can get him right now."
As light-hearted as Ham made his remarks toward Bryant, it's clear Ham still remains adamant he was wrongfully judged in the 1997 contest. He was only a year removed from throwing down a glass-shattering dunk that helped Texas Tech beat North Carolina in the second round of the 1996 NCAA tournament. The feat landed him on a Sports Illustrated cover. Yet, Ham earned an invitation to the dunk contest only after Philaldephia 76ers rookie guard Allen Iverson opted out because of a sore shoulder.
His three dunks hardly sparked much of a reaction from fans at Cleveland's Gund Arena. TNT commentators argued Ham threw down his windmill and jackknife between-the-legs dunks too quickly for the judges to fully absorb them. Ham followed that up by touching the glass, spinning in midair and throwing down a one-handed dunk. Yet, he earned only a 35 score and didn't make the championship round, finishing the first round behind Minnesota's Chris Carr (44), Dallas' Michael Finley (39) and Bryant (36).
"I got cheated," Ham said. "I may have gone too fast. That being said, I didn't make it out of the first round. But I get back to my hotel room and the rest of that night and the next morning, 'SportsCenter' was showing all three of my . . . dunks on the highlights. What garners a pass to the second round? They couldn't have been that bad. ESPN was showing all three of them."
Yet, Ham says he remains more disappointed that fans didn't see what he'd planned for the final round where he wanted to save his best dunks for last. That included hitting his head on the rim before dunking the ball. Ham then would've followed that up by throwing down a windmill after jumping over a ball rack. Instead, Ham watched a young Bryant show the early glimpses of stardom.
"I'll give Kobe props for putting it through his legs and dunking the ball," Ham said. "That is in no way, shape or form an easy task. But outside of that, I had the best dunks of the night. Bar none."
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