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Cutting the Game Down to Size : Slamball Craze Gives the Common Man a Chance to Dunk More than Just Donuts

June 30, 1988|SAM FARMER

With his sideways stuff before the 1988 National Basketball Assn. All-Star Game, Chicago Bulls' phenom Michael Jordan not only sealed the slam-dunk title but inspired a slew of poseurs who still try to emulate his ferocious assault on the rim.

Hardly a modest task--even for the most powerful leapers or most proficient ballhandlers.

A number of these sub-6-foot, 6-inch types have accepted the gravity of their gravitational realities and are resigned to playing ball using 8-foot hoops, 2 feet lower than regulation. Many Glendale-area elementary school playgrounds are the courts of choice for these Jordan-esque jammers, these Dominique Wilkins wannabes.

For these pygmies of the paint, slamball provides a way to live out their fantasies.

Bill Holmes, a slamball veteran, sits courtside and winds the laces of his untied high-top sneaker around his index fingers. He rocks back on the asphalt and thrusts his heel skyward, putting a stranglehold on his foot to ensure no lateral slippage. His far-too-vivid memory of a fall last December is fresh in his mind.

"I went up to reject a dunk and I came down on somebody's foot," said Holmes, 22, who often hangs on the rim after a slam until the lane clears. "(My ankle) snapped under me-- crack ."

Because of the narrow, shortened dimensions of the court, traffic is heavy around the basket, increasing the chances of collision. Scoring, too, is different with a dunk worth 1 point and an outside shot worth 2. You could call it Arena Basketball.

"People don't just give you dunks," said Jim Cartoni, who averaged 21 points a game as Occidental College's starting point guard last season but has grown tired of standard basketball. "Every time you go up for a dunk you've got two people hanging on your back trying to block it."

The excessive contact in the key, combined with the quickened pace, makes for heated match-ups and on-court tempers often flare. In most games fouls are not called and paybacks are commonplace.

Mike Guzman looks at it philosophically.

"Playing in a full-court, 3-on-3 game I went up for a dunk and a guy just cut my legs out from under me and I landed on my back," he said. "You've got to play above it. You know they're doing that because they can't stop you."

But many players suffer self-inflicted hand injuries with overzealous dunk attempts--mere "occupational hazards," Holmes says. The battered rims, often netless and bent, are evidence of this. In fact, true slamball aficionados carry spare nets to doctor ailing baskets.

In short, the game is addictive.

"I've got friends who choose their housing by whether there is an elementary or junior high school within walking distance," Holmes said . "I think that's a pretty big statement."

COURTS OF APPEAL

The following courts are frequented by Glendale-area slamball enthusiasts:

La Canada Elementary School, 4540 Encinas Dr.: The main slam-court is slanted and one basket is slightly lower than the other. Otherwise, the courts are in good shape. Because this is a favorite of La Canada High cagers, games are easy to find.

Eagle Rock Elementary School, 2057 Fairpark Ave.: These courts, popular with many Occidental team members, are level and well-maintained. The rims have no nets but are new. The atmosphere is relaxed and the courts are usually uncrowded.

Marshall Elementary School, 1201 E. Broadway in Glendale: At 7 feet, these hoops are too low for most advanced slammers but are popular with the younger set.

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