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My first dunk: Celtics players remember the moment it finally happened

Marcus Smart leaps for a dunk in a February 2020 game.
Marcus Smart leaps for a dunk in a February 2020 game.Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

For most NBA players, the dunk is rather ho-hum. They dunk as easily as you tie your shoes.

But it was not always this way. There was a time when NBA players could not dunk, either. And then there was the magical day when they realized that when they are in the air, anything is possible. These are the stories of the Celtics’ first dunks.

MARCUS SMART

It was in seventh grade at Red Oak (Texas) Middle School. I did the jump ball and won the tip. And we had this play that we always ran on the tip where one of my teammates would throw the ball off the glass and I’d try to tip it in.

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So I tipped it to one of our guards, his name was Jeremy Brady, and I got a back-screen from my friend Clyde. And I remember telling Jeremy to throw it off the glass. And I remember jumping off two feet and catching it with my left hand and thinking, “I’m up here. I might as well try it. Make or miss.” I was just high enough to turn my hand over and turn it into a dunk.

Everybody was just like, “What the?!” Nobody could believe it, even my teammates. I couldn’t believe it. We were excited. It’s everything. It’s like going to Disney World.

JAYLEN BROWN

It was the summer of seventh grade in an AAU game. J.J. Hickson, who went to my high school and was a first-round draft pick of the Cavaliers in 2008, had come back home and was at the game, and we were all excited to see an NBA player at our game, especially a guy who came from the same place as us. And I got a fast break and I dunked. And it was actually on somebody.

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I just remember being excited. I’d been trying, trying, trying. People had been teasing me and giving me [crap] about it because I kept missing, so when I finally got it, it was like, “Thank you.” There wasn’t a lot of people there other than the moms and dads and stuff, but the people that were there thought it was pretty cool.

Watch Brown dunk in high school AAU play:

JAVONTE GREEN

I remember it. It was a home game in high school, I think our first home game. I ran through the passing lane and caught a steal and it was like, “I’m gonna dunk it, I’m gonna dunk it.” But I also started thinking at the same time, “If you miss it, Coach is gonna go crazy.”

But I just put that aside and decided that I had it. I’d been trying all summer to dunk, and I knew this was the time. So I did it, a nice and simple one-handed one, and the crowd was like, “Ohhh!” It gave me chills.

Then I got used to it pretty quickly. By the time the season started I was trying new things, like 360, two-hand, the clutch, the pump, reverse, stuff like that. By my senior year, it was crazy I was doing everything that I do now.

Javonte Green slams in a dunk during bubble play in early August.
Javonte Green slams in a dunk during bubble play in early August.Ashley Landis/Associated Press

ROMEO LANGFORD

It was an AAU tournament in eighth grade. We were playing in Salem, Ind. I remember the week before I went up to dunk and it was like the worst dunk attempt ever. Like, I got rim-stuffed under the rim. It wasn’t even the front. From that, I learned to jump in front of the rim, not under it.

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Then I got a wide-open fast break in Salem and I just went up and tried to dunk it, and it went in. I felt like I was floating and really I didn’t float at all. I felt like I was up there for like 10 seconds, but it was just like one. People thought I was LeBron after that. I was only in eighth grade and I think that’s when I signed my first autograph.

Watch Langford dunk in AAU:

BRAD WANAMAKER

I have a twin brother and we played basketball all the time and we’d try to dunk. We’d be in the playground or in front of our house with a little crate basket and just practicing dunks. We were always like, “Whoever’s got the first breakaway in the game has to do it.” And that’s what happened for me in eighth grade, in the Sonny Hill League at Simon Gratz High School in Philly. It was a missed shot and I cherry-picked. I didn’t go for the rebound; I just ran.

I didn’t want to run too far ahead, though, because I wanted to be able to take a dribble to get my momentum going. I got my steam up and put it in one-handed, the same dunk I do to this day. I only have one dunk.

JAYSON TATUM

I was playing in a tournament in St. Louis in seventh grade. I remember I’d tried to dunk twice in the game already and I’d missed. I could get up high enough, but I just couldn’t quite hold on to the ball. But we were winning by 15 or 20 and the game was pretty much over, and I got another steal so I figured why not try one more?

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I remember I drove it to the 3-point line on a fast break, and I like stopped first to get my feet just right. And I remember I went in and dunked it, a one-handed rim grazer, and I went crazy. I was hyped. First time dunking in a game.

Watch Tatum dunk in middle school:

DANNY AINGE

I was a junior in high school. It was just a basic dunk, a one-handed fast-break dunk. There was no big celebration or anything. I’d done it a lot in practice and in the summer. I think a few guys on the bench might have jumped up, but it was no Gerald Green or Javonte Green dunk.

TREMONT WATERS

It was a home game in my junior year of high school. We were on a fast break and one of my teammates threw it off the backboard for me. We’d talked about doing it throughout the season and we both saw the chance and it kind of just happened.

When he threw it up there, I said in my mind, “I’m about to get my first dunk.” It was two hands, and a ton of people were surprised. It felt really good. It was exciting, and a different feeling, actually being in a game and dunking even though I’m pretty small. It was a little surreal.

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‘It felt really good. It was exciting, and a different feeling, actually being in a game and dunking even though I’m pretty small. It was a little surreal.’

Tremont Waters

GRANT WILLIAMS

I was in seventh grade at West Charlotte High School. I was at the summer camp and we’d been doing these drills and I did an in-and-out crossover. I had seen all these other guys trying to dunk and I said, “I’m gonna try it.” So I went up off my left foot and dunked it.

After I did it, everyone was screaming around me and it was a cool moment. It was pretty easy, but it was also pretty weird, because I didn’t dunk again until the next summer. It was just the heat of the moment.

GORDON HAYWARD

It was a random AAU game in my sophomore year. I got a steal and went off my right foot for a left-handed dunk. For some reason I was always better jumping off my right foot. When I dunked it, all of my teammates were shocked. I don’t even know if they’d seen me dunk in practice before. It kind of just happened. It was definitely a cool moment.

‘When I dunked it, all of my teammates were shocked. I don’t even know if they’d seen me dunk in practice before.’

Gordon Hayward

ENES KANTER

I was 16, playing on an under-16 club team in Istanbul. I had a fast break and no one was in front of me, and we were probably up by 20 or 30 points, so I’m like, “Why not? Let’s just try it.” And I dunked it, one foot, one hand, and everybody was so hyped. It was amazing. My teammates were up and the bench was going crazy.


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.