Sunday, February 17, 2008

You must wear it well if you're Superman

There's something about our comic book superheroes that inspire us to think big, to have over-the-top dreams, to have fun debates about who's the most powerful hero and why.

So I'll start the conversation: It begins with Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, who won Saturday night's Slam-Dunk Contest during the NBA's All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Howard lived up to having the "S" on his chest, and I dare say, he has vaulted toward the inner circle of those who have played Superman on TV or the big screen: George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling and Brandon Routh. If there's going to be another Superman mega-production, then it would be difficult to ignore Howard's impressive audition.

Forget audition; Howard was the show Saturday night. While clad in his standard-issue NBA uniform, Howard slammed the ball through with his left hand, windmill style, after having thrown the ball off the back of the backboard. Granted, the degree of difficulty was high enough, but Howard's initial slam provided the necessary buildup to his next feat.

On Howard's next dunk attempt, with the help of Magic teammate Jameer Nelson, Howard donned a Superman cape at midcourt, which got a slight rise from the crowd. That dull roar turned into a resounding ovation as Howard briefly lifted his uniform to show the Superman garb underneath, a tank-top version that caught many by surprise. The timing and showmanship could not have been better scripted.

Now, Howard needed to deliver the goods. The crowd, which included Julius Erving, Kobe Bryant and other past NBA slam-dunk champions in the house, is wanting something big.

Next thing you know, Howard leapt, flew through the air with the greatest of ease, took the pass that came from behind the backboard and over the free-throw lane, cuffed the ball in his right hand, and did not just dunk it, he threw it down into the basket.

The crowd goes wild. My friends and I go wild. The instant replays do not lie. Howard jumped even higher than expected to throw it down! The clip hit YouTube before it was pulled by the NBA. Yes, Superman was in the building, and he can dunk, too.

Howard did set a standard, though, for when to pull out the Superman garb.

First, it helps to look the part. Howard is a muscular center whose physique rivals Karl Malone's. Second, one must do something the average human cannot do, or be relegated to an everyday t-shirt wearer or the Halloween circuit. Howard delivered on his dunks, which were difficult even by NBA standards. Third, Howard demonstrated humility after winning the contest over defending champion Gerald Green. That is a quality befitting of any Superman.

For the rest of us t-shirt wearers, we can only dream. But for one night in New Orleans, seeing Dwight Howard sure was believing.

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