Richard Jefferson has dreamed of winning the NBA Slam Dunk contest since he jammed for the first time as a high school freshman in Phoenix. That's why he threw down six dunks on the Heat the day the league called with an invite. That's why, after getting home at 4 a.m. from a grueling five-game, eight-day road trip, RJ revved it up for us the next afternoon. What slammin' gem does he think will help him nab the $25K first-place prize? The reverse windmill. "I just lay in bed before going to sleep," Jefferson says, "tryin' to dream something up." Here's how he'll pull it off in Atlanta.
RJ won't be pulling an MJ flier from the charity stripe, so he doesn't need a full-court sprint. His dunk is about height, not length. He starts with a jog from the three-point line, using a couple of dribbles for rhythm before liftoff. "People think I can jump over the rim," he says. Nope-just looks that way.
When Jefferson gets to the middle of the key, it's time to take off. Players used to jump over props-or teammates-but the NBA nixed that this season. So real elevation, not the illusion of elevation, is key. He jumps off both feet, rather than one, to provide extra lift. "Off of two feet you have a lot more power," RJ says. "And a little bit more control."
RJ always gets plenty of air. A former high school high jumper, he has a vertical that's been measured at about 40 inches. He's hoping for a boost come contest time. "The adrenaline is gonna allow you to jump higher in this thing than you normally can," he says. "I'm really counting on about four or five extra inches to help me complete my dunks."
Remember those wild windmills in the classic NBA Jam video? Jefferson does. It's his favorite move, and he's studied windmill legend Dominique Wilkins to master it himself. Here he brings the ball down to his hip with both hands, then swings it up with one.
Above the Rim
You'd think at this point RJ's vision would be riveted on the rack. Think again. "My eyes are usually closed," he says. "I'm always thinking somebody's gonna foul me." But the only contact in the contest will be when wrist meets rim. That's his signal to let the ball go.
Twist 'N Jam
Jefferson's signature twist comes, literally, at the end. Instead of doing a standard windmill, RJ finishes by twisting his body so that his back is to the basket as the ball falls through the hoop. "I don't think I've seen anyone finish off this dunk this way," he says. Our bet: He won't be the last.