Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Rookie McLemore soars into prominence

Ailene Voisin
Ailene Voisin

NEW ORLEANS – Broadway? Hollywood? A little Bollywood influence perhaps? In an arena that sounds like one of those foo-foo drinks with the umbrella, Ben McLemore gave one of the most theatrical performances in Kings history.

No, the rookie didn’t walk out of Smoothie King Center with the trophy after his inaugural appearance in the annual Slam Dunk Contest. Washington Wizards guard John Wall’s final leap-and-throwdown over his team mascot was almost as dramatic and even more spectacular.

But McLemore, the only King invited to compete in the All-Star weekend events, generated some serious buzz. His closing dunk over a seated Shaquille O’Neal will not soon be forgotten. At the very least, he probably earned an invitation to next year’s competition in New York.

“I wuz robbed,” McLemore joked, laughing. “I dunked over a chair and a 7-footer! That was creative. It was a great dunk.”

It was also a collaboration among Kings, a rare occurrence on a squad known for one-on-one tendencies in recent seasons. The rookies apparently can teach the veterans a few things once in a while. McLemore, who insisted all week he was still pondering the possibilities, more inclined to improvise than plan his most important attempts, admitted late Saturday he was just very good at keeping a secret.

The minute he received the invitation from the league, he said, he had one particular dunk in mind. The only issue was enticing Shaq as the foil and clearing the somewhat risky maneuver with the boss. As it turns out, Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive not only approved a dunk that was not without some risk, he met with McLemore, discussed the dunk with Shaq, and offered a few suggestions.

The three Kings were reluctant to take individual credit, leaving everyone guessing and attempting to connect the dots, and undoubtedly prolonging the conversation.

Who thought up the royal theme, for instance, and the idea of having McLemore walk onto the court in a red and white robe? That sounds like the rookie, who said he considered calling himself “Sir McLemore.”

Who came up with the idea of Shaq holding a crown and pulling out a Kings jersey with “Shaq-Lemore” stitched across the top? That has to be Shaq, the minority Kings investor who loves to call his adopted city “Shaq-ramento.”

And what about the guy in the purple and white jester’s suit who, in a very prounounced British accent, read some sort of royal proclamation? That had to be Ranadive, though he refused to give anything up afterward.

“I thought Ben McLemore was fantastic,” Ranadive said as he hurried toward the exits. Asked the extent of his involvement, he replied, “Uh, a little bit ,” appearing to catch himself from elaborating, and then smiling and waving as he walked off.

This wasn’t such a bad weekend after all, DeMarcus Cousins’ absence among Western Conference All-Stars for tonight’s game notwitstanding. Before McLemore’s performance in the revised dunk contest that consists of two teams of three players from each conference, new Commissioner Adam Silver quoted Ranadive during the first formal news conference while outlining his vision for the league.

“Vivek Ranadive of the Sacramento Kings says: ‘Basketball is the sport of the 21st century,’ ” said Silver. “I truly believe that. It is a global sport.”

In other words, in any language, a dunk is a dunk. Coming up with something innovative and surprising can be difficult. Expectations for McLemore were high. O’Neal had predicted McLemore would win, but his vote doesn’t count. Grant Hill went with the 6-foot-5 shooting guard. Several league office types concurred after watching the practices that were closed to the media.

But McLemore, who was tutored these past few weeks by Kings assistant and 1991 dunk champion Dee Brown, probably received what was perhaps his strongest endorsement from Dominique Wilkins, who was known as the “Human Highlight Reel.” The springy 6-8 forward favored McLemore because of his leaping ability and extension. But Wilkins, who judged the event with Magic Johnson and Julius Erving, changed his mind after watching Wall’s final effort.

Erving called the dunk “sick” and agreed Wall restored some luster to the event. But so did McLemore, who reluctantly conceded defeat. His earlier left-handed dunks were impressive enough, but, no, that leap over Shaq, seated in a chair facing the basket, will not soon be forgotten.