For much of the post-Jordan era, the dunk was comatose. It had devolved into an act of empty, peacocky machismo, valuable only for those rare, delightfully deflating moments when the ball clanged off the rim and into the fifth row. But in 2011, we witnessed a genuine dunk renaissance, one where every morning YouTube buzzed with clips of the previous night's most preposterous in-game jams. Credit goes largely to Los Angeles Clippers rookie Blake Griffin, a muscular six-ten power forward who launches himself at the rim with more velocity and elasticity than any big man has a right to. In February, he won the first dunk contest in years that anyone will actually remember, leaping over a Kia with a gospel choir behind him. Griffin, though, prefers not to dwell on the memory. The dunks that matter to him are the ones that count for two points in actual games. And even those, Griffin talks about more as a solution to a problem than as an act of conquest. "Everything's moving so quickly, you have to be creative on the fly," he says. "Whoever's in your way, it's the most surefire way of finishing."
But this isn't a one-man renaissance. Basketball snobs, for instance, think the Washington Wizards' seven-footer JaVale McGee should have won this year's dunk-contest crown on pure merits. (Two dunks at once! On two separate rims!) And then there are the (comparatively) little guys, Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Shannon Brown, who's six four, and Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who's six three and talks about his dunks like they're out-of-body experiences. "Sometimes I don't think dunk," he says. "It happens so quickly, I don't know what's happened."
Griffin and Westbrook are opposite extremes with one thing in common: A decade ago, players like them weren't getting up like this. Big men now bring some of the most acrobatic moves, and a team's playmaker can serve up a ruthless facial. It used to be, everyone wanted to be like Mike. Today the dunk is whatever anyone can make of it—which is why it's been reborn.
NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder
"Sometimes I don't think dunk. It happens so quickly, I don't know what's happened."
Build on the Fundamentals
Nothing's more conservative than navy, but you don't have to look stiff. Add some razzle-dazzle with a colorful tie and socks.
Suit, $2,060 by Prada. Shirt, $345 by Ermenegildo Zegna. Tie, $125 by David Hart & Co. Shoes, $295 by Allen Edmonds. Socks by Falke. Tie bar and pocket square by The Tie Bar. Watch by Hermès.
College: University of Arizona
NBA: Philadelphia 76ers
"When I dunk, I'm in the air for a while, almost in a daze or a trance. I embrace the moment and let everyone take their pictures."
Play as a Team
Looking for a fresh way to bring some synergy to your shirt, tie, and socks? Try variations on a single color.
Suit (Made-To-Measure), $3,995, and tie, $95, by Ralph Lauren Black Label. Shirt (Made-To-Measure), $600, and pocket square by Ralph Lauren Purple Label. Watch by Ralph Lauren Watches. Loafers, $570 by Salvatore Ferragamo. Socks by Pantherella
College: University of Oklahoma
NBA: Los Angeles Clippers
"Guys get to prepare before the dunk contest. In a game, I have to be creative on the fly. That's the ultimate challenge."
Just because you're wearing a suit doesn't mean you have to reach for a tie and wingtips every time. A polo and classic sneakers can be a game changer.
Suit (Made-To-Order), $2,900, polo shirt, $395, sweater, $495, watch and bracelet by Gucci. Sneakers, $88 by Nike. Socks by Smart Turnout.
College: University of Nevada, Reno
NBA: Washington Wizards
"If you're just dunking by yourself, it's really nothing special. You have to dunk on someone—then you feel like you're demoralizing them."
Develop a Strong Defense
Don't play scared with your plaids—be aggressive. It's about finding a mix that feels right and sporting it with confidence.
Suit (Made-To-Order), $4,290, shirt (Made-To-Order), $560, tie, $235, and pocket square by Tom Ford.
College: Michigan State
NBA: Los Angeles Lakers
"I remember being in the eighth grade, trying to dunk with a volleyball. I kept trying and kept trying but couldn't do it—until that first time...."
Stay in Bounds
If you want to work louder pieces like cardigans, saddle shoes, caps, and even some serious jewelry into your rotation, keep the suit quiet with a solid color.
Suit, $598, and shirt, $78, by Tommy Hilfiger. Cardigan, $795 by Gucci. Shoes, $198 by Cole Haan. Socks by Pantherella. Cap by Express.