Few players have driven fans to a frenzy in the way Shawn Kemp was able to.
His soaring dunks were the stuff of legend… if we still told legends. But imagine if we did. Imagine telling some 12-year old today about a slender 6’10” power forward fresh from a junior college. This 19-year old scrawny forward galloped around the floor and didn’t quite seem in his element. Well, until he got his hands on the ball and began rising for slam dunks.
As time went on the the somewhat un-coordinated player got his legs beneath him in more facets of the game. He became a better defender, a better rebounder, a better shooter, but all the while maintained his salacious slamming ability. But, he had indeed become a better player, a player worthy of legend.
For as mythical as Shawn Kemp’s dunks were, that alone isn’t worthy of being a Hall of Famer. Otherwise, Terrence Stansbury would be in these vaunted digital halls.
For a solid decade (1991 – 2000), Kemp averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 50% field goal shooting. He was thrice named to the All-NBA 2nd Team and was selected for six All-Star Games. Teaming with Gary Payton, Kemp made the Seattle SuperSonics a perennial powerhouse in the Western Conference. Particularly, in the 1994, ’95, ’96, and ’97 seasons Kemp was at his absolute peak.
His overall averages were about the same, except his FG% which jumped into the mid .500s. His oncourt intensity and impact was just somehow more striking these seasons. The Sonics famously flamed out in the 1994 and 1995 first rounds. Kemp played miserably in the ’94 playoffs, but in 1995 he was a whirlwind force averaging 25 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 58% FG.
In 1996, he was never better in helping take the Sonics to the NBA Finals. In Game 4 of the Western Semis against the Houston Rockets, Kemp decimated Clutch City with 32 points and 15 rebounds. He shot 13-19 from the field and 6-7 from the free throw line. The Sonics win completed the sweep of the two-time defending NBA champs. In Game 7 of the Western Finals against the Utah Jazz, Kemp obliterated the opposition with 26 points and 14 rebounds. He shot 8-12 from the field and 10-11 from the line. The victory catapulted Seattle to the Finals.
Against the 72-win Bulls, Kemp averaged 23 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 55% FG and 86% FT as Chicago had no answer for the Reign Man. But the Bulls were the better team and Seattle lost in six games.
Thereafter Kemp famously dealt with the embarrassment of having backup center Jim McIlvaine make more money than him, weight problems, and drug addiction. By 2001, he was grossly overweight and it was impossible to believe that just 5 years earlier he was the same man who could slice his way through defenses for overwhelming tomahawk slams.
But, it was the same man. It was Shawn Kemp who rained down, perhaps, more highlight dunks per capita than any other man in basketball history. And he was a damn good player while he did it.
Years Played: 1989 – 2003
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1994-’96)
6x All-Star (1993-’98)
NBA - 1051 Games
14.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 48.8% FG, 74.1% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1989-90 through 2002-03 season)
15th Points, 5th FTs Made
15th FGs Made, 32nd FG%
9th Rebounds, 20th RPG
9th Blocks, 15th BPG
6th Games Played, 23rd Minutes Played