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Old 03-30-2004, 04:17 PM   #1
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MIDWEST CITY, Okla. -- There are moments, stunning indelible moments, that transcend sport, crumble barriers and create icons.

There's Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome in 1973. Brandi Chastain clinching the Women's World Cup in 1999. Annika Sorenstam teeing off at the Colonial last May.

On Monday night, in a cozy high school gymnasium southeast of Oklahoma City, a 17-year-old high school senior named Candace Parker turned in the latest moment. Parker beat out five male competitors to win the Slam Dunk contest of the McDonald's High School All-American Game.

She won with aplomb, too, darting down the left side of the lane, covering her eyes with her left arm and flushing home a right-handed dunk. At 9:06 p.m. CT, Parker sparked a raucous ovation, chest bumps from her teammates and officially launched herself as the female answer to LeBron James.

Parker, who will play for Tennessee next season, stands just a shade under 6-feet-4 and can play all five positions on the floor. The first two-time winner of the Naismith National Player of the Year award, Parker already was billed as the most ballyhooed women's high school athlete ever. That's before she joined James, Carmelo Anthony and Vince Carter on the list of McDonald's Dunk Contest winners.

"I'm not surprised, she really plays at the rim," Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt said Tuesday afternoon after learning of Parker's winning performance. "Obviously, Candace is a very special player. She's going to be good for the women's game. She's the kind of individual who has a lot of charisma and personality."

Yes, Parker's performance suggests she could usher women's college basketball further into the mainstream with the sport's sexiest play -- the dunk. Only five dunks have been recorded during a women's college game, three by Tennessee's Michelle Snow. There has been only one in the WNBA, a Lisa Leslie flush in 2002.

Candace Parker became the first female to win the slam dunk contest at the McDonald's High School All-America game.
"That would be my dream," Parker said. "For 10 years from now for three or four girls entering the dunk contest and it's not a big deal."

Parker has dunked twice in high school games, the first time coming as a sophomore. She's one of two known high school women to dunk in a game. The scary part about Parker's performance Monday is that she's capable of much better.

Just weeks ago, Parker couldn't even throw down because of the lingering effects of an ACL tear last July. Parker, who led Naperville Central High School in suburban Chicago to consecutive state titles, missed the first 11 games of the past season. She still wears a sleek silver brace over her left knee, her plant leg for jumping.

This summer, before the injury, Parker could leap and do one-handed reverse dunks from under the rim and a lean-in dunk where she got above the rim and could quickly snap the ball into the basket.

But you wouldn't know that talking to Parker, who downplayed the whole night.

"It was totally unexpected," she said. "I was just trying to get out there and get one down."

Truth be told, even if she hadn't won the contest, Parker still would have caused a stir. The night's second best moment came when she tore off her red warm-up top and walked to the middle of the court to attempt her first dunk.

She strode confidently with the ball palmed in her hand like she was carrying a loaf of bread.

"She's very calm and poised," said Jennifer Azzi, a former Stanford and WNBA star who was one of the contest's eight judges. "This is a pretty big deal and she has a presence that will help her be successful."

As Parker sized up her first attempt, a stunned hush went over the crowd, the kind that precedes a giant buzz. People turned to each other and gasped, "A girl is in the dunk contest?" The crowd roared, instantly rose to its feet, and Parker jammed home two of her first three attempts to advance past the opening round.

Just landing a dunk in the contest would have been a landmark moment. Duke freshman Brittany Hunter failed to get one down in the dunk contest last year.

Parker not only bested Hunter, she beat out a few guys who are considering a leap to the NBA. Her signature flush, a replica of the one that won Dee Brown the NBA Slam Dunk contest in 1991, beat out J.R. Smith (who has signed with North Carolina), Darius Washington (Memphis) and Joe Crawford (Kentucky).

Admittedly, Crawford had a good chance to beat Parker in the end. But he couldn't stuff home his final two attempts, leaving Parker her place in history. Her male McDonald's counterparts couldn't have been happier for her, though.

"It's not every day that a girl can dunk," Washington said. "And she does it with creativity."

"That was big," added Glen "Big Baby" Davis, an LSU-bound forward. "I saw history tonight, right before my eyes."

While Parker's performance delighted her parents, it didn't come as a shock. Success is expected in the Parker family. Her father, Larry, played at Iowa, the final two years under Lute Olson. Her older brother, Anthony, was the 21st pick in the 1997 NBA draft out of Bradley, spent parts of three years in the league and now plays professionally in Israel. Her other brother, Marcus, is finishing medical school at Johns Hopkins. No surprise, Candace carries a 3.59 grade-point average.

"This is special," Larry Parker said, "but those guys keep her [grounded]. Success is relative."

Parker's success Monday dovetails perfectly with the flourishing game of women's college basketball, which for years was viewed as Connecticut, Tennessee and 300-plus other programs fighting to keep up.

But a quick peek at this year's NCAA Division I Women's Tournament shows an across-the-board upgrade in talent. A No. 13 seed, Middle Tennessee State, pulled just the third 13 vs. 4 upset in tournament history. Eleventh-seeded UC Santa Barbara reached the Sweet 16 before falling to UConn, 63-55.

Appropriately, fourth-seeded LSU clinched a spot in the Final Four about the same time Parker was hoisting her trophy from the dunk contest. Seimone Augustus, the Lady Tigers' sophomore star who scored 29 points for the second consecutive game, is the heir apparent to graduating stars Diana Taurasi of UConn and Alana Beard of Duke.

Augustus, who can dunk but has yet to in a game, will share the SEC spotlight with Parker the next two seasons.

"That's unbelievable," Augustus said of Parker. "Good for her. That's a big step for the game of women's basketball. We don't get as much publicity as the men do. Maybe this will open people's eyes. The game is changing."

Just listen to the questions Parker deflected about jumping directly from high school to the WNBA to see the change. The league has a rule that doesn't allow high school players to make the jump, but Parker hinted that she thought about challenging it.

"Being realistic, if the WNBA was going to offer her $10 million over three years, she'd look at it," said Sara Parker, Candace's mother. Larry Parker noted the salary differences between the women's and men's game. The maximum WNBA player contract is $85,000 a season.

All that said, Candace is still just a kid three weeks shy of her 18th birthday. As she answered questions at a news conference, she sparred with her mother over the location of her warm-up pants, which had gotten lost in the post-game fray.

"Put on your pants. It's cold out," Sara Parker told her daughter as she left the building.

Candace issued a typical teenage sigh and walked out into a sea of autograph seekers. They were old and young. Men and women. Black and white.

"Candace, just sign this one thing."

"Candace, I've been waiting here all night."

"Candace, you da man."

No, but she proved she can hang with them -- and from the rim, too.

Pete Thamel is a freelance writer based in Boston and a frequent contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at vpthamel@aol.com.

Where Candace stands: A sampling
of past McDonald's Slam Dunk winners
LeBron James 2003
Carmelo Anthony 2002
DeShawn Stevenson 2000
Ronald Curry 1998
Baron Davis 1997
Vince Carter 1995
Jerry Stackhouse 1993

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Old 03-30-2004, 04:26 PM   #2
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this is great for Tennessee. The (mens) team could really use her these days!

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Old 03-31-2004, 10:16 AM   #3
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I just caught a clip of her on this morning's SC...amazing!
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Old 03-31-2004, 10:47 AM   #4
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Wow, she sounds awesome. I'd like to see that

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Old 03-31-2004, 12:00 PM   #5
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cool story, headache!
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Old 03-31-2004, 03:03 PM   #6
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Old 03-31-2004, 09:18 PM   #7
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now i dont mean to be a jackass here, and i only saw one of her dunks, the arm in front of the face one, but youre telling me that was the best dunk? i saw some of the guys dunks in the highlit clips at the end of the show and then hers, and i have to say the guys were much more impressive. so did she win this because she had the best dunk, or because she is a girl? youd think if girls are to compete against men theyd want an even playing field and not sympathy votes.

but whatever, im just a jackass.
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Old 04-01-2004, 06:57 AM   #8
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Originally posted by Chizip
now i dont mean to be a jackass here, and i only saw one of her dunks, the arm in front of the face one, but youre telling me that was the best dunk? i saw some of the guys dunks in the highlit clips at the end of the show and then hers, and i have to say the guys were much more impressive. so did she win this because she had the best dunk, or because she is a girl? youd think if girls are to compete against men theyd want an even playing field and not sympathy votes.

but whatever, im just a jackass.
agreed. guess i'm a jackass too.
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Old 04-01-2004, 10:32 PM   #9
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here is a good article for some perspective

Women should not be flying high
By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist

I apologize for being the voice of reason here, but this sports fan has almost zero interest in seeing women dunk a basketball. It's a nice little novelty act that has a very short life span.

In fact, female slam-dunking as a spectator sport died this week when Candace Parker won the McDonald's All-American slam-dunk contest.

Candace Parker became the first female to win the slam dunk contest at the McDonald's High School All-America game.
Yes, I'm well aware that the PC crowd -- and the men and women who measure gender equality by women's ability to become more like men -- hailed Parker's victory as a giant leap forward for womankind. ESPN.com even led its site with a photo of her dunking.

It was just another leap backward.

No disrespect to Ms. Parker, but she was handed the title. Her dunks were unspectacular. She won because the boys in the contest failed to complete their dunks.

Her participation, in fact, undermined the credibility of the contest. Why take it seriously? The people running the all-star game didn't. Eventually, neither did the judges.

Hey, I don't want to sound as intolerant as Vijay Singh. But this is different than Annika Sorenstam visiting the PGA Tour. Sorenstam has the necessary skill to compete with the men on the PGA Tour. Parker has almost none of the skills it takes to compete with boys her age in a dunk contest. I'd rather see Parker compete in the men's game than the dunk contest. She'd have a better chance competing in a game than a dunk contest.

Seriously, Parker dunked as well as an old Larry Bird -- when he had a bad back.

I realize that Parker was being used to drive interest in the event. I realize that sports -- even high school sports -- are nothing more than a vehicle to drive TV ratings. It's all entertainment. I was just disappointed with the unrealistic news coverage of Parker's victory. It was condescending and patronizing.

Her pedestrian dunks didn't advance equality or women's basketball. The judges and the crowd treated her like she'd performed with a disability. Seven judges gave her a perfect 10 on her final dunk. Had a healthy boy completed the same dunks in an all-star dunk contest, he might've been booed off the court.

Is that the equality we're looking for?

Parker is one of the most talented female athletes in the world. She's worked as hard as any boy to hone her skills. So it means little when she wins a contest tilted in her favor. That's degrading. And so is the subsequent patronizing news coverage.

The story could've been told straight. No one had to pretend that this was some sort of historic moment in sport. But that's not what we do when it comes to women's sports. We overhype everything. We create monumental myths. There are people who still believe that Brandi Chastain and the U.S. women's World Cup team pulled off the equivalent of the Miracle on Ice.

That's because there's a strong, militant and active segment of our population that too often measures women by the same standards as men. And who says that's a good thing?
Because of the dunk craze TD's game is often overlooked.
Think about it. Men's basketball has overdosed on the slam dunk. American players don't have fundamentals because, among other reasons, they spend too much time working on dunks. There are many people who would argue that the dunk has been slowly killing American basketball.

But we see the dunk as an advance for the women's game. Why? Because some women -- in the name of equality -- are dead set on doing every dumb thing we do. The women's game shouldn't be played above the rim. That's not where women excel. It's not what they do best. Their game is different. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Why do we insist that women repeat the same stupid mistakes men do, and then call it progress? Men do really dumb things. We see weapons of mass destruction where there are none. We over-emphasize sports. We place athletic achievement ahead of academic achievement. We spoil and pamper child athletes and then complain when they act spoiled and pampered as adults.

Do militant feminists realize just how stupid we are? No, I'm being serious. For the life of me I can't figure out why any woman would see equality in being anything like me or any of my friends. We have no relationship skills and even less patience. We're a walking, talking, eating, somewhat educated weapon of mass destruction. We pretty much tear apart everything good in our life out of fear that the good things are really bad things just waiting to get us.

It's a vicious cycle that women would be wise to avoid.

(And, yes, I have major drama in my life right now. I just wanna curl up in a fetal position and tell my mama all my problems. But she doesn't care. She probably doesn't like me, either. I didn't mean that mama ... if you're reading. I know you love me ... I think ... Don't you? Call me on my cell.)

Where was I? Oh, the dunk contest.

Why can't we just celebrate Candace Parker's game? She has lots of game. She's not the best girls' prep basketball player because she can dunk. She has soft hands, quick feet, great vision, a nice shooting touch, good moves around the basket. That was good enough to make Larry Bird a superstar. It should be good enough for Candace Parker.

She shouldn't have to hide her eyes in a horrible Dee Brown dunk imitation to be considered a star.

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