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Dunk History: Gerald Green's buzzer-beating off-the-backboard alley-oop

Ben Rohrbach
Ball Don't Lie

As the summer wears on, with training camps and preseason play still off in (what feels like) the distant future, we turn our attention to the past. Join us as we while away a few late-summer moments recalling some of the most scintillating slams of yesteryear, the most thunderous throwdowns ever to sear themselves into our memories. This is Dunk History.

Today, Ben Rohrbach revisits Gerald Green's buzzer-beating off-the-backboard alley-oop.

You might think someone who had a portion of his right ring finger severed while dunking in a doorway as a sixth-grader might develop an aversion to the basketball art form. Not Gerald Green.

For background, here's a New York Daily News description of Green's gruesome injury circa 1999.

The ring caught on a nail and his finger was ripped to the bone.

Amputation was the only option.

"All you saw was nothing but white bone, like a skeleton," Green said. "They said my tendons, all my ligaments were ripped out."

Bad times got worse. Green hid his hand to avoid ridicule, developing a habit so ingrained he had his hand stuck in his pocket upon meeting David Stern at the podium as the NBA's No. 18 pick in 2005.

This seems relevant since Green has unleashed some of the league's most ridiculous dunks during a career defined more by the Kevin Garnett trade, D-League demotions and recent Most Improved Player consideration — all with a four-and-a-half-fingered right hand that can't palm a basketball.

He is basketball redemption defined. Green introduced himself to the basketball world outside Boston on March 22, 2006, when as a Celtics rookie he successfully converted a pass thrown too hard off the glass from fellow NBA infant Tony Allen during the waning seconds of a 110-96 blowout against the Raptors. If there is a better buzzer-beating off-the-backboard alley-oop in NBA history, I'd like to see it.

The dunk made No. 1 on SportsCenter's Top 10 that night, but not everybody was a fan. While Tommy Heinsohn cackled on the C's call, Raptors play-by-play man Chuck Swirsky took issue in Toronto.

“You talk about rubbing it in. I’m sorry. I don’t like that. I know it’s showtime. I know this is entertainment. You know what? Just dribble out the clock. I don’t think that was very classy at all. That’s just my opinion."

The two teams were a combined 29 games under .500 at that point and Green had played fewer than 100 garbage minutes of NBA basketball, so maybe Chuck should've been more chill. As Green told The Boston Globe at the time, "God blessed me with the ability to dunk, so I just do it when I can."

So, when the opportunity presented itself again two weeks later, Green ripped a vicious windmill that put another win over the Raptors out of reach in the final seconds. Heinsohn rubbed the salt in Swirsky's wounds, announcing on the Celtics broadcast: "I wonder if Chuck got upset there."

These two slams encapsulated everything the Celtics envisioned when they drafted Green, an untapped athletic freak who won the McDonald's All-American Game's dunk contest a year earlier and would go on to win the NBA's version a year later. In 2006-07, he averaged double digits and made himself a valuable enough commodity to join Al Jefferson as pieces in the C's franchise-altering trade for KG.

After just 29 games in Minnesota, the Timberwolves sent Green to the Rockets, and he was promptly waived. He made a brief appearance in Dallas the following season, but spent the next three years on a pair of Russian teams, China's Foshan Dralions and the D-League's Los Angeles D-Fenders. As high as Green soared on those slams, he fell even further. Green's NBA dunking days were behind him.

Then again, if a nail tearing through his tendons didn't stop him as a teen, neither would a few years banished abroad. Green played well on a series of 10-day contracts with the Nets late in 2011-12, and then earned a roster spot on the Pacers during their run to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. This past season, he logged career highs for points per game (15.8), true shooting (58.5%) and PER (16.5), playing all 82 games for a Suns squad that nearly, impossibly made the playoffs.

More than eight years after he reached back about three feet to corral that Tony Allen assist, a 28-year-old Gerald Green still wows with an athleticism that's now paired with a polished offensive game in Phoenix. We should all appreciate each of his dunks as Paul Pierce did on March 22, 2006 — for nobody can be sure when Green's NBA life will be in the rearview again.

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