“I knew he was athletic, but damn,” Love told reporters after the game. “He legit jumped over me.”
When the Cavaliers hosted the Grizzlies in December, Love had a couple of thoughts that surfaced when Morant collected a loose ball near the 3-point line and began to accelerate toward the basket with a hard dribble.
The first was that Love wanted to draw a charge. (In the past, Love said, the Cavaliers had awarded players $100 for such feats.) The second was fear in the form of a haunting image: the 7-foot-2 Frederic Weis getting demolished by Vince Carter at the 2000 Summer Olympics, the so-called dunk of death.
Sure enough, Morant tried to vault himself over Love and spike the ball through the hoop. But the ball ricocheted off the back of the rim and straight into orbit.
“Probably the best missed dunk ever,” the Grizzlies’ Tyus Jones said.
After the play, Love reached down to help bring Morant to his feet, a sign of respect — and relief.
“I was so glad he missed,” Love said.
Pete Pranica, the Grizzlies’ television play-by-play announcer, recalled in an interview how Tony Brothers, one of the referees, made his way to the scorer’s table during a subsequent timeout and shook his head in disbelief. As the season wore on, Pranica advised referees who were new to the Morant experience to stay on high alert.
“You might see something tonight,” Pranica recalled telling them, “that you’ve never seen before.”
When Morant had his near-dunk over the Lakers’ Davis in February, he was on his way to collecting 27 points and 14 assists in a lopsided win. Afterward, he exchanged jerseys with the Lakers’ LeBron James, who called him “super special.”
Four days later, Morant seemed to levitate against the Nets in Brooklyn, corralling an alley-oop lob from Jones before violently misfiring off the back iron. The Nets’ Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot was whistled for nudging him, and the Grizzlies went on to win by 39. And while the clip of his missed dunk went viral online, Morant avoided watching the replay. He never watches any of them, he said, even though his teammates do.