LeBron James has made a habit of making fellow players look silly. But on one occasion in 2009, the shoe was on the other foot. He got dunked on during a camp scrimmage by Jordan Crawford. The video of the play was swiftly taken away by LeBron’s team. Why did Nike make that decision? And did the incident have any repercussions for either player?
Jordan Crawford’s dunk on LeBron James
On July 8, 2009, the day began ordinarily at the LeBron James Skills Academy. The camp is an annual event orchestrated by Nike and James where America’s best college and high prospects get together to train under the watchful eye of the King. What is normally a celebration of the future of basketball became infamous in 2009 for another reason.
During a pickup game, Xavier’s Jordan Crawford drove hard to the rim, where James waited in the lane to confront him. What happened next stunned everyone. Crawford did a 360 from the free-throw line, slamming the ball so hard on James that the superstar fell to the ground with tears in his eyes, screaming “He boomed me. He f*cking boomed me”.
OK, that’s likely not quite how it all went down. But few people know what actually happened because Nike reps confiscated footage of the dunk. The given reason: Tapes of after-hours pickup games aren’t allowed. But Ryan Miller, the videographer recorded the play and described what happened to ESPN, made it clear that there other reasons for swiping the tape:
“LeBron called Lynn over and told him something. That’s how I knew his name was Lynn. LeBron said, ‘Hey, Lynn. Come here.’ “[Nike Basketball senior director Lynn Merritt] just said, ‘We have to take your tape,’ ” Miller said. “They took it from other guys, too.”
Why did Nike treat this footage as if was the recording of a political conspiracy?
Was Nike right to be so protective of their investment?
Nike’s overprotection of James speaks to the level of investment the company has in him. Nike and James’ business relationship began when LeBron was still a high school kid drawing the sports media to Akron, Ohio. They’ve been making money for the other party ever since. Their arrangement has been so successful that the Nike signed James to a lifetime contract worth $1 billion in 2015, reports Business Insider.
Being the top dog at Nike means LeBron is marketed in a specific way. For the most part, Nike sells its athletes as larger-than-life superheroes with the mythos to match, a trait that may have contributed to the company losing out on Steph Curry before he ascended to MVP status. And superheroes don’t get dunked on by guys with unremarkable careers like Crawford’s.
Nike didn’t have to go this far to protect their asset. LeBron’s dominance on the court vastly outweighs his most embarrassing moments on the court, and if his brand was so predicated on being untouchably cool, then he probably wouldn’t post so many goofy dad videos where he dances to songs hoping to blow up on TikTok:
It also helps LeBron’s case that the man who caught him slipping didn’t have much of an NBA career.
The dunk didn’t affect either player’s career
If Jordan Crawford is remembered for anything, it’s for two reasons: a last-minute heave to force double overtime in the 2010 NCAA Tournament or the never-seen dunk on LeBron. After being drafted 27th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft, Crawford went on to have a nomadic career in the league. details Basketball-Reference.
Crawford played for five NBA teams and two G-League teams in seven years. He believed in himself as a scorer, but that mentality never translated into numbers that helped his teams. He only had a career field goal percentage of 41%. Inefficient chuckers have never been less popular in the NBA, so Crawford went overseas in search of a contract.
After playing five games for a team in Israel, Crawford signed with Brose Bamburg of the German Basketball Bundesliga in February, just before the coronavirus brought the country, and most of the world, to a screeching halt. Meanwhile, LeBron did the impossible and lived up to the hype that preceded his entry into the pro ranks.
He’s looked foolish on rare occasions. James’ infamous choke job cost the Miami Heat a title in 2011. Jayson Tatum showed that it was possible to dunk on him in game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals. There was also that time Anthony Davis had to tell the King to re-adjust his headband so people couldn’t see the flimsiness of his hairline.
But those moments are small details in LeBron’s story. He’s the defining figure in basketball for the past 15 years — even if he got dunked on by an amateur.