Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Serious stuff

Gerald Green's formula for the Slam Dunk contest is imagination, preparation and domination

The final few days before the All-Star Slam Dunk contest are crunch time for Garlon Green. Risking carpal tunnel syndrome, he will toggle through the many options on the NBA Live video game, playing and replaying virtual versions of the dunk contest. He will test the limits of the participants, seeing what happens when they jump higher, glide longer, slam harder.

All in the name of research.

He determines what moves are possible in real life, then passes that information along to his older brother, Gerald Green.

"I've just been giving him little ideas from the video game, and asking him if he can do this and that," said Garlon. "I always play as him. I get an understanding of what can be done. Gerald just says, 'Well, I'm going to try it.' "

When Gerald Green takes the floor at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas Saturday night for the real-life All-Star dunk contest, he believes creativity will set him apart from fellow competitors Dwight Howard, Nate Robinson, and Tyrus Thomas. He believes that, like all art forms, dunking takes practice, virtual and otherwise. Leading up to the contest, Gerald has tried to negotiate the fine line between being well-prepared and being overprepared with help from his brother, his Celtics teammates, and a DVD highlighting great dunks in NBA history.

Since the league notified Green that he would participate in the contest a little less than two weeks ago, the second-year Celtic has been refining and practicing his dunks, though he will not reveal any of his tricks. He knows which ones he will do, but is working on the order and some last-minute twists. Knowing the perils of thinking too much when on the court, he wants there to be some degree of spontaneity in his performance.

"You want to make it look effortless, but you want to show your athleticism," said Green. "You want to show how fluid you can look. You want to show how hard you can dunk it. There's a lot of keys you've got to do to win. You just can't get real high and throw it in.

"I'm going to try to do things where people are like, 'Did he really just do that?' For example, Dominique [Wilkins], Vince Carter, all the people who are judging the dunk contest [have had moments] where you're like, 'Did he really just do what I saw him do? Did he just take off from the free throw line? Did he just windmill that hard?' You want to separate yourself from the rest."

For that reason, no detail has been overlooked in his preparation. Following a morning shootaround last week, Green and Paul Pierce spent 15 minutes perfecting a bounce between the legs from the foul line. The ball must come off the floor hard enough to hit a spot on the backboard just left of the square, and with a certain amount of pace. With the perfect bounce, Green can collect the rebound for an easy dunk. After a handful of bounces, Green and Pierce discussed angles, speed, power, and timing in a way that would make a physics professor proud.

While Green notes that second nature takes over once you're in midair, he knows the strides before liftoff and the position of the ball when he goes for a dunk are critical. Once in the air, Green makes sure his wrist is above the rim, and he positions the ball 12-18 inches to the side of the basket before throwing it down. The entire sequence from liftoff to throwdown takes no more than three seconds.

"If you're trying to glide, you want to get your footwork right," said Green. "If you don't get your footwork right, you won't accelerate as far or glide as far or get as high as you need to get.

"Then, at the height of the dunk, you want to reach your peak. That's where you want to get the ball where it needs to be. Sometimes I don't reach my peak. I dunk, and then I seem to go a little higher, then I fall down. It has happened before. I'm just trying to put the ball in a certain area."

Performance counts
As a rookie, Green said, his vertical leap was measured at 46 inches. He doesn't know what it is now, but suspects it is a couple of inches higher. In any case, he is reaching rare heights with his dunks.

When his height, timing, or ball placement is slightly off, Green may not be able to finish a dunk -- or even worse, he could suffer a high-altitude injury. On one occasion in high school, Green went higher than expected and cut his head on the rim (he said it was a "baby gash"). Carter said that his famous arm-through-the-rim dunk could have been disastrous if he did not intuitively calculate the correct amount of power needed for a successful finish.

"If possible, give me grace for 90 percent of the dunk until you get to the rim, then I want power," said Carter, who will judge the All-Star Slam Dunk contest alongside Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Julius Erving. "But it's also depending on the dunk. When I try to put my arm in the rim, if I did power with that one, I'd probably still have a broken arm. It all depends on what you're doing."

Spoken like someone accustomed to performance dunking.

NBA players may not agree on the best current dunker or the best dunker in league history, but they all make a distinction between "game dunkers" and "performance dunkers."

Just as some point guards simply distribute the ball and some distribute the ball with flair, there are dunkers who simply score and dunkers who score in a way that captivates an audience. While Dwyane Wade astounds with his ability to twist his way around defenders in the lane, he considers himself a game dunker.

Wade humbly submits that he is "not Gerald Green or anybody like that" when it comes to high-flying theatrics. The Miami guard calls performance dunkers like Green "special guys," figuring there are only a few players in the league "who can make you sit back in awe" and "change the whole arena."

Green's reputation as a performance dunker was born when Garlon successfully bounced the ball off the shot clock on NBA Live and suggested his brother attempt the same trick on the way to winning the 2005 McDonald's All-America dunk contest.

To give fans at games something extra, Green will jump a little higher, hold the ball a little farther from the rim than the average dunker. Green delights in the special edition Unanimous shoe designed by Reebok for the dunk contest, the patent-leather green mixed with yellow sketches of Las Vegas landmarks. Green jokes that the All-Star crowd might have him so hyped he jumps over the rim.

Winning still a priority
At the same time, Green wants to be known as an all-around player. He wants a spot in the All-Star Game someday. He understands that the hype surrounding his appearance in the dunk contest can seem a little out of place as the Celtics carry a franchise-record 18-game losing streak into tonight's game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

"It's an honor to be in the Slam Dunk contest," said Green. "There's a lot of people who would love to be in this situation. When I was a little kid, it was what I always wanted to do. Hopefully, this is just a start for me. I don't want to just be known as a dunker. Dunking is a part of my game, but it's not everything to my game."

Players like Bryant prove that performance dunking and winning championships are not mutually exclusive. Bryant knows Green certainly has enough talent to do one of the two.

"It's about artistry," said Bryant. "A lot of guys dunk and they're rigid. I've seen Gerald Green dunk several times in high school and also in the pros and he's very fluid. He has a ballerina-type movement to him. That's very appealing and fun to watch. I've never worked on [being graceful]. It's just going out there and letting it flow. I think it's God-given to have that kind of fluidity."

But it doesn't hurt to have assistance from a gamer. When Garlon plays the virtual version of the All-Star Slam Dunk contest, he said his brother always wins. If only Garlon could work on the Celtics' game-time performances.