Breaking Backboards

Another feel-good story emanating from the NCAA basketball tournament is that of Loyola of Chicago’s Ramblers. They’ve now made the “Sweet 16” phase of the tournament with wins over Miami of Florida and Tennessee, making a folk hero out of 98-year-old Sister Jean, perhaps the biggest fan of the Ramblers there is.

Loyola’s no stranger to the NCAA tournament, actually winning the whole shebang in 1963 defeating then basketball powerhouse Cincinnati. My first memories of seeing the school play go back to watching them play on WGN in 1979 against Bradley and watching a forward named Kevin Sprewer.

In late 1979, there was a lot of talk about dunking the ball so hard that the glass backboards holding the rims in place were breaking. Darryl Dawkins of the Philadelphia 76ers had famously broken two backboards, one in Kansas City versus the Kings, then again a few weeks later when the Sixers entertained San Antonio.

The dunk against Kansas City was and remains the most impressive dunk I’ve ever seen, not only breaking the backboard but shattering all of the glass entirely. The rim somehow remained intact: I guess it was somehow bolted to its support base.

Move ahead to Christmas time of 1979 and this Loyola-Bradley game. Loyola forward Kevin Sprewer stole a pass and went in for the point-blank dunk shot. Off came the rim as the glass backboard crystalized, signifying it’s newly found redundancy. It’s the first and only time I’ve ever seen a dunk break a backboard either in person or on TV as it happened. The game was held up as a new goal could be found and assembled.

The eight-year-old version of myself watched in awe, and to be honest, a bit horrified. All those of shards of glass from these broken backboards could hurt somebody, I must have thought. Over the next few years, technology allowed stronger rims were constructed, making backboard shattering a bit of a lost art, thankfully. There was the talk of the NCAA once again banning the dunk shot as they did in the 1960s, but nothing ever came of that. The art of dunking proved popular, and college basketball would soon be riding the wave of popularity they still enjoy here in 2018.

Once in a while, you see a high school or a college player shatter a backboard and getting their 15 minutes of fame. Let them have it. I still say the dunk “Chocolate Thunder” pulled off in Kansas City was the greatest of them all.


4 thoughts on “Breaking Backboards”

    1. There was a move decades ago to move the height of the basket up to 12 to 15 feet, but the popularity of dunking nixed those plans.

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