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LeBron James dunks so hard, he almost popped this basketball

LeBron James dunks so hard, he almost popped this basketball

LeBron James is great at a lot of things, but none has he honed to more devastating effect than the dunk. James hammering the rim has to be one of the most demoralizing plays in all of sports.

It's the physical answer to an opponent's mental question: can I compete with the King?

No. Not this game. 

That's what James told the Raptors last night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. This dunk came on the way to a 115-84 win over Toronto in which James shot 11 of 13 from the field. 

Let's take a closer look at the finish. Do you see what's happening to the basketball? 

James is so strong, he makes us wonder things we'd never had occasion to wonder before.

How much force does it take to pop a basketball?

More than to snap a rim?

What happens if the ball explodes in the middle of the game?

Has that ever happened before?

Who would get possession? 

He is so strong, suddenly we feel sorry for an inanimate object. And we start thinking Nike really did pay him $1 billion. 

James also helps answer a key question: Do the Raptors have a prayer?

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Why Zion Williamson vs. Ja Morant is the next great NBA rivalry

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USA Today Sports

Why Zion Williamson vs. Ja Morant is the next great NBA rivalry

Everyone knows the name Zion Williamson. He's grown bigger than college basketball, whether you like it or not.

But the beauty of March is not in the goliaths, but the Davids; a chance to stand on the top pedestal and garner the attention they deserve.

Enter, Ja Morant. A star in his own right and the future rival of Duke phenom Williamson, who just so happened to grab your attention with a triple-double in No. 12 seed Murray State's first round over No. 5 seed Marquette.

Now, I'm not sure whether "Ja vs. Zion" has a nice ring to it, or sounds more like a bad, low-budget superhero movie on SyFy. "As the evil Ruler of All Attention, King Zion tries to hold on to his reign of college basketball, while Ja, the leader of underdogs and hero of The State of Murray, looks to dethrone the mighty ruler and take his place as leader of the Madness of March realm".

Ugh, yeah it's definitely a bad movie title, but also on it's way to being a great rivalry in the NBA. 

Zion will likely go No. 1 overall, and Ja should be No. 2.

From highlight dunks like this...

Or quotes from NBA MVP's like this from Steph Curry..

That transition to the NBA isn't going to be difficult at all for him

Morant is showing this isn't just a one-star NBA Draft coming this summer.

First, think of the storylines. "Superstar from basketball powerhouse against a small-school player with a chip on his shoulder".  That's what made Manning vs. Brady great for years (except for the whole small school thing, just replace that with "late round draft pick". You get the idea).

Imagine these two in the dunk contest next year, rebuilding interest among bored NBA fans. HINT: this is where you insert that wide eyes emoji for extra emphasis.

If "Zion vs. Ja" (okay, it's starting to sound better already) is a matchup of the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks, every game is a comparison of the two. Every matchup is one trying to show up the other. Every postgame interview is about how their new rival played and what it means for their future in the NBA. 

Oh, and FYI: Zion and Ja played on the same AAU team.

Can't make this stuff up folks. 

Neither Williamson nor Morant is afraid of the spotlight. In fact, they both embrace it. They also embrace the responsibilities that come with it, which is why the two seem destined for stardom at the next level.

Right now "Zion vs. Ja" or "Ja vs. Zion" may sound like a bad movie title, but soon it'll be the next great rivalry in the NBA, and it has all the storylines to guarantee it being a box office hit. 

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Breaking down the etiquette, strategy and rules of the NBA jersey exchange

Breaking down the etiquette, strategy and rules of the NBA jersey exchange

WASHINGTON -- Turns out that NBA old guys Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter are trendsetters.

While jersey exchanges frequently happen in various sports leagues, the swapping of sweaty pullovers never really caught on with the NBA set before this season. 

“I’m not always big on that," Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal said.

The specific holdup varies. There are status factors, but for the too cool players, it's often the asking.   

“We need to do [exchanges] a little bit more, but I’m not really big fans of anybody like that,” now-Thunder forward Markieff Morris said earlier this season before the Wizards traded him in February.

The rules all changed when Wade - who comes to DC for a 7 PM tipoff on Saturday - announced his retirement before the season and most assumed 40-somethings Nowitzki and Carter would follow. Morris, Beal and others went from signing fan memorabilia by the truckload for fans to become obsessed with garnering some precious artifacts of their own. 

Nothing store bought. No manufactured moments. The opportunity they dreamed of as wide-eyed kids existed, but for a limited time only. The clock for them to shoot their shot with these future Hall of Famers was winding down.

Morris never felt the jersey exchange compulsion beyond his basketball-playing twin brother, Marcus, and former Kansas teammate Thomas Robinson. Then came the Nov. 6 meeting at Dallas, Washington’s first game of the season against Nowitzki’s Mavericks. 

“Of course, I like people’s game, but I’m not going to run and get their jersey right now,” Morris told NBC Sports Washington. “Somebody I grew watching and idolizing like Dirk, I need that, and it’s your last year.” 

Beal put aside ego by asking his basketball idol for the shirt off his back when Washington visited the Miami Heat in January.

“I did that with D-Wade because he’s a legend in my eyes and someone I try to mimic," Beal told NBC Sports Washington. "This is his last year, so I didn’t even know if I was going to have an opportunity to play him again. I was like, ‘I got to have it.’”

The mechanics of the jersey swap vary, but primarily the players handle the transaction. Mitchell, a second-year player and one of the league’s rising stars, texted Wade the night before their game to make sure they were set. Trae Young, the Hawks confident rookie, showed some nerves by texting Wade twice before gameday.

Others handle business face to face, no intermediaries.

"No, you do it, man to man,” Morris explained. “You got to go before the game or during the game and say, ‘Yo, jersey swap at the end of the game?’ I assume it works like that. It’s a brotherhood, so I wouldn’t think I have to send my person over there to ask. That doesn’t even sound right. If someone tried doing that to me, I’d say no.”

Beal’s on-court positioning helped facilitate his moment with Wade.

“I was standing right next to him at the end of the game. It was convenient for me because I usually don’t do that,” Beal said. “Not saying I don’t want, but guys that are like superstars, I try not to do it.”

The rush is twofold. Catch your idol before he hits retirement, but also beat your teammates to the punch. 

“Kind of a first come, first serve deal,” Beal said.

Load management for the Hawks’ equipment crew means bringing extra jerseys for each road game because of numerous requests for Carter’s gear even though the 42-year-old, like Nowitzki, has not announced a retirement plan. Yet in the era with specialized jerseys, there might be just a single backup available. 

“I made sure I was the first one to ask [Wade],” Mitchell said after Utah's Monday night win over the Wizards. “It means so much to my career…just to have that memorable moment. He wrote a message on it. It’s pretty special. Got it framed … He’s a legend. Always will be. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s done so much for guys my size. [Showed] we don’t have to be 6’7” to make it in this league if you’re tough and locked in.”

Morris recognized his Washington teammates were sleeping on the future Hall of Famer in Dallas. 

“Nobody was thinking about getting Dirk’s jersey. People don’t really be like I need a Dirk Nowitzki jersey, but I was like I really need a Dirk Nowitzki jersey,” Morris said.

Nowitzki didn’t play in the game, but was courtside when the players returned from the locker room for second half warm-ups. Morris eyed his prize. 

“Everybody kind of knows each other a little bit. You call guys by their first name. Been playing against Dirk for eight years now,” Morris said. “Kind of know him a little bit, so I’m not scared to be like, ‘Yo, Dirk.’ I’m just like, ‘Big fella. I know this is your last year. I’ve always been a big fan of you.’”

Nowitzki, the ninth overall selection the 2008 NBA Draft, learned this year he has many fans among his playing peers. The NBA's sixth all-time leading scorer exchanged jerseys with Wade, a foe in two NBA Finals, and other players during the season.

“It’s humbling,” Nowitzki said when the Mavericks stopped in Washington this month. “It shows you that some guys accept and respect what you have done for this league for two decades.”

Protocol remains unclear for some just entering the league. 

Warriors center Jordan Bell put in a friend request before Golden State visited Washington in January that stumped Wizards rookie Troy Brown Jr.

“I was like ‘I don’t know how it works yet. Bro, I just got here,’” Brown said. “’You’re asking me to give away a jersey.’”

They never did make the handoff, but the self-aware 19-year-old Brown later sounded like a veteran on the topic.

“Of course, there are people that you idolize growing up, but I haven’t really thought about that,” Brown said of asking another player for a jersey. “They usually give them to [established] guys that have been in the league for a couple of years. I’m still trying to get myself together.”

It’s doubtful Brown’s figured it out already, but another shot at Wade comes Saturday in his final game at Washington. 

The clock hasn’t indeed begun ticking on the jersey Brown desires most.

“LeBron’s for sure,” Brown said. “I think he’s got a couple of more years to go before he gets [everyone asking].”

Hopefully by then, Brown learns the rules. Maybe at that point, jersey exchanges among NBA players become rather common even when not including legends of the game. That's assuming they admit they're in fact big fans like that.

Seeing as Nowitzki and Carter have yet to announce they’re retiring, every player might have another shot.

“If I come back,” Nowitzki said, “we’ll do it all over again.”

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