From the introduction of Year of the Dunk:
Everybody wants to dunk, at least metaphorically. We think that if we spent just a year away from our everyday distractions, we could rise above our terrestrial lot: learn Spanish, pick up the piano, re-master calculus, paint. In our fantasies, we think we might all be naturals –the capability of mastering some talent hidden inside us. A few years ago, The Onion cheekily mocked our unspent dreams in an obituary with the headline “97-Year-Old Dies Unaware of Being Violin Prodigy.”
The notion of a “hidden talent” can haunt, too. My mother stopped making art after a junior high school teacher told her she had little talent; she became an art-historian instead, her days spent tromping through museums to examine other people’s work. It’s a familiar story: We leave our singing in the shower. Most adults never bother to pick up a violin, write fiction, or learn other languages. Why acquire a talent just to explore its limits?
I meant to take this dunking metaphor literally: I wanted to slam a basketball through an orange rim. My quest was to make the most with the piece of flesh I’d been given. At the extreme margin of human talent and effort, elite athletes stretch the boundaries that define our capabilities as a species. Will there come a day, the former Trinidadian sprinter Ato Boldon was once asked, when someone runs the 100-meter dash in less than nine seconds? (The record is now 9.58 seconds, set by Usain Bolt.) “Sprinters believe that — someday — somebody will run the 100 meters and the clock will read 0.00,” Boldon said. “And when a sprinter thinks like that, he’s not trying to trick himself. It’s how you have to think. This idea of human limitation is exactly what we’re competing against.” I would never run as fast as Bolt or Boldon. It’s just not in my DNA. But the test I had set myself was just possibly manageable: Given my height and vague athleticism, I felt that with a lot of effort I should be able to push a nine-and-a-half inch ball through a ten-foot-high hoop.
I faced some challenges. I’m of Austro-Hungarian stock, more closely associated with making good pastries than with jumping ability: At the start of this project I could only swipe the rim with the tips of my middle and index fingers. As Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) famously tells Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson): “Billy, listen to me: White men can’t jump.” I owned healthy love-handles – I was 203 pounds – so I was going to have to lose weight and put on muscle. But I had some things going for me: height – I’m 6’2-1/2” with orangutan arms; what a former co-worker once called a “big ol’ sprinter’s butt,” just the kind of powerful posterior I’d need to propel myself hoopwards; and, as I neared my 34th birthday, some left-over sportiness (I had never played a varsity sport, but once upon a time I had captained my college Frisbee team). I had never weight-lifted, either – I despise weight-lifting – and so, to my mind, at least, I remained a tabula rasa. “Pure potential,” my wife, Rebecca, said, with a not-so-small degree of skepticism.