OKLAHOMA CITY—Following a 109-103 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers last Wednesday, fourth-year player Kevin Durant accidentally revealed one of the NBA's most carefully guarded secrets: that for more than 60 years, the league's players have been using a complex system of ropes and pulleys to help them dunk the basketball.
During a postgame press conference, Durant was asked how he was able to summon the late-game leg strength to complete a fourth-quarter dunk over Philadelphia center Spencer Hawes. Durant answered that his "personal rig operator, Dave, is really strong, and was able to lift me no problem," after which the 2008 Rookie of the Year stared at the gathered reporters for a long moment before saying "Shoot."
"Well, I guess the cat's out of the bag," Durant said. "Come on, guys, don't look so shocked. If you think about it, this all makes sense. No human being can actually dunk a basketball. The hoop's 10 feet in the air, for God's sake."
"Seriously? The truth of the matter is every Dominique Wilkins dunk you ever saw was because of ropes and pulleys," added Durant, who, before being silenced by his team's publicist, revealed that 7-foot-6-inch center Yao Ming needs a 35-man team of fly operators in order to get him off the ground to complete a dunk.
Durant's remarks prompted an immediate investigation into the NBA by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. After watching footage of more than 90,000 dunks, as well as a VHS copy of NBA Dazzling Dunks And Basketball Bloopers, the committee discovered that, since 1954, players have taken the court wearing full-body harnesses in order to help them dunk and block shots. The harnesses are reportedly hidden underneath the players' basketball shorts and are connected to thin ropes controlled by a team of professionals stationed in the arena's catwalks.
When players are ready to dunk, they signal up to the fly operators, who then pull as hard as they can to lift the player to the basket.
"We can now say with certainty that all dunks, from Michael Jordan's free-throw line dunk in 1988 to Dwight Howard's monster two-handed jams, have been executed by single-point suspension wires with multitracking systems and 20 different lifting pulleys," committee chairman Edolphus Towns (D-NY) told reporters at a press conference Tuesday, adding that as the harnesses increased in complexity over the years, basketball shorts became baggier to cover them up. "If you watch a game in slow motion, you'll have no problem seeing the cables coming out of their uniforms and extending up toward the ceiling."
"It's so obvious," Towns added. "In fact, if crowds remain completely silent during games, they should be able to hear the screech of the rotating lift-wheels and the groaning of ropes being pulled through their grooves."
According to Towns, every NBA player has his own secret signal for when he wants to be lifted off the ground for a dunk. Reports confirmed that in order to signal to his man—master pulley operator Jack Mulcahey, 64, now retired—Michael Jordan used to stick out his tongue.
"We also found that when players hang on the rim after a dunk, it's usually due to a malfunction in the pulley system," Towns said. "In order to distract the crowd, players will often use fake bravado and referees will call a technical while the wires are being untangled 60 feet above their heads."
According to a 550-page report, the father of the modern dunk is not in fact Julius Erving, winner of the first Slam-Dunk Contest, but Peter Foy, inventor of the Foy Rig, a device created for three-dimensional stage acrobatics and first used in the 1950 Broadway production of Peter Pan. The system was secretly brought to the NBA to aid players who were physically unable to jump more than a few inches off the ground because of the heavy weight of their basketball shoes.
Though professional basketball has been shaken by the committee's findings, games have continued as usual. However, there has been a noticeable lack of cheering during slam dunks.
"Now that I know the ropes are there, I can't keep from looking at all the guys standing in the rafters helping the players jump," said Miami resident Paul Lutzka, who along with 20,000 other fans watched in complete silence Wednesday night as LeBron James completed a fast break with a windmill jam. "When he took off it looked all herky-jerky. I can't believe I never noticed that."
Sensing discontent, NBA Commissioner David Stern addressed the media Thursday.
"I want to apologize first and foremost to our fans," Stern said from NBA headquarters in New York. "Basketball is still a great game, and the NBA will recover from this. Frankly, it could have been worse. Kevin could have told you how the ball is connected to thin cables controlled by puppeteers sitting above the JumboTron, puppeteers who have been responsible for every made and missed basket of the past 80 years."
After a long pause, Stern added, "Aw, fuck."