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Sports' Most Difficult — And Stunning — Act?03:18
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Is dunking a basketball more difficult than scoring a hole-in-one or landing a flip on a balance beam? (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Is dunking a basketball more difficult than scoring a hole-in-one or landing a flip on a balance beam? (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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I spoke this week with a guy in his late thirties who had spent a year trying to prepare his body, mind and spirit to dunk a basketball.

He believes the dunk is the most exciting single act in sports, in part, because it dramatically discourages the dunker’s opponent.

Maybe he’s right, but maybe not. What about the goal that comes via bicycle kick? Surely that acrobatic move in which a soccer player launches him or herself into a 180-degree spin and kicks the ball into the net while the top of his or her head grazes the turf deserves some consideration as the most-exciting-single-act-in-sports.

What’s more discouraging to a pitcher than seeing his curveball become the prize sought by scrambling fans 400 feet away?

And what about the hole-in-one? The drama builds as the ball drops onto the green, spins back precisely as intended, trickles ever closer to the hole and then drops in, as if it knew where it was going all along. And surely the hole-in-one is as discouraging to an opponent as a dunk.

Then there’s the walk-off, tape-measure home run. One moment everybody in the stands is concentrating on home plate, where the next chapter in the tense contest between the pitcher and the hitter will be enriched or settled. A moment later everybody’s gazing at some spot beyond the field itself to see where the batter’s definitive resolution of that duel will fall to earth. Or whether it will. What’s more discouraging to a pitcher than seeing his curveball become the prize sought by scrambling fans 400 feet away?

And consider the backward elegant backflips turned — sometimes in multiples — by young women on the balance beam. What bargain do they strike with gravity that enables them to toss their feet over their heads and then land softly on those same feet? And how do they make it look, if not easy, at least natural?

Ted Williams is alleged to have maintained that squarely hitting a round target in motion with a cylindrical object is the hardest single act in sports. But did he ever try throwing his feet over his head and landing gracefully on a board 4-inches wide, all the while smiling as if it were great fun? (The smiling part might have been the greatest challenge for Mr. Williams.)

Anyway, whether dunking has it over all or even any of these unlikely triumphs seemed an appropriate question to entertain toward the end of summer, and now I’ve done it. Feel free to weigh in.

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