Ja Morant is more unique than the usual unicorn because he is an amalgamation of all the NBA's most kinetic live wires and twisted steel. A terrific flying machine the likes of which the Wright Brothers could never imagine. A walking, talking Red Bull Flutag entry that not a single person fears will crash into the water. At the ripe age of 22, with his whole life ahead of him, he's capitalizing on the biggest moment of his basketball life on the brightest stage with the same undeniable panache and beautiful violence that's become synonymous with his name.
Down 13 points in the final seconds of the third quarter last night, the Memphis Grizzlies' season was slipping away. Like any mathematician, Morant knew that the fastest way from the Point A of unrealized dreams to the Point B of whatever comes next is a straight line. And so that's what he took. Over Malik Beasley. Cutting through the immutable laws of physics that bind mere mortals.
Ranking dunks is like ranking children and every one is special in its own way. But the magnitude of this one, combining artistry and thunder, made it different. So too did the ferocious comeback it foretold. Morant would go on to make clutch bucket after clutch bucket, including the final one in the game's waning seconds, to usurp control of the series and elevate his legacy another rung.
His is a coming-out party that lives up to the hype. That makes good on all of those bold promises made on the flyer. With the eyes of the basketball world on him, and his celebrity sidekick father sitting courtside mugging for the cameras next to a doppelgänger, Morant ushered in his next phase by letting it burn. An iconic dunk fit perfectly in the frame of Getty's Joe Murphy, who snapped an indelible shot now ubiquitous on timelines and memory banks from coast to coast.
There is something timeless about such a thorough posterization preserved in amber. Morant is surely the future, yet what makes him such an incredible canvas is that he is comprised out of parts of the past. When you look at this it conjures up those special memories of Michael Jordan. Or Vince Carter. Or Blake Griffin. Or Allen Iverson. Or any specimen capable of reaching down into our psyches and touching that rare-to-reach area of unlimited athleticism and potential.
He shouts the promise of youth and exhales coolness in ferocious breaths. He captures imagination in such a classic way that resonates with fans who have loved the NBA for decades. When you look at this picture you see a poster on a wall. In 1994. Or 1998. It belongs next to a Ken Griffey Jr. frame. Or a Barry Sanders. Birds of a feather, who soar on wings stronger than most minds can imagine, must flock together. Morant is like Bo Jackson or Michael Johnson. An athlete who must be seen to be believed who somehow always finds a way to one-up his previous exploit. A muse for a no-limit life and a muse to those who dream of breaking free of gravity.
And that's just the style. Which eventually could be exceeded by substance if Memphis gets past the Timberwolves and Morant continues his heroics deep into the playoffs. There's a chance last night becomes his Game 5 in the same way LeBron James' destruction of the Detroit Pistons in a series-shifter did. There have been many inflection points in the young guard's career already. This may emerge as the most significant to date.
This 22-year-old could be anyone, including the next Jordan. We have enough evidence to put that idea on paper. There have been many would-be successors yet none have replicated the experience of young MJ like Morant. It's not an unreasonable stance to believe there will never be a next in line. But goddamn it, it sure feels like this is the closest we'll ever get.
In an era where the tearing down begins alongside the building up, Morant is carving out a niche. Finding out who he will be will be more joyous than finding out who others won't be. His career and game could go in so many directions because he is so malleable. Think of him like a skilled Saturday Night Live star who can seamlessly channel spot-on recreations of NBA superstars, toggling through them depending on what the moment calls for. He's a bit of a chameleon who simply cannot help but be the most colorful character.
He has many scenes left to steal.