Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James and Atlanta Hawks' Josh Smith: Who can jump higher?
by Brian Windhorst / Plain Dealer Reporter
Wednesday May 06, 2009, 8:50 PM
In a league filled with relative giants, many with remarkable leaping ability, LeBron James and Josh Smith are a head above nearly all others. And sometimes shoulders, too.
There's a number of reasons the conference semifinal series between the Cavs and Hawks, which the Cavs lead, 1-0, heading into Thursday's Game 2, is attractive. But one would be remiss not to keep an eye on a rather unique subplot, a display every other night of perhaps the two highest jumpers in the NBA.
Smith and James have played against each other since they were teens in high-profile AAU tournaments. They could both dunk by the time they were 13. And they can now see eye-to-eye. . . . with the rim.
There are some other contenders but Smith and James are generally regarded as the two highest leapers in the NBA.
When Smith goes airborne for his trademark soaring left-handed dunks, it sometimes seems as if he's using a hidden trampoline. Meanwhile James' signature defensive play, his "chase-down" block, is predicated on his ability to simply out leap the poor opponent trying to score. Not to mention James' own series of high-altitude slams.
So to the point, who can jump higher?
"Josh Smith," said James.
"LeBron gets pretty high, I'm not sure," Smith said.
"That's a really good one, I can't say for sure," said Hawks guard Flip Murray, who has been a teammate with both.
"I'd have to go with LeBron," said Lorenzen Wright, a current Cav and former Smith teammate with the Hawks.
"I don't know. That's a good question to put on the Web site to get a poll going," Mo Williams said.
Beyond the opinions there is some data. When players come into the league they go through a series of standardized measurements at the Pre-Draft Camp, which was held in Chicago when James and Smith came into the league. Among them is vertical leap, which is done from a standing position.
In 2003, James recorded one of the highest jumps in history when he reached 44 inches at the camp. To compare that, Slam Dunk Contest champ Nate Robinson hit 43.5 inches in 2005. Former dunk contest champ Gerald Green, who famously blew out a candle on the back of the rim, was recorded at 39 inches as a rookie. Dwight Howard, who has shown off his ability to kiss the rim, hit 35.5 inches in 2004 when he was 18.
Smith, who was measured the same day as Howard, was recorded at 39.5 inches.
But that was when Smith and James were teens. Now full grown men it seems much closer. Especially when running and jumping off one leg, which may add about a foot to each's ceiling.
Back in March, James and Smith ended up on the floor tied up with the ball at a game in Atlanta. The result was perhaps the most entertaining jump ball of the season. Slow motion replays may be needed but it appeared Smith was able to win it by a centimeter or two but the Cavs ended up with the ball so James technically got the win.
"If we did it 10 times, I'm not sure who would win," Smith said. "I can jump pretty good off two feet, but I'm really good with one."
His left especially, which Smith pushes off on when he takes off in transition. Then James has, as teammate Wally Szczerbiak calls it, "Go-Go Gadget calf muscle on his left leg" as well.
Smith believes he could dunk on a 12-foot rim. James in the past as said the same. A reverse version of limbo -- "How high can you go?" -- would make a popular halftime show.
But it seems their peers don't need to know who can get higher. They have both left an impression.
"Those are two freaks as far as jumping. Josh Smith is more bouncier. For some reason when he jumps, he just bounces, and automatically, you step back and get out of the way," Williams said. "LeBron is more power. He's more of a power jumper. When he jumps, you look and say, I don't think I have a chance with that one either."
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