A FEW WEEKS ago a 6-foot-7 basketball player named Georgeann Wells took a pass from a teammate, jumped high as she approached the basket, and slammed the ball through the hoop with her right hand. It was, as far as is known, the first time a woman had scored with a dunk shot -- the thwunk! heard round the world.
Her West Virginia University teammates, who had been anticipating this for some time, celebrated so long and hard that they were charged with a technical foul for delaying the game. Miss Wells has since performed another dunk, and dozens of tall women are expected to follow her example in the years to come, now that the male monopoly on the crowd-pleasing shot has been ended.
The enthusiasm is understandable. The slam dunk is definitely box office, the big time. It is speed, grace, strength and size, all marvelously coordinated in ways that allow huge human beings to hang in the air longer than Peter Pan and perform an amazing range of moves before stuffing the ball through the hoop.
It is also getting to be a bit much. So many players are dunking so often now that a night at a game can be like a night at the opera in which the two-ton soprano with the spear hits the same high note a dozen times. After a while it begins to wear.
The dunk is symbolic of the emphasis in the men's game these days -- especially in the pros -- on mass, strength, position and bruising collisions. Often the question of whether a basket counts is determined by the question -- almost theological in its abstruseness -- of whether a defender now sprawled on the floor had the right to hold his position against the man who bowled him over during his charge to the basket. The women's game, while it may not excite the crowd as much, is probably a lot closer to what Dr. Naismith had in mind: passing, strategy, precise shooting and strict limits on the rough stuff.
Last week a Treasury official, assessing the move of Donald Regan to the White House, said: "In terms of tax reform it's a slam dunk." A nice analogy that might catch on in Washington when people talk about an exercise of power from an advantageous position near the goal. The slam dunk is power and aggressiveness; it is embarrassing your enemies and showing off for your friends; it may not be necessary, but it shows who's boss. Oh, yes, Georgeann Wells, that was one giant leap you took the other day.