Herb White, the Elevator from Decatur, headlines AJC’s all-time dunker’s list

It has been more than 40 years since Wilt Chamberlain validated Herb White as Georgia’s leaping legend of the hardwood.

“There was a white boy who played for Atlanta,’’ Chamberlain once said, “and he could dunk better than anyone I’ve ever seen.’’

Nicknamed the Elevator from Decatur, White was nominated more than any player by readers, coaches and fans, who were asked to help The Atlanta Journal-Constitution select the best dunkers in GHSA history. More than 250 players were nominated.

White was selected for the AJC’s final Top 10, along with latter-day Atlanta Hawks player Josh Smith, formerly of McEachern.

White, an executive with Georgia Public Broadcasting, figures his vertical leap as a 6-foot-2 high school player in the mid-1960s was 40 to 42 inches. It was 46 inches during his one NBA season.

“I wouldn’t compare the way I jumped in high school to Darrin Hancock or Shaq Johnson,’’ White said, naming two others on our all-time Top 10. “I’m the only guy I ever saw dunk in a high school game. It was a different era. I saw some guys [dunk] growing up at other schools, but I don’t remember anybody dunking on us at Decatur.’’

In 1967, Beach High of Savannah won the first integrated GHSA state tournament at Georgia Tech. Almost every Beach player could dunk, and stars such as Andrew Knowles and future Harlem Globetrotter Larry “Gator’’ Rivers flaunted it during warm-ups. Beach won by 39 points in the championship game.

“Back then, I think the attitude of most people was, ‘Let’s see the talent,’ ” Rivers once told the Savannah Morning News. “In warmups, we’d put on a dunking exhibition. Guys would be throwing it down all sorts of ways.”

But the National Federation of High School Associations and the NCAA outlawed the dunk the next season and didn’t bring it back until 1976-77. Georgia basketball legends such as Al Wood of Jones County or Tree Rollins of Crisp County didn’t make our list because they never legally dunked in a high school game.

When the dunk returned, it took no time to exploit it. Terry Fair’s leaping ability and power dunks were a indelible part of Southwest Macon’s national championship team of 1979.

A few years later, another Middle Georgia phenom, Kenny Walker of Crawford County, took dunking to another level before going to Kentucky and the NBA, where he won the league’s Slam Dunk Contest in 1989.

“When they called him ‘Sky’ Walker, they called him that for a reason,’’ said Stephen Gordon, a freshman at Crawford County in 1982, when Walker was a senior. “He could jump and place a quarter on top of the backboard in practice. When he played, the entire county was at the gym, standing-room-only. It was always to see him put on a show.’’

Chris Morris came a couple of years later. He shattered a backboard in the NBA, but years before, he was throwing down dunks in his Atlanta hometown while leading Douglass High to a state title.

“Chris gets a rebound, looks for an outlet, can’t find him, so he dribbles to midcourt,’’ said Athens Christian coach Ron Link, who recalled a game against Douglass when he coached at Lakeside. “We’ve got a point guard about 5-11 at the foul line. Chris went up over him and his shoe drags across his head as he’s dunking.’’

In the late 1980s, Grffin High’s gymnasium was sold out regularly with thrill-seekers who chanted, “Who rock? Who rock? Han-cock! Han-cock!’’

“Everybody knew who Darrin Hancock was,’’ Savannah coach Tim Jordan said. “He was doing stuff that Michael Jordan was doing before Jordan was doing it, things that I’d never seen high school kids do. It looked like he was coming from the top of the key he stayed in the air so long.’’

Throughout the 1990s, many of the best dunkers came from Southwest Georgia, where Dougherty, Westover, Mitchell-Baker and Seminole County won state titles and waged legendary games. Dunks were weapons, and some of the more skilled at it were Jumaine Jones, Al Pinkins and Oscar Harvey of Mitchell-Baker, Greg Tinch and Dontonio Wingfield of Westover and Randolph-Clay’s Donnell Harvey, who beat out Carlos Boozer to win the dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-Star game in 1999.

“It counts only two points, but sometimes an outstanding dunk, especially one over a defender, will totally destroy another team’s confidence,’’ said Rufus McDuffie, head coach of five Mitchell-Baker state champions.

In more recent years, dunkers such as Isma’il Muhammad of W.D. Mohammed, DeQuan Jones of Wheeler and Shaquille Johnson at various times were called the state’s best dunker and gained national attention.

White has seen most of the best in recent years during GPS’s coverage of the state finals.

“As far as how high over the basket, the best I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot, was Shaq Johnson, the kid from Milton,’’ White said. “It looked like to me he jumped off two feet most of the time, which I used to do, like Dominique Wilkins used to do. He could explode to the rim after only one or two steps.’’

Johnson, now at Auburn, won dunk contests from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Venice Beach, Calif., and had seven dunks in the 2012 championship game victory against Savannah. Even rival coaches were impressed.

“He’s one that I loved watching,’’ said coach Doug Lipscomb of five-time state champion Wheeler. “I love the game, so when I see something impressive, I don’t care if it’s our kids or theirs. It’s like, ‘Wow!’ “

26 comments Add your comment

No b-ball fan but I do pull for UGA

January 12th, 2013
12:27 pm

Herb the great white hope. Tim Dwight, the world’s fastest what guy. Big Bill Goldberg, WWE Phenom.

No b-ball fan but I do pull for UGA

January 12th, 2013
12:28 pm

Oh, yeah, as if I care, FIRST.

No b-ball fan but I do pull for UGA

January 12th, 2013
12:29 pm

Causasians, we got some cathing up to do.

Max Sizemore

January 12th, 2013
2:48 pm

I saw all four of the Beach wins in 1967, and my recollection is that in warmups 12 of the 15 players could dunk. But I am fairly certain that Knowles and Rivers were not among those 12.

Da Coach

January 12th, 2013
6:33 pm

WHERE IS TRAVIS LESLIE

swatguy

January 12th, 2013
6:46 pm

A.J. Moye used to just Embarass people.

GRIP

January 12th, 2013
8:41 pm

Yep A.J. Moye of westlake and Indiana University was a beast………..

Norwegian Blue

January 12th, 2013
11:13 pm

I played against ones of the Tinch boys back in the 80’s and he was an awesome dunker. I think his name was Reggie? Seems like there was a string of them that came out of Albany for a period of several years- not sure if Greg and Reggie and the others were all brothers or some of them cousins. But they were all great athletes.

Dunkin' Hines

January 13th, 2013
4:30 am

Herb White is the only dunker I ever met so I can’t speak to the others but the Elevator from Decatur” is one of the nicest people I’ve ever known.

Hubert Green

January 13th, 2013
8:03 am

Great class by Herb White saying Shaquille Johnson is the best he’s ever seen. I was fortunate and blessed to be able to watch Shaquille up close for two years. He did things that just were mindboggling. He has improved his all around game going from Milton to Auburn. And he is a nice guy, just like Herb.

brad

January 13th, 2013
9:45 am

The Elevator from Decatur? WHo came up with that LAME moniker? the AJC sports writers?

mrcvsjr

January 13th, 2013
11:00 am

@Norwegian Blue Greg is the nephew of Reginald Tinch. Greg went on to Louisville University where he became more of football player and less of a basketball player.

Lakerman

January 13th, 2013
1:17 pm

Herb White was at Decatur when Roger Kaiser was the head coach. That was the beginnning of the Decatur tradition.

Antanasia Campbell

January 13th, 2013
1:43 pm

I have seen Greg Tinch and Dontonio Wingfield dunks for Westover and the 2 best ones that I have seen each of them do was when Westover played Mitchell Baker for the AAA state title in 2001 when Mitchell Baker was pressing and Darrell Williams gave the ball to Tinch and Greg took one dribble and went through the lane and drew down a powerful dunk on Derrick Haywood who was trying to take a charge and Dontonio Wingfield dunk was in the State Final Four in Albany at the Civic Center when we played Crim with Shandon Anderson and we were pressing and we got the ball and Andre Lewis threw the ball over the rim so high that Dontonio went up and threw it down with one hand with some power and that dunk is on youtube under Dontonio Wingfield name!

OldFriend

January 13th, 2013
5:06 pm

Herb White. The great white hope. Yes, a good person, even in high school. Our team when on a trip to NC with Decatur and Mr. White. He was a great player that could really jump. Decatur did well on the trip where there were at least three games played. This was in the 1964-65 season. I have a good memory of the past, because of Mr. White and the then coach Roger Couch.

FSU Fan!

January 13th, 2013
5:40 pm

Jamil Mckee and Shun Watson of Greenville High School

Tom Ball

January 13th, 2013
7:23 pm

I had th pleasure of playing with herb at Decatur. When I got there I could barely touch the rim but after running hundreds do stadium steps with over the next year. I could dunk with 2 hands. I was only 5′10”.

Herb had natural jumping ability but he worked his ass off to be the leaper he was. He is still a legend down in Mexico where he played after the hawks.

Tripp P. Jones

January 13th, 2013
7:35 pm

Yall Forgot about Anthony Carter from Crim High in Atlanta GA who went and palyed for the Univ of Hawaii and was drafted to the Miami Heat and also played for the Nuggets and the Knicks, he stayed in the league for over Ten Years….He had Tramendoous leaping ability….

BullDawg Rick

January 13th, 2013
9:11 pm

Herb White also coached a year at Avondale & was a great guy, & coach.. He’d put on a clinic for us & Coach Henderson!! I believe Coach Henderson beat him a few times in half court shooting…

2cents

January 14th, 2013
8:56 am

Percy Eberhart deserves a mention.

Curt

January 14th, 2013
10:48 am

Man, I remember Dale Ellis could throw it down back in the day. We were in the Marietta Christmas tournament, I think 78 or 79……Marietta won the tournament and Dale was throwing it down like crazy.

Number15

January 14th, 2013
1:11 pm

I played for Fulton High School out of Atlanta in the 80’s and witnessed several of Chris Morris’ monster dunks! I also had a teammate by the name of Darrell Kennebrew who would finish a lob from wherever I would toss it! I also remember playing against Rodney Holden of Harper High School in Atlanta who was another great power dunker. In fact, Holden played alongside Randall Cooper who was an explosive leaper as well. Finally, I was known to finish at the rim with the best of them. I recall watching Clyde Drexler’s dunks and doing them with ease at practice the next day. In 1984, my high school team lost to the Gainsville Red Elephants in the Class 3-A State Championship. I recall rather vividly Patrick Hamilton catching an alley-oop pass from Chris Carpenter that was higher than I had ever seen! In Atlanta, there was Anthony “Ice-Man” Crawford (Atlanta’s Washington High School) who could ” Get Off The Wood!”I could go on and on, but I won’t for the sake of time.

Bud W.

January 14th, 2013
1:47 pm

It’s “The Vater from Decatur”! He used to do a lot of sports talk radio and had the greatest stories about Pete Maravich. He had a great personality. I wish somebody would put him back on.

Tony Geinzer

January 14th, 2013
8:59 pm

I love getting a kick out of your Dunk Story because Atlanta always has the Best 5 in America versus Anyone Else.

CreakyDawg

January 15th, 2013
9:12 am

BJ Elder out of Morgan county high and Georgia Tech, broke a backboard or two in high school.

DA

January 19th, 2013
12:02 am

Harold “Fuzz” Williams from Cartersville High School (mid-late 1970’s) should be on that list.