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April 15, 2012
MONROEVILLE, Pa. - It happened before Jerome Lane, linebacker prospect from Akron (Ohio) Firestone Senior, was even a thought in his father's mind. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder was still years away from being born when his dad of the same name made history.
It was Jan. 25, 1988, and the elder Lane was playing basketball for Pittsburgh in a Big East game against Providence.
"You could say I hear about it every day," said the younger Lane, who attended Sunday's Rivals/VTO Sports Elite 100 camp near Pittsburgh. "I get the questions all the time. 'Are you the son of Jerome Lane?' When I say yes, it's always 'The Jerome Lane who shattered the backboard?' I get that a lot."
And rightfully so because despite a 12-year professional basketball career following a stellar college stint at Pitt, Jerome Lane Sr. is famous for one glass-breaking moment. Sure, he was a first-rounder in 1988, drafted by the Denver Nuggets. Sure, he also played in the NBA for the Pacers, Bucks and Cavaliers, along with a stint overseas and in the CBA. Sure, he led the Big East conference in rebounding for two straight years and led the entire nation in 1986-87. But to anyone who followed college basketball in the late 1980s, he was simply the guy who broke the backboard.
"That's all I've become known for," said Jerome Lane Sr., as he watched his son from the stands Sunday at Gateway High School. "No one remembers my playing days at Pitt or my professional career and I get asked about the dunk every day, pretty much every day. But it's all fun. It's better to be known for something good than something bad."
Now the elder Lane wants to see his son make his own name in football, a sport he nudged him toward when he started high school.
"I told him he had a much better chance to be special as a 6-foot-3 linebacker than he does as a 6-foot-3 power forward," Lane said. "I was 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, and it was tough because I was considered too short by many people. There are only so many Charles Barkleys out there who can have a special career without that height. So I told him football was his ticket."
Now Jerome Lane Jr. has a full scholarship offer from Washington with many MAC schools as well as Pitt showing interest. Does his dad want him to follow in his footsteps in Pittsburgh?
"I have a strong feeling he'll either end up at Pitt or Ohio State," he said. "We live in Ohio and I grew up there and Ohio State is all that matters there. And I played at Pitt and it's a great school. I think one of those options will work out."
As for the younger Lane, he still plays basketball but is fully focused on football. And as for the dunk - famously called on television by Bill Raftery when he exclaimed "Send it in, Jerome!" - the son thinks dad just got lucky that night.
"I tell him that all the time," he said with a laugh. "It's a one-in-a-million deal. I don't even think it's happened since or if it has, not the way he did it. His response to me is 'you do it then' and then he makes me try. I've dunked a million times and of course it won't happen."
Lane tends to agree but admits he kept trying to repeat history every dunk after that one.
"In that game alone I tried to take out the replacement backboard," he said with his affable smile and a chuckle. "Every dunk from that point on - in college, in the pros, in practice - I tried to take down the backboard. I think it was like winning the lottery in a way, the odds are against it that much."
His son first heard about the dunk when he started playing competitive basketball around 7 or 8 years old.
"That's when people started really asking me about it and at first I didn't know what they were talking about," he said. "I knew my dad played basketball at Pitt and in the NBA, but this dunk they started asking about I finally had someone show it to me. It was pretty nasty, probably one of the best you'll ever see."
In fact the dunk, which was a one-handed tomahawk slam on a fast break, has been named one of the top 100 sports moments in history by ESPN and is on everyone's top 10 list for historical dunks.
"It's a big moment I guess," Jerome Sr. said. "It really hasn't been done that much since and when it has it didn't get the same attention for whatever reason. I remember it really well and I think they've added more advanced hydraulics or something since that time. That was the time of the breakaway rims so backboards weren't supposed to shatter, but that one did."
His son finds it ironic now that his dad, famous for one dunk, can't even touch the rim anymore.
"He can't jump over a piece of paper these days," he said, laughing. "I think the last time I saw him even play basketball was 5 years ago. He coached me last year, but he didn't try to show off any of his moves or anything. He's too big and too old now."
"My son is gonna hurt my feelings talking like that," Jerome Sr. laughed. "He's right. You try dunking with 70 more pounds on you at 45 years old. Back in my day I could dunk with the best of them, but my son is the athlete now and in a different sport. I still challenge him though, I still tell him to break one himself if he thinks it was so lucky. He hasn't yet and he never will. I have that on him at least."
Jermone Jr. doesn't care - he's not even a big fan of basketball.
"I play it but I love football because I like to hit people," he said. "In basketball I'm always coming close to fouling out because on defense I'm so aggressive and physical. I can't stand not hitting someone in basketball, it's too soft for me. Give me football any day of the week."
And give him one day where he doesn't hear about one of the most famous dunks in history. His dad would like that as well.
"It gets a little old," Jerome Sr. said. "But it's all in fun. I'd like to be remembered as a good basketball player who had a good college and pro career rather than for one moment in time, but I understand it. When I look back and watch it, I'm pretty amazed by it as well. The best thing about it is that Charles (Smith, his All-American teammate) said he wishes he could have done it."
And so does every other person who ever played basketball, including his son.