The man who calls himself Air Canada soared to new heights on Saturday night.
Halifax Rainmen star Eric Crookshank thrilled the hometown crowd of 3,216 at the Metro Centre by winning the slam-dunk competition as part of the Premier Basketball League’s inaugural all-star weekend.
Crookshank had little trouble breezing through three rounds of the contest but made the highlight of the night a 50-point second-round dunk that saw him don a Superman outfit, complete with tights and underwear, in a routine inspired by former NBA slam-dunk champion Dwight Howard.
Three fans clad completely in blue and sporting No. 20 Rainmen jerseys circled the six-foot-eight Californian at centre court as he got changed, then sat in chairs at the no-charge line and waited for Crookshank to leap over them for a soaring two-handed jam.
“I went on Youtube and saw Dwight Howard do it --- but he only had the top and the cape,” Crookshank said afterward. “I decided to go the whole nine yards, put on the undies and the whole bit. I got the crowd into it, called the hecklers (the fans in blue) and said I want you to get really involved, come circle around me and I’ll change in the booth. We had a good time.”
Crookshank had two 50-pointers among his six dunks and posted round-by-round scores of 97, 97 and 85 to edge out runner-up Gary Ervin, the Rainmen’s all-star point guard. Ervin, a six-footer, had scores of 81, 95 and 76, but flubbed on his final alley-oop to give Crookshank the win almost by default.
Crookshank, who averaged 13.8 points and 12.6 rebounds this season, decided against saving the Superman dunk for last.
“Everybody said save that for the finale,” Crookshank said. “But I didn’t know if I was going to be around for the finale. So I did it early to win the crowd over.”
Rochester RazorSharks point guard Jerice Crouch, a six-footer, was the only other dunker to get 50 points from the judges on an impressive one-handed alley-oop that he threw to himself.
Jevohn Shepherd, a wildcard entry from the Rainmen, advanced to the second round but couldn’t execute his dunks and was eliminated.
In the three-point competition, RazorSharks star Keith Friel, the 2009 league MVP, withstood a tough test from Rainmen standout Desmond Ferguson to claim the title. Friel, who was tied with Ferguson after the final round, won by just one point in a fourth-round shoot-off.
Friel almost didn’t make it in time to enter the contest because he was directed to the wrong dressing room in the bowels of the Metro Centre beforehand. He strolled onto the court at the last minute and didn’t take a single warm-up shot, but posted scores of 18, 21, 21 and 20 en route to victory.
“I was running around back there for about a half an hour and when I got out here, they told me I was scratched,” Friel said. “I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, I’ve been here the whole time.’
“They let me in, but I had no warm-up and came straight in with no shots.”
Friel and Ferguson have been the best three-point shooters in the PBL the past two seasons, so it was no shock it came down to them.
Ferguson lived up to his nickname of Moneyball, draining 16 of 20 moneyballs --- the label given to the final ball at each station.
But he missed his last one and it ended up costing him the title.
“That last one would have got me the win,” Ferguson said. “But Keith’s a great shooter. He’s proven that through the years in this league and he proved it tonight.”
Rainmen point guard Eric Gilchrese was eliminated in the first round.
Crookshank and Friel received trophies and a $1,500 prize.
The all-star game is Sunday at 3 p.m.