Awak Kuier had been waiting for a clear path on a fast break. The 20-year-old, second-year forward finally got her chance June 10 in the first quarter against the Seattle Storm.
Kuier was guarding Breanna Stewart when Stewart flashed toward the top of the key to receive a pass from Sue Bird. But Kuier got her left hand on the chest pass, gathered the ball and dashed down the court.
“At first, I didn’t plan to deny [Stewart],” Kuier said. “It just kind of happened. When I denied and I saw that I was on a fast break and I was like, ‘OK, now it’s my moment. It’s now or never.’ So I just went for it.”
Kueir gathered herself inside the free throw line, took one more step just inside the paint, lifted off her left foot and dunked the orange-and-white WNBA basketball with her right hand.
The College Park Center crowd went wild.
“It was amazing,” coach Vickie Johnson said. “It was great to see her, what she could be, and the potential that she has.”
The electricity could even be felt by those at home.
“I was screaming,” said Wings teammate Marina Mabrey, who was in the league’s health and safety protocols that day and watched the game at home. “When she stole it. I was like, ‘Dunk it! Dunk it! Dunk it! Dunk it!’”
Kuier became the eighth player to dunk in a WNBA game with that right-handed slam, which was the 33rd dunk in league history.
Brittney Griner is by far the most prolific dunker to play in the WNBA and has accounted for 24 slams. Lisa Leslie and Candice Parker are second behind Griner on the all-time list with two each. The other four players who have dunked did so during an All-Star Game.
Liz Cambage is the only other Wings player to dunk, a one-handed jam in the 2018 All-Star Game.
“In the WNBA, no one wants to get dunked on,” Griner told ESPN last year. “So, like, they’re not just going to give it to you, so you really have to commit to do it in the game.”
Kuier’s dunking ability has been highlighted often since she emerged on the global stage. She has been able to dunk since she was 14 years old. Her first dunk wasn’t anything special, she recalls. Her friends asked her to try it, so she did.
Soon after, the NBA tweeted a video of her dunking at a Basketball Without Borders camp in 2017. Now anytime she dunks in front of a camera, it has the potential to go viral. More than a few have. The second clip in this season’s WNBA hype video was one of her pregame dunks from last year.
When Kuier first started dunking, it was nothing more than that to her. But as she has gotten older, her slams have taken on a new meaning.
“I think it’s very important to have someone definitely do that and bring hope to young girls that they might be able to do that, too,” Kuier said. “Just give them courage to have the courage to try it. It’s not common so people don’t really look at it as a part of the game for women. I think it’s easier when you see [it] happen and you try it yourself.”
Her WNBA dunk has also unlocked new parts of Kuier’s game. She said getting her first dunk out of the way has made her more comfortable on the court and lifted some pressure off her shoulders.
After the dunk, Kuier went on to play a career-high in minutes on her way to season-high nine points. She played 20-plus minutes the next two games.
Through the first 11 games of the season, Kuier averaged 8.9 minutes per game, 1.7 shot attempts per game and 1.7 rebounds per game. The last six games have seen her numbers jump to 14.1 minutes, 3.5 shot attempts and 3.8 rebounds.
Kuier hasn’t dunked in another game but she still slams home a dunk to conclude Dallas’ warmups before every game. Those dunks, which always send a buzz through the arena, include one-handed slams, two-handed jams and alley-oops.
But Kuier is looking to dunk in a game again, and hopefully make her second slam even better.
“Everybody wanted me to do it so badly,” Kuier said. “I feel like now I’m just more comfortable with it and will definitely do it if I get an opportunity again.”
Find more WNBA coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.