The Elijah Johnson dunk

Why has there been so muchdebate about Elijah Johnson’s slam dunk in the final seconds of a game at Iowa State on Monday night that had already been put to bed?

Kansas senior Elijah Johnson put on one of the best individual performances in KU history Monday night against Iowa State in Ames.

I’m getting older every day and don’t pretend to know how things are comprehended by young people these days. But from the stuff I’ve seen on Facebook and especially on Twitter, it seems a lot of young Kansas fans are OK with the exclamation point Johnson’s dunk gave the evening and the win.

I’m not and here’s why. It’s an old-fashioned thing called sportsmanship, which was taught back in the dark ages before everybody became so rude.

We used to teach our kids not to rub an opponent’s nose in their defeat. To win with class and to lose with dignity, with the understand that there would be other days to fight.

Johnson had an unbelievable game against Iowa State. He saved the Jayhawks from what would have been a devastating defeat with his 39 points, including 12 in overtime. He made one clutch shot after another. And shortly after the game, Johnson apologized for the dunk. It was a concession made almost certainly at the behest of KU coach Bill Self, who was put into the uncomfortable position of apologize to Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg for his player’s zealousness.

Johnson is 22 years old. It’s crazy to get too worked up about his ill-advised dunk. He knew better; he got caught up in a moment.

But it’s also a chance for us to remind ourselves why being a sportsman is important. It’s the essence of sports, really, and as big a reason as any why every kid everywhere should be subjected to athletics. There’s a bigger picture in sports than winners and losers. There are lessons to be learned in how to deal with winning and losing.

That’s where Johnson overstepped his bounds. Those who want to put his dunk aside and move on to the next subject are missing a chance to educate. I hope there are parents out there who will explain to their children why what Johnson did was wrong and why Self felt compelled to apologize for his player’s actions.

And why, too, Johnson admitted it was something he shouldn’t have done.

Good sportsmanship isn’t fancy and it doesn’t get anyone on Sports Center. Slam dunks at the end of an already-decided game do.

I have heard the rationalization that Iowa State wasn’t making any attempt to stop Johnson, so why shouldn’t he dunk? I have heard people say that Johnson deserved that “icing on the cake” because of his tremendous performance. I have heard it said that if there are two easy points to be gotten, then by all means take them.

By dunking, Johnson showed up Iowa State and its fans. Perhaps he thought they deserved some showing up. Hilton Coliseum is a hostile environment and you can bet that verbal arrows were being shot at the Jayhawks from all directions.

Even so, Johnson should have dribbled out the seconds that remained, tossed the ball to an official and celebrated with his teammates. That he chose a more coarse way to celebrate is unfortunate.

And it has me fearful that sportsmanship isn’t being taught the way it used to be. That winning is more important than ever, by any means necessary. That what used to be inexcusable is now acceptable and that those of us who come from the old school of sports ethics are being shoved aside by a bunch of in-your-face antagonists who believe in style over substance.

Johnson’s late-game dunk had style, all right. Most of his KU teammates jumped up and down as he skied for the jam. Self, meanwhile, shook his head, understanding that he would be the one to have to clean up Johnson’s mess.

I’m not in a state of panic that sportsmanship is dead and gone. But it’s not always as front and center as it used to be in sports. Here’s hoping for a comeback.