In these trying economic times, many are burning the midnight oil juggling two jobs. This friendly neighborhood sports writer is no different.

I maintain a full-time job as a bartender in a popular local establishment, filling the beer steins and wine glasses of the Northwest side with whatever libations they feel the moment warrants, and I've been doing so for a long while now.

In that time, I've never heard a bar as quiet as it was a couple Mondays ago, around 10 a.m.

Granted, the bar is not open until 11 a.m., but if you've ever been around a pre-opening group of bartenders, service staff, chefs and management before, you'll know mum is decidedly not the word.

Setting up for the day usually involves myriad wisecracks and spirited back-and-forth between fans of various sports teams.

Not that Monday.

The reason – an NBA TV rerun of the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest.

Don't remember it? Click

For those unable to view the clip, just a few words should suffice.

Clyde "The Glide" Drexler. Dominique "The Human Highlight Reel" Wilkins.

Michael "Air" Jordan.

It set me thinking.

What ever happened to the NBA's magic of yesteryear?

Yes, there are players today who can do amazing things.

And yet … something's missing.

Kobe Bryant (a four-time champion) and LeBron James, the NBA's flagship pros, are talented.

But not once during the this year's NBA playoffs or dunk contest, was there ever a moment where child-like awe took hold and conversation at the bar rail extinguished in favor of simply taking it in.

But our jaws were on the floor after viewing a 20-year-old contest. There had to be a reason.

Was it Wilkins' insane tomahawk jam? (Or his casual defiance of aerodynamics in sporting that severe flat-top?)

Was it Drexler's under-the-basket-spinning-one-hand special?

Was it Jordan's epic, gravity-mocking leap from the free throw line to win?

Yes, it was.

But more, it was the feeling that you were watching history. I remember that exact sense watching it the first time, at the ripe old age of eight.

Wilkins versus Jordan must have been what it was like watching Ali versus Frazier. History.

Does anyone in the NBA today have that effect? The feeling in your stomach that you'll be talking about them as old men, probably to the great annoyance of your grandchildren?

Not for me, not right now.

To me, Kobe Bryant is a tarnished star.

His truculent past and inability to work well with almost anyone — coaches, teammates, media — leaves him short of iconic stature. Not to mention that incident in Colorado.

Jordan had the tongue, learned from his father, who stuck it out while working.

Kobe has his new sneer, stemming from … well, who knows? Or cares?

People wanted to know why "Air" Jordan stuck out his tongue. Kids imitated it on basketball courts across the country.

Is that happening with the Kobe sneer? Maybe, but I doubt it.

I know that Jordan had his off-the-court issues, and I know that he had a few on-the-court tiffs with those he worked with, but in reading up on them, it just doesn't seem … Kobe-esque.

LeBron James is a little closer to His Airness.

He's got the one-syllable nickname: "King."

He does the chalk clap, surely being imitated worldwide by more than a few young basketball-ers.

Aside from the infamous dunk-tape confiscation, and not shaking hands like a true sportsman after a loss, James is pretty clean.

But there's just not that sense of enchantment.

So many have dubbed James "the next Jordan." After watching the real deal, I'm not ready to give him that title — it's too precious.

I'm content to hold for a while, watch the reruns, and wait.

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