Is the Dunk Contest Really That Bad?

Scott Halleran

And if so... how do we fix it?

The Sprite Slam Dunk Contest field is set.  Toronto Raptors wing - and Washington HuskyTerrence Ross will defend his crown against Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, Sacramento Kings rookie Ben McLemore, Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes, and most people's favorite, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George.  Will people finally accept the dunk contest this year?

The overwhelming consensus (or at least the narrative in the press) is that the NBA Slam Dunk Contest is a broken model. And of course, the number one reason that is always pointed to is the event's lack of star power. Everyone is clamoring for LeBron James to be in it. Everyone wants Blake Griffin to be in it. Everyone points to the "good old days" when Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter took part. Is that really the problem?

When Kobe entered the contest, he was an 18 year old rookie. He was not the "Black Mamba" yet. He still wore #8. Vince Carter was in his second year. He was the leader of the Raptors at that point, but the Raptors were terrible.  It was the Slam Dunk Contest that put those players on the radars of NBA fans.

In 2005, the event was renamed to the "Rising Stars Slam Dunk" and only players in the league three years or less were allowed to take place. The idea was mostly panned because it took away the ability to participate by a lot of the stars who weren't actually going to participate anyways. I, personally, loved the idea of the Rising Stars concept.

The WORST concept that the Dunk Contest ever indulged in was the 2002 "Dunk Wheel." Players spun a wheel and then had to complete whatever dunk it landed on. The idea pretty much eliminated all creativity and surprise. You knew what the player was going to do before he ever did it. Unfortunately, no players even tried to put their own spin (no pun intended) on it. If it said "under the legs," you got a basic under the legs dunk.

hey, it's Desmond Mason!

The contest in 2010 was a sad sight, but not because of any stupid gimmicks. It was just because all the competitors looked like they had no interest in being there. Gerald Wallace, then of the Charlotte Bobcats, went up, did a reverse dunk, and sat down. There was no hype. Shannon Brown, the crowd favorite, looked lost and like he didn't prepare any dunks whatsoever. Nate Robinson won the event with a double clutch reverse, one of about seven that he did that night.

The NBA Slam Dunk Contest is not broken. It is also not, no matter how many consecutive years Kenny Smith says so, "back." The problem isn't a lack of star power, however. It's a mixture of stupid gimmicks, apathetic players and fan ignorance.

Very few people knew who Terrence Ross was last year. Now he is quickly becoming the number two option on the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors and recently tied that franchise's single-game scoring record with 51 points. This is a big reason why I loved the "Rising Stars" concept, because it introduced some of the young guys of the future to the casual fan. Unfortunately, it's those casual fans who don't care and would rather sit with their arms crossed and mumble under their breath about how they wish LeBron was in it. Last year, while everyone was pining for LeBron to enter, I was thinking "man, I hope Terrence Ross and Gerald Green are in it." The All-Star Game itself usually winds up being a dunk exhibition anyways, so you can see LeBron and those guys then.

The Slam Dunk Contest needs to be viewed in a vacuum. Pretend you don't know any players, in it or not. Pretend you've never seen a dunk contest before. Pretend you've never seen a dunk before. There are only so many things a human body can do in the time it takes to jump up, slam a ball through a metal ring and land. Granted, for some guys that time is longer than others, but there's still a limit. Just sit back and enjoy the freakish athleticism. Too many fans sit and think "well, I've seen a guy do that before." That's how you end up with guys doing the same dunk but now he's jumping over a table! Now he's jumping over a car! Now he's jumping over a motorcycle! STOP IT. Part of me wishes the NBA would ban props altogether, but another part of me freaking loved Gerald Green's "birthday cake" dunk.

The first, and most important, step to bringing back the Dunk Contest is changing fans' viewpoints. I understand that All-Star Weekend is all about the star power, but the Dunk Contest should not be about the best players, it should be about the best dunkers, and the guys who want to take part. Every year there is at least one #LetSoAndSoDunk movement (it was Ross last year, and look how that turned out. He won the contest). Those guys should be the first ones to get a call from the NBA. In fact, the NBA should have players petition to be in it, instead of offering out invitations. A quick Google (or Bing, whatever) search will show that the NBA sent invites to DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard for this year.  Howard declined, Jordan said he wanted to go to New Orleans as an All-Star.  Meanwhile, Victor Oladipo made public his desire to take part, did he received an invitation? If I had to speculate, I'd wager he did not.

I get that the NBA wants fan interaction with the event, but fan voting in the Finals also needs to go away. It's not a popularity contest. What they should do is have all the interested parties submit videos by a set deadline, then put all the videos up on a website and let the fans vote on who they would most like to see enter the contest. Granted, this would still be a popularity contest, but it'd be based on guys who want to be there and hopefully people would actually watch the videos and judge accordingly.  It also would not have a bearing on who wins, as you would have actual judges judge the competition itself, and award the trophy to the best dunk of the night.

I don't care what anyone says, the Dunk Contest is still my favorite event of All-Star Weekend. If we'd all just realize that it should be an event for the young, hungry, and freakishly athletic, we'd all enjoy it a little bit more.

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