This Year’s Dunk Contest: Kitsch and Gimmicks

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Last year’s dunk contest set a dangerous precedent, didn’t it?

If you recall, the 2011 Dunk Contest saw a DeMar DeRozan swept at the knees for trying complex, technical dunks, while the crowd favoured gimmicky circus tricks like Blake Griffin leaping over a Baron Davis-sporting Kia. A miffed DeRozan swore off the Dunk Contest, and onlookers declared the end of the Dunk Contest’s integrity. Surprising no one, the 2012 Contest offered up more of the same.

This time, the contestants knew what to expect—this 2012 Dunk Contest wasn’t going to be a meritocracy; this was an all-out popularity contest, with viewers hanging by their phone to text in their votes.

Have you ever competed in anything whose outcome is determined by audience votes? There are a few ways you can sway the voters, but you always have to keep in mind—audiences will usually vote for the person they remember most. So you either have to go last, or you have to be very, very memorable. Blake Griffin leaping over Baron Davis memorable. So you better put away your technically brilliant DeRozan dunks, and bring out the populism.

So hence we get stuff like Chase Budinger catching a ball tossed by Diddy and bringing it home. That’s a dunk based entirely on kitsch appeal. Ditto Kevin Hart doing a comedy bit with Jeremy Evans in which he’s a mailman bringing a special delivery of a Karl Malone jersey.

But the shadow of Blake Griffin loomed large over the contest. The theme this year was People Jumping Over Things. Budinger leapt over Diddy, Paul George leapt over Roy Hibbert and Dahntay Jones, Derrick Williams leapt over a motorcycle, Jeremy Evans flew over a seated Gordon Haywards… The logo for the Sprite-sponsored contest should have been a guy suspended in the air over another guy. Paul George zooming over the gigantic Roy Hibbert is worth a jawdrop, but the contest is guilty of a lot of sameism.

Jeremy Evans, who ate up a whopping twenty-nine percent of the vote, sometimes seemed to be the only one not phoning it in. Paul George’s glow-in-the-dark spin in the air rightly took second-place, though if it had been a bit easier to see on TV, it would have won George the trophy. Such is the curse of the TV voting audience, and the limitations of the medium.

As for Williams, well. The motorcycle didn’t even have Baron Davis on it. Not to mention the whopping nine misses in a row, which tends to encapsulate the problem the Dunk Contest has as an event. When contestants miss and miss and miss, it’s as fun to watch as seeing a guy miss a dunk over and over can be.

This year’s contest may have been filled with missteps (Chase Budinger’s “blindfold” jump counts as a highlight, and that’s sad), but it’s a stepping stone to something bigger. As fewer and fewer stars agree to participate in what is becoming a pretty ridiculous media circus, and gimmicks get more and more shameless, the Dunk Contest will become something truly incredible to watch, the misshapen, gaudy shadow of its former self. Call me when Iman Shumpert jumps over an elephant.
 

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