T-Dot Flight 31 Takes Off

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Thirteen years on from Vince Carter’s obliteration of the competition in the 2000 slam-dunk contest—possibly the greatest slam-dunk contest performance of all time—the Toronto Raptors have another champion: Mr. Terrence Ross. Ross livened up what was an underwhelming contest, especially considering all the hype leading in, with a fantastic dunking exhibit. His final two dunks—the first completed while wearing a vintage Carter jersey, and the second, putting the ball through his legs and slamming it home after leaping over a small child—were worthy of earning him the victory. Jeremy Evans, last year’s winner and Ross’ opponent in the final, although going the gimmicky route that’s been favoured for the past few years, had some pretty tasty dunks of his own. A windmill dunk over a painting of himself doing said dunk, was particularly eye-catching.

The final four dunks not only brightened up what was an average dunk contest, they also helped brighten up a pretty average evening overall. The festivities began with the Shooting Stars competition—you know, the one that you have one eye on, and the other eye on all the snarky remarks about it on Twitter. Of course, this year saw a slight tweak in the night’s format. East would be pitted against West—Dwayne Wade vs. Chris Paul—with the most successful team getting a cheque to donate to a charity of their choice. Unfortunately, the competition itself wasn’t as positive as the NBA’s charitable spirit. After what seemed like an eternity spent watching guys like Brook Lopez and Dominique Wilkins trying to hit half-court shots, the Bosh-Nique-Swin Cash trio came out on top.

Next up came the Skills Competition—a tad more engaging that the Shooting Stars competition, but not a whole lot. The problem with the Skills comp is that most of the guys in it have a look on their faces like, “Yeah, the NBA wanted me to do this so I couldn’t say no”. Tony Parker looked determined to lose so he wouldn’t have to come back in 2014, and could spend his Saturday night partying. He looked about as interested as someone watching a kettle boil. It was Portland’s rookie sensation, Damian Lillard, who blew away the competition, going under 30 seconds in his first run, and comfortably beating Jrue Holiday’s time in the final. Lillard’s trophy will go nicely with the Rookie of the Year hardware he’s almost certain to win. Unfortunately Damian, you’re going to have to come back and defend your title next year.

In between the underwhelming action, we got underwhelming performances from Phillip Phillips—an American Idol winner, or so I’m told—and Fall Out Boy (wait, they’re still together?!). Fall Out Boy were all rocking Chicago Bulls’ jerseys, so kudos to them for that, but it’s hard to understand what the NBA was thinking when deciding on the music for Saturday night. If the target audience was 13 year-old girls then fair enough. But moving on…

Things did improve with the 3-point Shootout. The West’s three contestants, Steph Curry, Ryan Anderson, and Matt Bonner, all put up respectable numbers, but it was the fan-favourite Bonner who moved on to the finals after scoring 19. In the East, Kyrie Irving—who, incidentally, put on an absolute clinic in the Rookie-Sophomore game on Friday night—defeated Paul George (don’t ask) and Steve Novak to move on through. And in the final Kyrie proved that he basically rules at everything he does in life. Shooting first, the Cavs superstar put up an extremely impressive 23 points. Bonner did his best to match it, but fell short with a score of 20. With the weekend that Kyrie’s having he may be a dark horse for the All-Star game MVP on Sunday night.
 
 

…but on to the dunk contest.

It wasn’t without good reason that people were extremely optimistic and excited about this year’s contest. Gerald Green, the 2007 winner, was back—remember that ‘cupcake dunk’—and James ‘Flight’ White’s presence had everyone buzzing. White and Green had an epic dunk contest showdown in Russia a few years back and White had become a YouTube sensation for his one-handed free-throw line dunks. Fantastic in-game dunkers, Eric Bledsoe and Kenneth Faried (the Rookie-Sophomore game’s MVP), last year’s winner Jeremy Evans, and of course, Terrence Ross, rounded out a very promising lineup.

It wasn’t for want of trying that the contest disappointed, but disappointed it did. On the East side Green started things off impressively with a ferocious double-pump dunk, and Ross’ first dunk, although it took him 5 tries, was impressive; but White disappointed. He failed to complete his second dunk. It looked like he was trying to dunk from the free-throw line while putting the ball through his legs, but by the third try he was visibly exhausted. Green, also trying a dunk with a ridiculously high degree of difficulty—he cut the net down so he could dunk the ball, catch it in his other hand, and dunk it again—failed to put up any points. With time dragging on, and the net eventually having to be replaced, the crowd started to lose interest. Ross could’ve hit a lay-up at that point and it would’ve been enough to make the final.

In the West Jeremy Evans—a guy who really needs to work on the rest of his game—got through comfortably. Bledsoe and Faried both put up really nice second round dunks (Faried’s through the legs was awesome) but their first round efforts were pretty uninspiring. Evans’ dunk over Jazz legend Mark Eaton (it would’ve been more impressive if Eaton was standing up) got him safely through to the finals.
 
 

And in the end, the right man won.

Ross wasn’t just the most consistent and impressive dunker on the night; he also attempted to bring the dunk contest back to its roots. No jumping over cars. No jumping over people. No blowing out candles; just straight-up awesome dunking. Green and White, to be fair to them, were trying to impress without gimmicks too, however, there’s were a degree of difficulty too far.

But to bring the dunk contest further back to its glory days—and Charles Barkley waxed lyrical about this during the TNT broadcast—it stills need some more star power. It’s been beaten like a dead stick, but back in the 80s and 90s the superstars of the NBA—guys like Jordan, Kemp, and Wilkins—all competed in the dunk contest. No disrespect intended, but Jeremy Evans dunked more times tonight than he has for the Jazz this entire season. How great would it be if someone—it would probably have to be one of their big sponsors—could tempt guys like LeBron and Durant into participating in the dunk contest? There’s nothing wrong with role players having their moment in the sun—and lots of respect to Terrence Ross—but a little more star power wouldn’t hurt.

And one more suggestion to the NBA (I’m assuming they read everything I write): How about scrapping the Shooting Stars and Skills Competitions in favour of a 1-on-1 event. Take 4 guys and have them each face off, mano-a-mano, in a first to 11 points (you have to win by 2) street-style ball game. For about 5 minutes on Friday night the Rising Stars game turned into Brandon Knight vs. Kyrie Irving, and it was amazing. What’s wrong with recreating and expanding that idea for Saturday? Soon to be commissioner, Adam Silver, has mentioned that he’s considering revamping some aspects of All-Star weekend. Let’s start there, Mr. Silver.
 
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