The Slam Dunk Contest capped off All-Star Saturday night in New Orleans. Observers have since been complaining to anyone who will listen (mainly through social media) about how the contest was garbage compared to past iterations. They’ll do well in old age when they are actually expected to belabour the glory days. While there’s room for improvement in the new dunk contest format, basketball fans were treated to a heap of highlights throughout the event. All-Stars Paul George (Indiana) and John Wall (Washington) joined defending slam dunk champion Terrence Ross (Toronto) on the Eastern Conference team. Ben McLemore (Sacramento), Harrison Barnes (Golden State) and All-Star Damian Lillard made up the Western Conference team. Here are the best and worst moments of the dunk contest.
The contest was fun before the dunkers made their way on to the court. This is only the second time in NBA history that a trio of All-Stars graced the court for the dunk contest. The last time it happened was in 1988, when Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler squared off for the dunk title.
The FreEASTyle round
The East opened with an impressive array of dunks in the freestyle round. Ross, George and Wall demonstrated that they have great chemistry in setting each other up for “mascot dunks,” as TNT NBA analyst Kenny Smith called them. Wall, the point guard of the bunch, threw some perfectly-timed passes that resulted in jams by both his teammates. They developed a rhythm and converted on more dunks than the West. As their allotted 90 seconds winded down, Ross threw the ball off the backboard. Wall caught it and let it go higher. The ball hit the shot clock, then the ground. George managed to palm it, pull it back and slam it down with his right hand. The East won the freestyle round, earning the right to choose whether to go first or second in the battle round. They opted for the latter.
The Battle Round
East and West dunkers battled head-to-head in the battle round. Judges Dominique Wilkins, Magic Johnson and Julius Erving determined the winner of each battle by voting East or West. In this segment, the first team to win three battles was awarded the 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk title.
Lillard vs. Ross
While he stood out in the opening round for the West, there was nothing spectacular about Damian Lillard’s performance in the battle round. Lillard gets a pass, however, because he won the the skills challenge and placed second in the West in the 3-point shootout earlier that night. When it was time for Lillard’s opponent Terrence Ross to take the stage, the Toronto Raptor brought company. Wearing an off-white robe over his uniform, the defending champion strolled onto the court with both Drake and the 2013 Sprite Slam Dunk trophy as “The Champ Is Here” played in the background. Drizzy stood under the rim, just outside the restricted area, with his right arm stretched out. Going in for a monster jam, Ross snatched the ball from Drake’s hand, put it between his legs and threw it down with his right hand. The athletic lefty was criticized by the TNT crew for being too relaxed. Ross completed the dunk on his third attempt. Lillard got his on the second try. The degree of difficulty involved in Ross’ dunk earned him the victory over Lillard. Erving described it as “the perfect dunk.”
Barnes vs. George
This was a battle of long and athletic dunkers. Barnes got plugged in for his dunk—literally. Minnesota’s mascot, Crunch, was sitting right behind him. Never was there a more puzzled timberwolf. What on earth is Barnes doing? It turned out he was connected to a computer with a set of motion capture sensors. As Barnes completed his dunk (on the third try), the Jumbotron displayed a simulated NBA 2K14 replay of it. Nobody else has ever incorporated animation in the contest. Too bad the dunk itself was forgettable. “I wouldn’t use it in a dunk contest,” Smith said. George won the matchup by unleashing a nasty reverse 360 flush through his legs. The degree of difficulty was through the roof, so nobody faults him for needing three official (four actual) attempts. The slam got a flock of fellow All-Stars up on their feet. “No words. No words. No words,” Johnson uttered. Erving added, “Sick is sick.”
McLemore vs. Wall
This was a battle of gimmicks that put KIAs, capes and cupcakes to shame. “Shaq-ramento will now be known as the Land of Shaq-lemore,” a courtly herald declared, “Lord [Shaquille] O’Neal, please usher in this new era.” O’Neal sat on a throne under the rim. McLemore leaped over him like he was a puddle, and slammed it down. The act didn’t end there. O’Neal crowned McLemore, literally. Then came Wall with the Washington Wizards mascot, G-Man. G-Man stood beneath the basket and held the ball above his head. Wall leaped over him, pumped the ball twice and completed his two-handed reverse slam in one go. He ran to the baseline and performed the “Nae Nae” dance with G-Man and George. “John Wall just brought the dunk contest back,” Johnson announced. Wall sealed the victory for the East and was voted the 2014 Sprite Slam Dunker of the Night by the fans.
As far as the NBA regular season goes, it’s fair to say the West is best. But in this contest, the “Leastern Conference” dominated. Three wins in the battle round wins the title. Three battles was all the East needed. Ross, George and Wall completed a clean sweep of the contest. The East earned eight of nine possible votes from the judges. Magic Johnson, who spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers, admitted the potential for bias in giving the West his vote in the Lillard-Ross battle.
People were quick to voice their displeasure of the new dunk format over social media. The Tim Donaghy scandal seemed to spur less backlash. The consensus is that there ought to be one more round in the competition. Forget fan voting based on popularity and momentum. When the East beat the West, George, Ross and Wall should have dunked against each other. Bring back the scorecards to determine, once and for all, who the champion is. The NBA D-League still uses scorecards in their dunk contest. Their event yesterday featured some big-league slams.
Set the ‘Cannon’ loose
Why is Nick Cannon the emcee? Other than maybe Mariah Carey, does anyone like him? Surely the NBA can find a host who can come up with questions more profound than “how does it feel?” Even Matt Bonner thinks Cannon is annoying.
Camerawork needs work
Cutting to the camera above the rim for the majority of dunks is a worse idea than the synthetic game ball. It’s baffling to think anyone would rather see a player’s face as he goes up for a dunk than say, how high he elevates or what he does with the rest of his body before putting the ball through the hoop. From a bird’s-eye view, it’s challenging to see whether the ball actually goes in. Fans watching from this awkward angle may spill their drinks cheering after what appeared to be an awesome dunk, only to be confused moments later as George takes a walk of shame back to the 3-point line for another attempt. The lesson: less closeups of the rim, more of everything else. Bonus points for Phantom Cam, which makes every play look cool.