When Julius Erving, a slam-dunk pioneer who set the standard for all subsequent contestants of the NBA All-Star Weekend dunk contest sits in his chair, his jaw on the floor, his head shaking, you know something pretty amazing just happened.
Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Zach Lavine dominated the Slam Dunk Contest—a very good Slam Dunk Contest, at that—on Saturday night at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. A few weeks ago his teammate, Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins, declined an invite to participate in the contest. Smart move. The Toronto native must have known what he would’ve been up against, having the luxury of watching LaVine in practice every day.
Poor Mason Plumlee. Poor Victor Oladipo. They didn’t stand a chance.
In recent years the dunk contest has underwhelmed fans. The decline was partly the result of an over-reliance on gimmicks—cars to jump over, birthday candles to blow out and ill-advised cameos from Shaq. But the involvement of gimmicks arose from a need to do something different—something that hasn’t been done before. Dr. J had the cradle dunk, Jordan dunked from the free-throw line, Vince Carter stuck his whole freaking arm throw the rim. It’s tough to top that. LaVine came close, however.
There were no gimmicks on Saturday night. Just dunks. Amazing dunks. The first came from Oladipo. He came out singing Frank Sinatra and, on his third attempt, nailed a ridiculous 520-degree reverse dunk that would have impressed Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. That alone could’ve carried him to victory in the last three competitions. But LaVine, evidently a big fan of the movie Space Jam (a movie that has acquired a cult following which I’ll never understand) effortlessly executed a Carter-like slam, putting the ball between his legs and throwing it down with his head practically touching the rim.
Mason Plumlee and Giannis Antetokounmpo were just afterthoughts at this point. It was down to two men. Oladipo once again executed a dunk worthy of taking home the trophy in past years—throwing it down off the side of the backboard. LaVine trumped him again, however: through his legs, behind his back and thundering home. LaVine didn’t jump. He practically floated. James Harden and Russell Westbrook could barely contain themselves courtside.
Oladipo could only sit back and admire what he was up against at this point. He looked like a guy who had had the wind well and truly taken out of his sails. The Magic guard tried to up the difficulty level in the final round—he had to in order to make himself stand out—but he couldn’t execute on a dunk over his Orlando teammate Elfrid Payton. LaVine sealed the win by grabbing the ball from Wiggins and dunking with his off-hand.
We might be entering an era of dunk contest domination from Zach LaVine.
The Opening Acts
Oh, and there were other events on All-Star Saturday night. If course, none could get the previously comatose Brooklyn crowd (they were shamefully quiet) on their feet quite like the main event. Steph Curry did his best, cruising to victory in an unfairly stacked Three-Point Shootout contest—although Kenny Smith and Reggie Miller did their utmost to distract the field with their inane running-commentary.
Curry’s final-round score of 27 was the highest winning score in the history of the event—and the greatest shooter in today’s NBA made it appear effortless. Golden State teammate Klay Thompson tightened up in his final round, but he couldn’t snatch the locker-room bragging rights.
Bear in mind Kevin Love won the contest with a score of 17 in 2012. That wouldn’t have gotten him or any other player to the second round this year.
The Skills Competition featured a welcome format change, with the competitors racing against each other on the basketball obstacle course instead of against the clock. This seemed to awaken more of a competitive edge in the participants (except Elfrid Payton). Still, anything’s better than the typical display of pained apathy. Patrick Beverley of the Houston Rockets, a guy who’s never apathetic about anything, defeated Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight in the final round.
The night tipped off with the Shooting Stars competition—always underrated, always entertaining. Chris Bosh, who teamed up with Atlanta Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins and WBNA standout Swin Cash, won for the third straight year, defeating Russell Westbrook’s team.
Put that on his Hall of Fame resume.
News from the Commissioner
Before all the fun and games began, Adam Silver announced changes to the league’s draft system and playoffs format in a press release prior to the contests. Now one year into his tenure as commissioner, he addressed numerous topics from lottery reform to the NBA’s role on a global stage as well. The format of the playoffs came under fire this season, with winning teams set to miss the playoffs in the stacked West, while teams playing well under .500 will make the post-season in the topheavy East.
Score one for our home and native land
What to look forward to this weekend in NYC
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