I’ve watched every single NBA Slam Dunk Contest since it was revived in 1984. All of them. From Larry Nance to Michael Jordan to Dominique Wilkins to Spud Webb to Harold Miner to Vince Carter to Jason Richardson to Nate Robinson to Dwight Howard to Blake Griffin to Saturday night’s winner, John Wall. I’ve seen the best the dunk contest had to offer (1988) to the worst (2012) and everything in between. It’s far and away my favorite part of any of the four major sports’ All-Star festivities.
But even I have to admit it … the Slam Dunk Contest is on life support.
The league insists it has to keep changing the format to breathe new life into the event. The fans are desperate to see the true stars face off. The critics claim that there are no original dunks left to be done anymore. And the diehards plead to just leave the thing alone and let the dunkers dunk.
Watching Saturday night’s East vs. West Freestyle Round was confusing, crowded and complicated. Three players all dunking at the same time? Three players assisting each other yet, by the end of the night, were ultimately competing against each other? The only thing more bizarre than the Freestyle Round was the judge’s (Dominique Wilkins, Magic Johnson and Julius Erving) explanations for their winning choices.
And the whole point of the Freestyle Round was simply to determine who set the matchups for the Battle Round? The whole night felt like a bad episode of American Gladiators.
Would I like to see LeBron James in a Dunk Contest? Of course. Would it capture the sports world like Michael Jordan did in Chicago? Or Spud Webb in Dallas? Or Dwight Howard in New Orleans? Absolutely. But until the money is so great he can’t turn it down or the stage is so big that he can’t turn away, James will continue to insist he’s the best dunker – without ever having the guts to prove it.
Guys can still dunk. Guys can still be creative. John Wall proved that. The crowd can still get whipped into a frenzy before, during and after a spectacular dunk. If only the NBA would butt out.