On a night when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant learned they'll officially be in the starting lineup for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game, the trio embarked on a series of thunderous throwdowns that the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest will struggle to match next month in Houston.
James was the first to the dunk party, opening the scoring for the Miami Heat in their nationally televised game with the Los Angeles Lakers with a one-handed stuff on the back end of Mario Chalmers breakaway lob.
When Chris Bosh nabbed an errant Steve Nash pass attempt less than a minute later, Chalmers again found James on the fast break.
This time, King James had a few steps to gather himself for his trademark hammer slam.
Analysts were amazed, both by the aerial displays and the Lakers' confounding inability to get back to the other end:
TRANSITION DEFENSE?— Bruce Bowen (@Bowen12) January 18, 2013
For his next performance, James showed an energetic Staples Center crowd that he doesn't need a fast break to find a dazzling dunk.
With Lakers forward Earl Clark forced to the perimeter, James showed just how dangerous he can be with a 39.8 percent success rate from three-point land now part of his arsenal.
He needed just a slight hesitation and a single dribble to beat Clark and the rest of the Laker defenders to the basket.
The newest member of the 20,000 points club appeared ready to dunk his way to 30,000:
BREAKING: LeBron dunked 6 more times just now while we were watching commercials.— Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) January 18, 2013
But James wasn't the only one filling the highlight reels.
Wade bolstered the Heat's emphatic start to the evening, intercepting a Kobe Bryant pass and leaving a pursuant Metta World Peace with nothing more than a potential poster appearance or a front-row seat for the slam.
World Peace opted for the latter.
The buzz surrounding the game looked as if it may have crept its way inside Miami's locker room:
Wade and LeBron having a good old time, the real Showtime.— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) January 18, 2013
The inter-conference matchup was living up to its billing, even if it didn't have the appearance of a classic faceoff between two proud franchises:
The Heat appeared on the brink of chasing the Lakers out of their own building:
What a humiliating start for the Lakers V. the Heat.Lance Armstrong thinks this is unwatchable.— Jim Rome (@jimrome) January 18, 2013
The Lakers needed an answer to Miami's aerial assault.
And they looked to a familiar face for the answer:
Was all LeBron & Wade dunking early, but @kobebryant added a nasty one of his own amidst this 11-4 Lakers run. Howard's been strong on D.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 18, 2013
Bryant wasn't going to stand by idly by as the visitors abused his home rims. He spun off a pressing Wade, received a nifty touch pass from Dwight Howard, and beat James to the bucket.
It was purely vintage Bryant:
Kobe looked 26 throwing down that dunk— Mark Medina (@MedinaLakersNBA) January 18, 2013
NBA fans may have had it wrong. It's not that superstars shun the dunk contest anymore—it's just that they can't seem to keep the event's date right.