In 2011, Kurt Helin of NBCSports.com hailed in a new era of Slam Dunk competitions. Gone were the old-school dunks of yesteryear. In their place were props, skits and gospel choirs, exemplified by Blake Griffin's high-flying dunk over a car. This was the future of dunking.
After his winning performance Saturday night, though, Terrence Ross begs to differ.
Ross won the contest not with props or ridiculous antics, but rather with pure athletic talent. Only once did Ross have any kind of prop or accomplice, when he brought a kid onto the court to jump over. Even then, though, Ross' dunk could have been pulled off at the local gym just as much as an NBA arena.
That was the point: The Slam Dunk Contest has been bogged down with showmanship to the point of melodrama. James White was speaking for basketball fans everywhere when he was quoted by Brett Pollakoff of NBCSports.com:
You've never seen me use props. I don't do props, man. A lot of guys use it because it's part of the entertainment, but I think it's taken away from the dunk contest the last couple of years. So I'm just going to bring it back to its natural state.
Well, White was a bust. But Terrence Ross wasn't, and he found success despite focusing on athleticism rather than glamor.
Breaking down Ross' dunks, the first was a simple behind-the-back 360 slam that he made look almost too easy. The level of difficulty was of course tremendous, but Ross is so athletic that he made it look ordinary. No props needed to pull off the incredible.
The second dunk was a self alley-oop 360 that saw Ross explode off the floor. Again, not glitzy, but a brilliant display of athleticism all the same.
On the third dunk, he received an alley-oop in an homage to Vince Carter. The dunk saw Ross elevate well above the rim, flashing his Vinsanity-level ups and showmanship. The dunk was a fan-favorite, and Ross was clearly delighted to pay homage to a legend.
Ross' final dunk saw him jump over a kid with an awesome, through-the-legs slam. Despite the use of a prop, it was Ross' athleticism that again stole the show. His ability to elevate and control the ball helped him dominate the final two rounds en route to the win.
On the whole, Ross' performance was simple athletic brilliance, but most of all, it was real.
Jumping over cars is entertaining, but it's not basketball. Basketball loves showmanship, but the best showmanship comes from a player's athleticism and handles. Ross displayed that in his winning performance.
The problems with the competition still exist. There were no stars participating and there were too many missed dunks. At least now, though, there is hope that the competition is heading in the right direction. Hopefully, we'll soon see LeBron and Durant throwing down ridiculous, athletic slams.
Seeing Ross bring back old school cool was a nice consolation prize, though.