John Wall, Damian Lillard and Paul George are leading a concerted effort to bring star power back to the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, but that's not the only change the storied event will undergo this year in New Orleans.
In a media release naming the six participants, the league also announced perhaps the most sweeping changes to the dunk contest format in history. For the first time, the field will be split up into "teams," for the Eastern and Western Conferences. Representing the East will be Wall, George and defending champion Terrence Ross, while Lillard, Harrison Barnes and Ben McLemore will represent the West.
Rather than competing individually, elimination-style like previous years, the NBA has instead come up with a two-round team competition.
In the first round, titled the "Freestyle Round," dunkers from each respective conference will have 90 seconds to do as many dunks as they want. Meaning, George could do a 360 once, go off from the foul line his second time and then jump over six Kias on his third attempt. Or he could miss a whole bunch of dunks—it just won't automatically eliminate him from the competition.
After each conference's Freestyle Round opportunity, a panel of judges will determine whether the Eastern Conference or Western Conference won the round. There are no tallied scores. Judges are informed to just vote based on the East or West.
The victorious conference will then get to choose whether its dunkers go first or second in the second series of dunks, titled the "Battle Round." The Battle Round is far more self-explanatory. Dunkers from respective conferences are paired off against one another, then square off in a head-to-head dunk-off, with the judges determining a winner. The losing dunker is then subsequently eliminated from all further head-to-head matchups.
Whenever a conference wins three head-to-head matchups, obviously, it has won the Battle Round by eliminating all competitors. Dunkers do not battle within their conferences.
Got that all? Oh, not at all? OK, let's try this again with some quick bullet points:
- Freestyle Round: Dunkers have 90 seconds to perform as many dunks as they can. Best conference wins.
- Battle Round: Head-to-head dunk-off. Winner determined by judges. Winner of freestyle round gets to choose the order of the battle round. Dunk contest winner determined when no players from one conference are remaining in the competition.
Now that we've got that cleared up, I'm assuming you all would like to know how an individual winner is crowned.
Well, that's about the only thing that hasn't been fiddled with. Fans will be able to vote online through various apps and websites to determine the best individual dunker. However, rather than being the Slam Dunk Contest champion, he will instead earn the new title "Dunker of the Night."
Now, understandably there will be some resistance to change.
This is the first time since 1988 that three actual All-Stars—Lillard, George and Wall—have entered the competition. Why would you mess with something when fans are actually finally getting what they want—stars in the dunk contest? Brett Pollakoff of NBC Sports was one of many to express concern:
His point makes some sense, certainly, but I'm more inclined to give this a chance. The previous dunk contest was almost irrevocably broken. Dunks were uninventive, no one wanted to participate and fans constantly clamored for the heyday of Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins.
These changes, over the long haul, might help that happen. Take this quote from George, for instance, from the release:
It's a real honor to serve as the Captain of the Eastern Conference Team for All-Star Saturday Night. This is a great opportunity to support and raise awareness of very worthy charities while entertaining our fans with contests showcasing the athleticism, creativity and excitement of our game. I'm particularly pumped to be in the Slam Dunk Contest as the new format provides players with the chance to display our individual skills while battling for conference bragging rights.
It's a press release, so it's impossible to glean much, but could the NBA have sold stars on participating knowing it's no longer an individual competition?
Either way, whether you like it or not, change is here. And if this inventive idea is any indication of what life with new NBA commissioner Adam Silver is like, be thankful we have someone in power who isn't afraid to listen to new ideas.
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