With the announcement that Paul George, Damian Lillard and John Wall would all be throwing their hats—and best basketball acrobatics—into the ring for the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest, the NBA’s All-Star Weekend highlight reel has something it hasn’t had in an eternity: a full trio of certified stars.
It’s not that the contest has been completely devoid of death-defying heroics in recent years. Terrence Ross, Nate Robinson, Gerald Green were all great dunkers with reels of highlights to their credit.
But seldom has there been this much star power recently. These three players are powerful, athletic and creative.
With that, let’s take a look at the best dunks to date from each of this year’s participants. To prove we’re not playing favorites or attempting to sway the vote—I’m going to do that anyway, you guys—we’ll review them in alphabetical order.
Barnes has been experiencing something of a sophomore slump of late. But no one—and especially Nikola Pekovic—can take this away from him.
First of all, that’s Pekovic, whose offseason training involves bench-pressing trains. OK, I made that up.
Still, the hang time and ferocity indicate Barnes could situate himself as the old-school leaper in this year’s contest. He's a no-nonsense, straight-up freak.
Although it happened weeks ago, neighborhoods in around Indianapolis continue to report small tremors and seismic events relating to this play.
It gets better every time you watch it. Truth be told, Paul George could offer up any number of other dunks as his personal best—be it by degree of difficulty, creativity or what have you.
But the sheer fact that he was able to pull this off in the fourth quarter gives you a good idea of how much rocket fuel he has in the tank. Given his newly minted status as global superstar, George could be considered the early favorite heading into next weekend’s festivities.
As the shortest participant in this year’s contest at 6'3", Damian Lillard has the odds stacked against him a bit.
What’s that? He is still mad that he was so lightly recruited, so he went to Weber State and has spent the better part of his adult life proving people horribly, embarrassingly wrong? Oh.
He also does not like that Nene goes by a silly nickname, apparently. Lillard might not have the most obvious hops of the group, but look for him to be the most creative with props, approaches and other tools to make his anger felt.
We feel it, Lillard.
At just 20 years old, Ben McLemore is this year’s youngest contestant—and its only rookie. The rest of the crew will have no problem reminding him, we’re sure. That could be a mistake.
It’ll be interesting to see how he performs on such a grand stage, laden as it is with so many big-name talents. But if his YouTube resume is any indication, the Sacramento Kings’ precocious rook will have no problem speaking out of turn.
Also: If he dunks over Ryan Lewis—automatic victory.
To be the best, you have to beat the best, and the last time I typed “Slam Dunk Contest champion” into Google, Terrence Ross was the best.
He has had plenty of rim-hemorrhaging in-game highlights during his 18-plus months in the NBA. But what better way to appreciate the level of game that he brings to the hardwood than by looking back at what won him the hardware in the first place.
Needless to say, he was effusive at learning the news that he'd be back to defend his crown. He tweeted:
A Terrence Ross coming in brimming with confidence and one year older and wiser? Yes, please.
It’s been a pretty good 2014 for John Wall. The Wizards are back above .500 for the first time in four years, and Wall was just named to his first All-Star Game.
Only, Wall is not satisfied with these silly accolades. He came for blood.
That, as you can probably tell, was from the 2011 Rising Stars Challenge. Late in the game, it should be added.
For those of you who don’t know (i.e., none of you), switching the ball between hands in the middle of the sky is not an easy thing to do. If Wall—who should be plenty rested—brings that kind of juju down to New Orleans, watch out.
In a recent article, Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver outlined what's at stake as the Slam Dunk Contest enters a new, potentially game-changing epoch:
Fixing the Dunk Contest might not carry the gravity of a new arena deal, or the return of the SuperSonics, or improving the D-League, but the digitally-savvy Silver must understand that we are smack dab in the middle of the dunk’s golden age. Whether you are James, Griffin, a relatively anonymous NBA player, a Division III walk-on, a high school phenom, a 20-something jumping into a pool, or a middle schooler pranking his friend in the hallway, you now have the chance to reach a global audience if you execute a great dunk.
For Christmas, I got one of those miniature hoops you can hang up on your wall—it looks just like the real thing, except smaller.
The rim? After watching all of these videos? It’s crying. In pain and with great joy all at once.
It’s become something of a stone-etched truism that the NBA will never replicate the rim-menacing magic that Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and the rest of Dunktopia’s elder statesmen conjured all those years ago.
These youngsters beg to differ.