From the thrilling duels between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins in the 1980s, to the masterpiece performance by Vince Carter in 2000, the NBA Slam Dunk Contest has enjoyed some unforgettable moments. It has historically been the most popular and anticipated event at All-Star Saturday night, and it's certainly the most visually appealing.
But it may not be the most important event anymore. It's time to give the Three-Point Contest more love.
When it comes to competitiveness and suspense, this year's Three-Point Contest was the more enjoyable event, as the Dunk Contest fell flat.
The 2014 dunkers served us an array of exciting flushes, but it was an underwhelming affair due to the anticlimactic new format. The "freestyle" round of team dunking followed by a brief "battle" round simply wasn't enough, as spectators felt it left something to be desired.
Each dunker wasn't able to showcase his full repertoire, and their wasn't an individual champion even though John Wall deservedly won "Dunker of the Night" honors.
More than a few current and former players expressed their displeasure with the event. Indiana Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert thought it lacked a thrilling finish:
Two-time contest winner Jason Richardson also ripped the new format:
Even former NBA All-Star and current Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson frowned upon the new structure, calling for a definitive judged champion:
On the other hand, the Three-Point Contest featured last-second buckets and a thrilling spree by Bradley Beal to force a tiebreaker.
The Three-Point Shootout is a straight-up, no-frills showdown. It's the best shooters in the league trying to out-gun each other as they aim for bragging rights—and those bragging rights are more valuable in this era of copious triples.
When comparing the two events, the Dunk Contest is like a tricky mini-golf obstacle course, whereas the Three-Point Contest is a driving range accuracy challenge. It's debatable as to which one is more entertaining, but we clearly know which one is more important.
Outside shooting has become increasingly prevalent in today's NBA, with teams shooting more triples per season than ever before. Superstars such as Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love thrive beyond the arc. It's impressive that 6'10" players like Durant and Love not only shoot three-pointers, but convert at a high rate.
This swelling emphasis on the long ball is reflected by the league's top stars competing in the Three-Point Contest.
Sure, stars like Larry Bird and Ray Allen have showcased their skills in the event. But until the past couple seasons, the contest predominantly consisted of shooting specialists who weren't household names.
With recent winners such as Kevin Love (2012) and Kyrie Irving (2013), and contestants like Curry, Durant and Paul George in the last few years, the event is clearly valued among the top players and drawing buzz from the fans.
Look at this year's field, for example. Even though role player Marco Belinelli won the contest, five of the eight contestants were 2014 All-Stars (Curry, Love, Irving, Joe Johnson and Damian Lillard), including three fan-voted starters.
And these mega-stars aren't just giving it a one-year-and-done effort. This was Curry's third contest, Irving's second and Love's second. Rising star Bradley Beal also figures to be in several contests down the road.
You can tell how special the event was to Belinelli, who told reporters, as per Yahoo, "I remember when Larry Bird won the three-point contest and now I'm in the same place...it's a dream come true!"
Long-range prowess is something that every NBA shooter takes pride in, whether they attempt two three-pointers per game or 10. The best shooters on each team often decide the team's fate in close games, and more than ever, the star playmaker is also one of the team's top shooters.
Most of the Three-Point Contest competitors these days are great all-around scorers: four of this year's contestants score 20-plus points per game.
Guys like Love and Curry could have easily deferred and let some youngster or three-point specialist show off his skills, but they couldn't pass up this challenge. The contest is an opportunity for them to show exactly why they're one of the most gifted offensive players in the world.
As for pure entertainment value, the final round of this year's shootout was pretty darn exciting.
Watch Bradley Beal finish his final round with six straight triples to force a tiebreaker with Belinelli. TNT commentators Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller nearly counted him out, and then he caught fire and brought everyone to their feet:
Outside shooting is an art form that's being perfected and expanded as the years go on. Players are shooting from beyond the arc more frequently, and their range is incredible.
So when you're a part of the Three-Point Contest these days, it means you're one of the best shooters in the best shooting era of basketball history.
When you win it, it's no small feat.
All-Star weekend is loaded with celebrities, rising stars and high-flying dunkers, and it's understandable to get caught up in the flash and hype. But the most important and impressive ballers are the ones who put their shooting skills on the line.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR
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