The NBA has attempted to make the annual Slam Dunk Contest more appealing to the masses on several occasions. Just one year ago, the event's participants were divided into two teams that competed in a bizarre freestyle round that completely failed to pique the interest of onlookers before finishing up with a battle round.
Luckily, the Association saw the error of its ways.
The 2015 Slam Dunk Contest was reformatted back to a more traditional, old-school affair featuring four individual dunkers who were given the opportunity to throw down two dunks in the first round and accumulate a high enough score to move on to the final round.
While getting the format back to its roots was certainly huge, a modern twist took the show to new heights. Instead of featuring seasoned veterans who may or may not care about the event's outcome, four hungry, up-and-coming players faced off in an effort to put their stamps on the league.
It was a huge success.
Second-year players Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo and Mason Plumlee were fantastic, but rookie Zach LaVine completely stole the show, as two of his four dunks earned perfect-50 scores. Just how impressive was the Minnesota Timberwolves standout? Take a look, courtesy of NBA Legion:
The fact that the 19-year-old LaVine wore Michael Jordan's No. 23 jersey from the movie Space Jam for his first dunk of the night completely set the tone, and upon the jam's completion, the stadium was rocking. Another look is in order:
Yes, LaVine's freakish athleticism sure helped the contest regain its glamour; however, the youthfulness of the event is what will keep it that way for the foreseeable future.
While LaVine, Antetokounmpo, Oladipo and Plumlee are all fantastic athletes and good players, they aren't part of the NBA's upper echelon. They aren't in the ranks of the LeBron Jameses and Blake Griffins, and that's not a bad thing. All four of Saturday's competitors showed the desire to compete and prove themselves in front of their peers—something this contest had previously been lacking.
The beautiful thing is this: How many of this year's rookies or next year's rookies will desperately want a shot at besting what LaVine did this year in the Slam Dunk Contest? In fact, perhaps they'll even get a shot at LaVine himself. After all, ESPN's Michael Smith thought up a new—and fitting—name for the event:
By allowing the NBA's up-and-coming players to briefly take center stage in a weekend that has historically revolved around the Association's greatest veterans, young players will continue to strive for this opportunity each and every year. Rest assured, when their chances come, they won't disappoint.
Has the Slam Dunk Contest officially been saved? Well, that would depend on the NBA deciding to stick to this current format in the coming years. Although, after such a fantastic response from onlookers, players and media alike, we can speculate this trend will continue.
After all of the format changes and unnecessary tweaks, it took just a 19-year-old from Renton, Washington, to bring back the Slam Dunk Contest's luster.