Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Zach LaVine became the fourth player in NBA history to repeat as champion of the Slam Dunk Contest thanks to a staggering display of athleticism in one of the best duels the event has ever seen Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
In his tiebreaking triumph over Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon, LaVine joined Michael Jordan (1987-88), Jason Richardson (2002-03) and Nate Robinson (2009-10) as the league's only back-to-back champs.
|Attempt||Dunk 1||Dunk 2||Dunk 3||Dunk 4||Dunk 5||Dunk 6|
|Description||Behind-the-Back Reverse||Free-Throw Line Oop||360 Windmill||Free-Throw Line Windmill||Two-Hand Reverse Between the Legs||Free-Throw Line Between the Legs|
Source: TNT Broadcast
And boy did it come in style.
While LaVine's first-round performance would have been good enough for a night's worth of entertainment, he had to step his game up in the final showdown against Gordon—who broke out some never-before-seen brilliance to push the defending champion to his limits.
However, LaVine was up to the task, as Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch noted:
This is Jordan-Nique 3.0. So much fun.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) February 14, 2016
After breaking out a filthy reverse and free-throw line alley-oop, courtesy of teammate Andre Miller, LaVine posted four straight perfect scores as the contest was extended by two dunks in the tiebreaking portion.
And as it turns out, the free-throw line was LaVine's friend:
All told, LaVine threw down three free-throw line dunks, including a between-the-legs effort that sealed the deal:
The back-and-forth battle was so good, fellow participant Andre Drummond took time to put the contest in perspective:
That was a historic event.........— Andre Drummond (@AndreDrummondd) February 14, 2016
With Saturday's effort behind LaVine, the question now revolves around his place in dunk-contest lore. The 20-year-old has proved each of the past two seasons he's one of the bounciest, most athletically gifted dunkers the competition has ever seen, and he did nothing to change that perception Saturday night.
As a result, it wouldn't be hard to argue against him as a top-five contest dunker of all time. And if he returns to the All-Star stage to defend his crown next year, LaVine will have a chance to join Robinson as the only three-time champions in NBA history.
Let's just hope if LaVine is back, Gordon is too.
With his second Slam Dunk trophy in hand, LaVine shouted out rapper Drake with some fitting lyrics, per the NBA on Twitter:
LaVine also made a special dedication after the contest:
"[LaVine] went through the legs from the free throw line," Gordon said, per Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver. "That's insane. ... That's why the trophy is with him and not with me."
Following his win, LaVine didn't hesitate to spark up some debate regarding the 2016 contest's place in history, per Golliver:
Best Slam Dunk Contest ever? Zach LaVine: "In my opinion, yes."— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) February 14, 2016
Saturday's display was so good that former Dunk Contest champion Dominique Wilkins suggested the two players should have split the bragging rights:
Should have been 2 🏆's— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) February 14, 2016
"If I knew it would be like that, I would've prepared better and we could’ve dunked all night," Gordon said, according to the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina.
"If they want me to come back, I probably will," Gordon added, per CBSSports.com's James Herbert. "I got a year to get my dunks ready."