The NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest Is No Slam Dunk Anymore
Maybe I'm getting older and less able to tolerate b.s. anymore, but I didn't even stick around to watch the final outcome of the NBA slam dunk competition in Dallas last night.
Every mid-February, I used to get excited to turn on the TV to watch three-point specialists and slam-dunk artists.
Not this year though. I've finally thrown my hat in the ring, my cards on the table.
I was sick to my stomach: Nate Robinson, the pint-sized guard of the New York Knicks and defending champ, competed against three bums' names whom I don't even want to remember.
Look, I like Nate, admire him for displaying hops I'll NEVER be able to match, despite being four (or, perhaps, 20?) inches shorter than me, according to his "listed" height.
He's been the best vertically-challenged dunker in the All-Star Game weekend tournament since Spud Webb shocked his Atlanta Hawks' teammate Dominique "The Human Highlight Film" Wilkins (and the rest of the world) by winning the contest back in the 1980s.
But in what was a definite treat in pitting David versus Goliath in last year's match-up of Robinson and 6'11" Dwight "Superman" Howard of the Orlando Magic, the following year was a pure let-down.
You hoped that Cleveland Cav phenom LeBron James wouldn't renege on his verbal agreement to Cheryl Miller at last year's All-Star weekend in Phoenix, but LeBron didn't perform at all.
So, the show featured a rookie from Toronto, a guy not named Kobe repping the L.A. Lakers and Gerald Wallace from the Charlotte Bobcats (OK, I remember one of the bums' names) against Big Nate.
The majority of dunks throughout the evening were about as normal as brushing your teeth and putting on pants one leg at a time. Some even got me almost to...open one eye lid.
Again, I congratulate Nate Robinson for winning his unprecedented, record-setting third title in yesterday's competition, but in watching the little bit of the action on TNT, I came to the conclusion of a few reasons why the slam dunk contest should be renamed Slam Dunk Junk.
One of the obvious problems lies in the amount of talent that the slam dunk contest generates these days.
Before, in the 1970s and 1980s, you had Julius "Dr. J" Erving soaring high in the sky at the ABA version of the event, as well as Michael Jordan going at it with 'Nique, trading dunk titles like baseball cards, the night prior to suiting up in classic East-West showdowns on Sunday evenings.
Nowadays, players are getting too sophisticated, wanting to preserve their health and egos, seeming to spend more time to, I guess, dress up in ridiculous outfits, chat with Hollywood celebs, pretty female musicians/cheerleaders/groupies and make appearances in T-Mobile and Taco Bell ads with the World's Most Lovable Ignoramus, Charles "Ground Chuck" Barkley.
The last great slam dunk competition, where it was really a contest , was in 2000 , when Vince Carter made a name for himself against the likes of his distant cousin Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis and three others in Oakland.
The dunks were creative and piqued your interest from beginning to end, pretty much even as I knew that Carter would take the title home.
Another simple reason for less-than-quality dunk contests resides in the fact that most of the fanciful dunks have been done already. Either that or the dunkers of today haven't studied the game well enough to come up with a new batch of jams that don't mirror the 360-degree, windmill, tomahawk, leap-from-the-foul-line, double-pump, alley-oop, between-the-legs regular ones that you see again and again and again and again right now.
My thinking causes me to suggest to future dunkers to look at video games like EA Sports' "NBA Live," where I've seen "virtual" players hit basketballs off of the scoreboard above halfcourt, and other objects like cameras close to the backboard. Lofty objectives, but still doable.
They could also try to use props more, involve the crowd, and do something memorable, like get Shaq or Boston Celtic legend Bill Russell to pass the ball to them, while either big man remains seated courtside.
Or...they could use one of the judges or a cheerleader. Or a mascot. Or something different, man!
The last and probably the most vexing factor for the lack of quality dunking rests with Corporate America. You can't look past an event during the All-Star weekend without seeing Foot Locker's zebra-brand in front of the words "three-point contest" anymore, or something like the "Taco Bell-McDonald's Legends v. Future Game."
Corporate sponsorship has, to some significant degree, poisoned the All-Star weekend. Now that Sprite, part of the Coca-Cola Company, sponsors the slam dunk event, you'd think that more talented, taller players would rush to enter the fray. But apparently not. One detriment is Sprite's tapping into the young, hip, tech-savvy generation and forcing them to vote online for one of the four participants to dunk with the pre-selected others.
However, instead of Sprite being in agreement with the NBA to choose one of the more popular players in the league to dunk for fun on one special Saturday, you have had relative unknowns out there with no business of being on the floor to be judged by the likes of Wilkins, Dr. J and Jordan, as was the case with Rudy Fernandez last year.
Low interest and lack of creativity led to unworthy victors winning it all, like Brent Barry in 1995. This also led to some of the best not wanting to sign up for the task, as well as the sad, eventual shutdown of the contest in the late 1990s (before all hope was restored by Vinsanity, et al. in the early 2000s).
Who knows what will happen next year, especially with talks of an impending league lockout and Robinson's "retirement" from the contest.
But if the creative geniuses at the NBA headquarters in New York don't put their heads together and fix what used be a hell of an appetizer before the Sunday entree (All-Star Game), then they could go ahead and kiss once-loyal viewers like me goodbye to a seriously flawed weekend.
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