In a recent interview with the associated press, LeBron James expressed his interest in participating in the All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk Contest.
He said that taking part in the competition would be physically daunting and that L.A. Clippers forward and Rookie of the Year favorite Blake Griffin would have a decided home-court advantage in the event.
Nevertheless, he has not ruled out the possibility of putting his hops to the test and we can all agree that a dunk-off between James and Griffin, regardless of your feelings about James at this point, would be a ratings bonanza.
However, should LeBron James partake in the competition?
I offer four reasons why he should and should not enter the dunk contest and then offer my final verdict of what his decision should be.
There's no doubt that in the months following James' decision, he has been the subject of scorn from various fan bases and sports reports outside of Miami.
His comments and presumed thoughtless dismissal of the Cleveland Cavaliers crushed the universal praise he had been used to and it converted him into the enemy that visiting arenas have enjoyed booing, even at their team's peril.
However, as Michael Vick and Latrell Sprewell before him have taught us, sports fans have very short memories and if Lebron thrills them with an extraordinary performance at the Slam Dunk Contest, it could go a long way toward re-establishing those good vibes that James once had with his global fans.
Superstar players have a very charmed history with the Slam Dunk contest.
Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins all won the competition and if James took part, he would be the favorite to follow that tradition.
But can you imagine the criticism that will be leveled his way if he doesn't?
"Can you believe LeChoke! He couldn't even win the Slam Dunk Contest and Nate Robinson won it three times! That proves that James is not a winner."
The sports media and assorted bloggers will have a field day finding the symbolic meanings of one of the best dunkers in the league losing a competition that he should be able to excel at in his sleep.
Individual awards during the All-Star weekend can have a positive impact on a team's morale once the NBA regular season reconvenes. For example, last year the Boston Celtics, after a strong start to the season, limped into the All-Star break not expected to do much when Paul Pierce entered the 3-point shootout.
Serving as a harbinger of things to come during the playoffs, Pierce bested favored Chauncey Billups and Stephen Curry to win his first award in the event. The sight of Pierce high-fiving Kevin Garnett as the competition concluded provided a window into the team's chemistry and unity and no doubt benefited their "us against the world" mentality in the postseason.
If James wins the dunk contest, it could provide his team the type of "lead by example" momentum that could further unify the Heat, serving the team well as the season winds down.
How important is the Slam Dunk Contest in relation to the long-term goals set forth by LeBron James and the Miami Heat?
Certainly it would be a terrific individual accolade and it will be another trophy on the mantel, but considering the fact that James' ultimate goal is finally obtaining the trophy that is given out in June, the Slam Dunk Contest could be more of a distraction from his primary objectives.
How much time is James going to have to practice in preparation for the contest? Will his pursuit of this individual goal come at the sacrifice of much needed practice time with the Miami Heat?
These are real considerations that James would have to take into account.
Whether you love LeBron James or hate him, there is no doubt that he has become the Sarah Palin of athletes. He can elicit passionate responses from people on both sides of the divide, each looking for a way that James will confirm their personal opinion of him.
The Slam Dunk Contest, once one of the centerpieces of All-Star weekend, has lost a tremendous amount of popularity in recent years, primarily because it has featured less than All-Star caliber players performing dunks that could be bested by any playground baller.
Consequently, the contest is lacking in the drama and anticipation it carried when Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan faced off in 1988.
However, if James decides to participate, it will be the highest rated Dunk Contest in over 20 years and the ads will basically write themselves:
LeBron James vs. Blake Griffin, Slam Dunk Contest, All-Star Weekend!
There will be people who barely follow the NBA tuning in for that match up and that would benefit the NBA and James.
One of the concerns that James brought up when debating whether he should participate in the contest was the rigorous training he would have to undergo in preparation for the event. This training could lead to a plethora of scenarios where James could be injured.
If James suffers a hamstring injury or muscle strain while preparing for the contest, causing him to lose playing with the Miami Heat lineup for a few weeks to a month, many people will question the wisdom of James' decision, even those who initially supported his choice to compete in the contest.
Granted, injuries are possible at any time within the game of basketball, but for James to suffer injury while practicing for an optional All-Star weekend competition, there will be many harsh critics of the decision.
Last year was a perfect microcosm for the lack of popularity of the dunk contest in recent years.
Nate Robinson won the event for the third time by being the best of the worst after Shannon Brown and DeMar DeRozan provided thoroughly uninspired performances.
No knock to Robinson, but there was no way he would have won with that reverse double-pump dunk (which we've seen better executed countless times before by other dunkers) had the field been stronger.
James' appearance at the event would also raise the overall level of the competition, as every participant will want to bring his A-level dunks because he would be competing against LeBron James.
The level of intensity we could see in the event could rival the great Dominique Wilkins/Spud Webb clash of 1986.
When discussing whether he will take part in the Slam Dunk Contest, James noted that since All-Star weekend would take place in Los Angeles this year, Blake Griffin would have a "home-court advantage" going into the event.
To some, this may seem as a fairly benign statement about the benefit of home-court advantage in terms of voting in the All-Star weekend contests. However, coming from LeBron James, it could easily be interpreted as a "preemptive excuse for failure," so if he competes in the contest and loses to Griffin, he could say, "Well, it was the home cooking that sealed it for Griffin," or so the critics would say.
James would also have to enter the competition knowing that the media will spin his words into another controversy, promoting a non-existent "rivalry" between the two forwards that will become more distractions for a team with more than their fair share.
Ultimately, James doesn't need to walk into another media manufactured LeBron drama.
While the possibility of LeBron James and Blake Griffin going at it in a dunk-off during All-Star Weekend certainly has my interest peaked, I think that James' focus should remain on his preparation for after the All-Star festivities have concluded.
Although the Miami Heat have performed well following their start, which found them losing eight of their first 17 games, they are still the most marked team in the NBA and still have everything in the world to prove once the playoffs begin.
James should pass on the dunk contest this year.
However, in the event that he decides to take part in the contest, it will be an early candidate for the most discussed "decision" of 2011.