After John Wall captured MVP honors in the Rookie/Sophomore challenge, it was probably wishful thinking to give JaVale McGee more than a snowball's chance in hell in the dunk contest.
Even with Serge Ibaka in the contest, McGee was the least known player among the four competitors.
It wasn't much of an issue in the first round, but proved to be his downfall in the final round, when McGee's lack of name recognition earned him second place in a round of voting left up to the questionable decision making of NBA fans.
If the All-Star Game isn't the epitome of a popularity contest, the latest wrinkle in the dunk contest certainly is. At least the All-Star voting has eligibility requirements.
While the first round is judged by retired professionals and dunk contest veterans, the second, final round is decided solely by the fans.
Kenny Smith orchestrated a grand scene for Blake Griffin to execute a shockingly average dunk that "earned" Griffin the title of dunk contest champion.
Under the tutelage of former Warrior/Bullet/King/Sixer/Piston Chris Webber, McGee's first dunk paid homage to former contest champion Dwight Howard by introducing a second rim into the fray.
Rather than recreate Howard's dunk on a 12-foot rim, McGee aligned the second rim with the first, palmed two basketballs and went about his business. Several failed attempts later, McGee finally threw one ball off the backboard, caught it again and successfully dunked the two basketballs in two separate rims.
He earned one of two 50-point dunks in the contest.
With his second dunk, McGee upped the ante and introduced a third ball into the mix, provided by his mother and former WNBA player Pam McGee. Theatrics aside, McGee enlisted teammate John Wall in providing the pass to set up the dunk.
After a few flubs, McGee elevated and dunked all three balls in a 49-point effort that earned him the top score heading into the final round.
Everyone assumed Griffin would be in the finals, but not against a relative unknown like McGee.
Griffin got to the finals with two powerful retreads of dunks everyone has seen before. The first was an impressive two-handed, ball-cocked-beside-his-head, 360 slam that Charles Barkley referred to as "a good second-place dunk" that earned him a score of 49.
It was nice, but not groundbreaking.
Griffin's second dunk, with the aid of Clippers teammate Baron Davis, was a pass off the side of the backboard, windmill slam. Reggie Miller complimented the power, but didn't seem impressed with the creativity. Griffin earned a 46 for the dunk and a ticket to the finals over DeRozen and Ibaka.
Ibaka was probably the most disrespected dunker on the night despite an impressive opening showcase. His first dunk featured a parade of NBA Africa flags to honor his home country of the Congo, and one of the contest's only true free-throw line dunks.
Replays showed that Dr. J took off a step in front of the free-throw line and Michael Jordan took off half of a foot over the free-throw line. Ibaka took off from the free-throw line and did it with ease. But he was rewarded with a measly 45 points, even with the Doctor himself, Julius Erving, on the panel of judges.
While McGee's final two dunks showed less showmanship, his first dunk highlighted his raw athleticism. He kept the trend of changing his shoes for every dunk, but his opening offering in the finals raised the bar in terms of pure dunking.
McGee took off under the basket, ducked under backboard, rocked the ball back and swung it home for the dunk that stunned both in real time and slow motion.
Griffin earned high praise with another retread, this time of Vince Carter's arm-in-the-rim dunk.
McGee stood no chance following Griffin's second dunk of the finals. With a car to jump over, a teammate providing the pass, a choir singing "I Believe I Can Fly," and Kenny "The Jet" playing the perfect hype man, Griffin had the formula for sensory overload and brand imprinting. Fans voted for the spectacle, not the dunk.
The 2011 NBA Dunk Contest was a violation of everything a dunk contest should be.
To be clear, Griffin jumped over the hood of a car, not the whole car, and it was a simple two-handed dunk. More great show than great dunk, it was not worthy of the dunk contest title
McGee's final offering was little more than an admission of defeat, despite having better dunks on the night.
Griffin won the dunk contest only because people know what he has done in his rookie season; he should not have earned 68 percent of the vote for his final round of dunks.
Sour grapes aside, the dunk contest wasn't as lackluster as it has been in the past. The playful spirit of Dwight Howard and Nate Robinson showed in full force, only seeming forced in the case of Kenny Smith. There was an emphasis on showmanship over pure dunking, but it didn't stop the competitors from putting their best out for the fans.
McGee deserved to win the contest, but the fans got a tremendous show from what could have been the least star-studded event All-Star weekend had to offer.