What has happened to the NBA dunk contest? What was once an exhilarating, hair-raising, eye-popping, sensational display of athleticism has now turned out to be well.... quite dull. Kind of bland. Blah! It took a superhero to feast up a nice plate of eye appealing dunks last February. Yet my appetite for my favorite sporting event has still left me hungry for years. So what gives?
I remember when I was a young kid being mesmerized by watching one Anthony Jerome Webb take the rock in 1986 in Dallas. He stood at the three point line, lobbed the ball towards the cylinder, took it off one bounce, did a 180 degree reverse and in what felt like slow motion, dunked the ball to stun and win the dunk contest against his teammate Dominique Wilkins. At 5'6", 'Spud' Webb told the media after that Dominique had "never seen him dunk". The winning dunk was called a 180 degree reverse strawberry jam and it was oh so sweet. Spud brought flavor and this young fan was full of basketball goodness.
The peak of the dunk contest was 1988. We will never see anything like it, ever! Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins. His Airness vs. The Human Highlight Reel. This was the Ali-Frazier of dunk contests. What was displayed was a basketball buffet of Nique giving us windmills and double pumps. MJ delighted us with his kiss the rim windmill and his patented cradle dunk. However, the highlight and arguably the most famous of dunks was his dunk from the foul line as he pumped in mid air and spread his legs. The dunk gave him a perfect score in front of the home crowd.
Vince Carter was the king of the dunking world in 2000 in Oakland. Go ahead and sit at the head of the table, Mr. Vincanity. The inverted 360 degree reverse windmill was quite epic. My eyes were the same size as Shaq's! Coming out of the eye socket. He put on a show for the ages. My cup runneth over that night!
Many other memorable dunks come to mind. Dee Brown's no looky looky in 1991. Dr J ahead of his time jumping from the foul line in the ABA dunk contest in Denver in 1976. Nate Robinson jumping over Spud Webb in 2007. Jason Richardson's off the backboard and between the legs in 2004.
The dunk contest however, has lacked excitement for many years. The NBA cancelled the dunk contest in 1998 for the oh so memorable 2Ball competition. 2Ball? That's like replacing Eric Clapton's guitar with a flute. The 2Ball event was of course won by....(give me one second as I Google)...oh yes, the Houston team of Drexler-Cooper. There was no contest due to the strike in 1999. Oh the hunger pains! With the exception of Vince's repertoire in 2000 and a spattering of memorable dunks, the later 90's and most of the 2000's have left me feeling neglected.
Dwight Howard brought back a glimmer of hope in 2008 due to his freaky, superhuman athletic ability. The superman dunk brought fans out of their chairs! As was the off the back of the backboard windmill slam. But it still didn't do it for me. Gerald Greene's cupcake dunk really got me thinking. Is this what the NBA dunk contest has come to? Capes and cupcakes? Seriously, cupcakes?
Why can't we get the best dunkers in the game to compete in the event like the good ole days? Lebron James and Dwayne Wade have stated that they feared an injury. Tracy McGrady actually hurt his wrist in 2000. Plus, every variation of a dunk has been attempted already. In fact, every variation of every variation of a dunk has been done already. So the dunk contest has has literally come down to throwback jerseys, props, capes, and cupcakes. Cupcakes!
What the contest is lacking is the superstars. The Kobe's, Lebron's and D Wades of the NBA. Times have changed as it's not worth it for them to compete for peanuts. A corporate sponsor needs to juice up the prize pool. Give the winner a cool $1 million. Let the nation vote so there is no corruption. Think about it. Would you watch a contest that sported Kobe, Lebron, Wade, Vince, Tmac, Dwight H, and say a Melo, Jason Richardson, Andre Igoudala, Amare, Michael Beasley, OJ Mayo or a Derrick Rose? Obviously you would want around eight competitors but who wouldn't watch this event with all these superstars? You would get better publicity from this than from a Super Bowl ad. Easily! Better bang for your buck. I can only dream.
The four man format needs to go! Eight may seem a little too many as the event can drag when the contest gets a little dull. You know the feeling. When you ask yourself that this feels a lot like last year. Four dunkers is too short of a list. I would be happy with a six man competition. The shot clock has to go as well! Nothing gets more anti-climatic when a dunker takes more than one attempt to complete the dunk. Except in the case of Chris Andersen in 2005, when it became more entertaining every time he missed. He missed his first dunk eight times and second dunk five times! The Birdman gets a pass.
The reality is on February 15, 2009 in Phoenix, Az you will see a few young athletes. Dwight will be probably be asked back, whether he wants to retain the title is in question. Nick Young, Jemario Moon, Rudy Gay, Rudy Fernandez, Bill Walker, Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, Michael Beasley are all favorites amongst the internet boards and blogs. We will only get to see four competitors and be denied seeing some athletes.