Some said the NBA Dunk Contest had gone stale. That every dunk had been thought of. That no one could touch the previous heights once reached by Vince Carter, Michael Jordan or Dominique Wilkins.
The doubters never met Zach LaVine.
LaVine defeated Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo with an overall score of 194, turning in one of the most exciting performances in recent dunk contest history. Gliding almost effortlessly to the rim, LaVine's first-round performance was so impressive that he was almost competing against himself in the final.
After the contest, Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated added LaVine's thoughts on the win, saying "I'm stoked... I feel like I'm dreaming... It was a dream come true."
Using teammates from the Minnesota Timberwolves, the former UCLA star was nearly flawless in completing a reverse between-the-legs dunk after a handoff from Andrew Wiggins and another between-the-legs slam off of a set-up from Shabazz Muhammad that came off the State Farm logo on the basket stanchion. Given a score of 45 for the first dunk and a 49 on the second, he cruised past Oladipo's final-round score of 72.
Oladipo missed on all three of his attempts on his first dunk and scored a 41 on his second. LaVine, 19, is the second-youngest player in history to win the dunk contest, bested only by Kobe Bryant.
|2015 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Results|
|Round 1||Player||Score (Dunk 1, Dunk 2)|
|Zach LaVine||100 (50, 50)|
|Victor Oladipo||89 (50, 39)|
|Mason Plumlee||76 (40, 36)|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||65 (30, 35)|
|Round 2||Player||Score (Dunk 1, Dunk 2)|
|Zach LaVine||94 (45, 49)|
|Victor Oladipo||72 (31, 41)|
Heading into Saturday night as a runaway favorite, per OddsShark, most tuned in waiting for feats of astonishment from LaVine. The Timberwolves guard ascended up draft boards last June thanks to his otherworldly athleticism, and he has continued cementing his reputation as one of the game's best leapers as a rookie.
In-game highlights, practice Vines and the occasional contest with fellow leaper Andrew Wiggins left LaVine as one of the most hyped dunkers in recent memory.
"You guys are in for a surprise," Wiggins told reporters Friday night. "Trust me. It's going to be crazy....I can't say nothing. Just know—I almost fainted. I've never seen a dunk like that. I've never witnessed it live before in my life. Just know."
LaVine quickly went to work living up to the hype. Coming out to the tune of Space Jam, LaVine was the only dunker to complete his first dunk on his first attempt, going through his legs on an alley-oop reverse that nearly saw him hit his head on the rim.
His second dunk also earned a perfect score, as he soared with impressive ease and put the ball behind his back while he was still rising. While it felt like the contest was over at points during LaVine's first round, he did get some competition from Oladipo early.
Coming out crooning Frank Sinatra's classic "New York, New York," Oladipo was playing the showman from the outset. Then he backed up the pomp and circumstance by getting the Barclays Center crowd to its feet with a 540-degree reverse dunk—the rare feat that had never been accomplished before in event history. The perfect score of 50 came after two failed attempts, but Oladipo's creativity was so daring that it was the rare occasion a miss didn't ruin the moment.
Oladipo advanced to the final with a 39 on his second dunk, completing a 360 after an alley-oop from teammate Elfrid Payton.
While LaVine and Oladipo brought down the house, others viewed Saturday night as a star-making vehicle for Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks forward is in the second year of an ascent to fame that's seen the Internet guffaw at his description of his first smoothie and cheer with every wrinkle added to his game. Easily the most widely known player before the event, Antetokounmpo would have joined a long list of players who rocketed to superstardom on All-Star Weekend.
"We're going to see what we're going to do," Antetokounmpo told reporters, indicating he'd consult his brother Thanasis about a strategy. "I'm going to try to do something crazy, something fancy. Are you sure I cannot do a layup?"
Unfortunately for Antetokounmpo, his first dunk attempts were closer to layups than completed dunks. Attempting to alley-oop himself off the bounce and throw it through the hoop Dwight Howard-style, the Greek Freak failed to complete the dunk in his three tries and was awarded the minimum of 30 points.
Antetokounmpo wound up incorporating his brother on the second attempt, an alley-oop reverse clutch that garnered a score of 35. His overall score of 65 was last in Round 1.
Mason Plumlee was one of the bigger underdogs in recent dunk contest history. Given an 8-1 chance of winning by oddsmakers, the 6'11" center is a good leaper but known more for his high energy and dunking power than acrobatics. The center position as a whole has largely struggled in the event, which tends to see judges give extra points to smaller guys showing their leaping ability.
In the first round, we saw that problem rear its head. Working with former Duke teammate Kyrie Irving, Plumlee twice struggled to complete his alley-oop reverse clutch. When he finally completed the dunk on the third try, some of the air was sucked out of the room. Plumlee was given a score of 40 for completing the dunk, which was half the battle in Round 1.
His second dunk saw him also incorporate a family member, brother Miles of the Phoenix Suns, but it wasn't enough to advance. It was nonetheless an impressive performance for someone so regularly picked to finish last.
That said, the night belonged to LaVine. His overall night may not go down in the same sentence as the all-time greats, but for once it felt like we had a worthy successor to the throne abdicated by Carter, Jordan, et al. Given the recent struggles of the dunk contest to maintain its relevance, LaVine's arrival came not a moment too soon.
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