Nostalgic NBA supporters may long for the days when the brightest stars, such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter, stole headlines at All-Star Weekend in the Slam Dunk Contest, but fans will be in for a treat in this year’s event for one reason.
Zach LaVine is back.
Minnesota’s LaVine, Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Denver’s Will Barton and Orlando’s Aaron Gordon will make up the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest field, announced the league.
The dunk contest takes place Feb. 13 in Toronto as the final event of All-Star Saturday Night.
There may not be a megastar like LeBron James or Kevin Durant in the field, but LaVine turned in one of the most incredible performances in contest history when he won it last year in Brooklyn. If he gives fans an encore, nobody will give the lack of superstars a second thought.
LaVine was only 19 years old during last year’s contest at the Barclays Center, and he had the fans and his fellow players leaping out of their seats from his opening dunk. He tallied a perfect 50 by tossing the ball up and putting it through his legs for a reverse slam, all while wearing a Tune Squad jersey from the movie Space Jam.
He also used teammate Andrew Wiggins to hold the ball up for another dunk, and LaVine took it out of his hands and put it through his legs in one quick motion before finishing the dunk. He closed the victory with another between-the-legs slam after receiving a pass off the stanchion behind the basket.
It was the type of performance that brought back memories of when the Slam Dunk Contest was appointment viewing for basketball fans. Images of Jordan soaring through the sky or Carter declaring the competition over after one rim-rattling dunk grace the memories of thousands of NBA enthusiasts, and LaVine added his name to the exclusive list of incredible dunking showmen.
Some were hoping Wiggins would challenge his teammate, especially because he has developed into one of the league’s most exciting dunkers this season and the event is in his hometown of Toronto. He offered his reason for declining, per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com:
My story is, I lost in high school, right when I was in the McDonald's [All-]American Game, so I really don't do ... dunks anymore. I kind of retired that back, left that in high school, so I don't really do it anymore.
Right now, you can give it to him [LaVine]. I won't be doing all the surprise dunks. I just keep it simple -- one hand, two hands.
Outside of LaVine, Drummond adds some intrigue because he is 6’11” and plays center. Most of the Slam Dunk Contest winners throughout history are guards or forwards who glide through the air, but Dwight Howard won in 2008, and Blake Griffin captured the crown by leaping over a car in 2011. There is at least a precedent in place for big guys to steal the show.
Drummond leads the league in rebounding, but he doesn’t hesitate to complete powerful dunks in the lane when given the opportunity.
Gordon is also relatively tall at 6’9”, but he is more athletic than Drummond and frequently attacks the rim for the Magic. In fact, he inspired this headline from HoopsHype earlier in the season with a double-clutch reverse slam against the Washington Wizards: “Aaron Gordon has dunk contest dunk in the middle of game vs. Wizards.”
As for Barton, he may be a relative unknown among casual fans, but he is averaging better than 15 points per night for the Nuggets and is something of a skywalker from the wing. The Nuggets provided a glimpse of what he can do in transition via Twitter:
While some fans crave star power during the All-Star Weekend, the Slam Dunk Contest field is loaded with talent and high-flyers who have the potential to put on an absolute show in Toronto. LaVine may be the defending champion and the perceived favorite, but winning back-to-back crowns will prove challenging.