By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Jan 19 2009 3:41PM
The history books will show that the gold medal for basketball at the 2008 Olympics was won by the U.S. Men's Senior National Team. But the YouTube champ from Beijing was Spain's Rudy Fernandez, who threw down a vicious one-handed tomahawk on Dwight Howard in the second half of the gold medal game.
Fernandez will get a second shot at Howard during NBA All-Star Saturday Night Feb. 14, at US Airways Center (8 p.m. ET on TNT) in Phoenix. For the first time ever, the NBA allowed fans to participate in naming the Sprite Slam Dunk field. And with 251,868 votes in the online balloting, Portland's Fernandez edged Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (147,279) and Milwaukee's Joe Alexander (114,963) as the rookie representative.
|For the first time ever, fans had their vote in the Sprite Slam Dunk contest and chose Rudy Fernandez as the fourth dunker in the competition. Read Full Article|
"It's very exciting for me to play in the slam dunk contest for the fans and for me. It's my dream, you know," Fernandez told NBA.com in a phone interview. "The dunk for me is, when you were younger every time [you play] you think, 'I want to dunk, I want to dunk,' and if it's that important to the players, I think it's spectacular for the fans to see the players do it."
Orlando's Howard will try to defend the 2008 title he earned in New Orleans against Rudy Gay of the Grizzlies (who also participated last year), Nate Robinson of the Knicks (who won it in 2006 in Houston), and Fernandez (who will become the first international player to compete).
Portland rookie Rudy Fernandez says he's ready to show off his slam dunk skills.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
"It's important that fans in Europe and Spanish people voted online for me for the dunk contest. I think that's an honor for me to just be included with the other guys, [Joe] Alexander and [Russell] Westbrook," Fernandez said. "It's an opportunity for me. This is the first time a European player has been a part of the slam dunk contest. I think it's very good for European basketball."
Aside from the dunk on Howard, Fernandez hooked up with teammate Sergio Rodriguez for a reverse alley-oop against Miami this season that has been posted on YouTube with the title "Greatest Alley-Oop Ever."
"For me, everybody speaks about the dunk [on] Dwight Howard in the Olympics and now the alley-oop [from] Sergio [Rodriguez] and I think it's very good," Fernandez said, "But that's not my specialty dunks."
Fernandez wouldn't tip his hand as to what new dunks he has in store for the competition, but don't expect his teammate Rodriguez to be involved in any of them. The Oregonian reports that Rodriguez plans to go on vacation during All-Star Weekend.
If you go by "practice makes perfect" reasoning to handicap the competition, in terms of sheer volume of dunks, Robinson is the underdog. Through Jan. 18, Howard was first in the NBA with 96 dunks this season. Among those in this competition, Gay is second with 48 dunks, Fernandez third with 14 throwdowns and Robinson fourth, with just a single slam this year.
Howard is trying to become the first participant since Jason Richardson in 2003 to successfully defend his crown.
"I saw the slam dunk contest last year ... [Howard] is just incredible," Fernandez said. "Maybe it's impossible to win, but just to be a part of the dunk show on the court, for me, is a blessing."
Fernandez, whose 3-point shooting and all-around numbers suggest he'll also be involved in All-Star Friday Night as a player in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge, is eager to enhance his reputation as a dunker.
"It's a great opportunity to go to All-Star and maybe show to the world I'm a good dunker," Fernandez said. "I think it's possible that everybody will be surprised by the good dunks from me."
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