PATTEN PENDING: DUNK CONTEST WAS FUN… WHILE IT LASTED
NEW ORLEANS – I am likely in the minority. Particularly if I’m judging by the reaction on Twitter that called the 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk everything from “lame” to “disappointing.”
But I thought the dunk contest was fun, and in many ways innovative. The so-called “battle round” forced players to bring out their most creative dunks in a head-to-head matchup and the teamwork in the 90-second “freestyle round” was worth watching, especially after all three East competitors touched the ball before eventual “Dunker of the Night” John Wall passed it to Paul George off the shot clock.
Unlike dunk contests in the past two All-Star Saturday Nights, this year provided some memorable finishes. Wall’s double-pump reverse while grabbing the ball from the Wizards’ mascot who was hoisting it above his head was phenomenal. Magic Johnson, one of three judges charged with determining the winner, said it “brought the slam dunk back.”
George had a spectacular between the legs 360-degree dunk from the left wing. It took three attempts and each one got progressively less dramatic, but the first attempt was such a marvelous athletic play that nearly every All-Star sitting courtside in street clothes rose to their feet. I found myself almost cheering in press row, nearly six stories above the action.
Sacramento’s Ben McLemore was arguably the most creative, bringing a herald to introduce him as he walked out in a king’s robe alongside Kings minority owner Shaquille O’Neal who held a No. 34 jersey reading “Shaq-Lemore.” O’Neal sat in a large ornate king’s throne while McLemore completed a dunk spreading his legs to leap over him.
Damian Lillard, who is participating in all five major events this weekend, put a ball between his legs for a right-handed dunk. Harrison Barnes plugged a flash drive into a computer that mimicked a replay of his dunk on the NBA 2K14 video game. And defending champion Terrence Ross had three fantastic dunks between the battle round, which the Eastern Conference swept, and the freestyle.
Wall’s dunk was certainly the most spectacular. It awakened a crowd that was likely as confused as anyone about the rules and how the entire event would play out as anything. I know people around me were. Wall was declared the winner of his “battle.” And the contest was over.
There was no showdown between George, who in the previous iterations of the contest would have undoubtedly been given a perfect score, and Wall. Or Ross and McLemore and George and Wall advancing to a final four of battles. It was just over.
The energy Wall’s dunk created was sucked out of the arena faster than the last few drops of a smoothie through a straw, pun entirely intended. So, call the contest part of it lame or disappointing or any of the other things I read on Twitter Saturday night. But don’t take away from some of the dunks. Those were not the problem.