Anatomy Of A Dunk Contest Championship

f Josh Smith's victory in the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Contest on
Saturday night was a recipe, the ingredients would read as follows: take one
part breathtaking hops, one part crisp execution, and one part acknowledgement
of your heroes, mix, and serve. In just four resounding dunks, the player known
to Hawks fans as "J-Smoove" brought the Denver crowd to its feet and the Slam
Dunk Contest back to relevance in the NBA.

Competing against the New Orleans duo of Chris Andersen and fellow rookie J.R.
Smith and Phoenix Sun All-Star center Amare Stoudemire, Josh Smith was able to
do one thing the others could not seem to nail down the whole night - bring
excitement and tension to every attempt while rocking every single one of them
straight through the hoop.

Here is a recap of how the 19-year old from Powder Springs burst onto the scene
and made a name for himself already in the annals of the great dunkers in NBA
history:

First Dunk:
Smith started the night off with a relatively simple free throw line jam, taking
off from just inside the stripe and finishing with a left-handed flourish. The
dunk earned a 45 from the judges, good enough to tie for first after the first
round of dunks with J.R. Smith, who executed an outstanding behind-the-back
dunk, and Stoudemire, who executed a nice baseline double-clutch reverse jam.
Andersen missed comically on several attempts at a jam where he tossed it to
himself in the air to put himself in trouble, finally nailing it for a low score
of 41.

Second Dunk:
It's debatable which dunk will go down as the most memorable from this night for
Smith, but his second dunk in the competition will certainly be fondly
remembered. For the attempt, Smith used Denver Nuggets power forward Kenyon
Martin (with whom he shares his agent) as a prop, positioning him in a chair
holding the basketball halfway between the free throw line and the basket. Smith
backed up, then ran down the court and catapulted over Martin, catching his toss
in the air and finishing with a twisting left-handed windmill flush.

The dunk immediately brought the crowd to its feet and signaled that "Smoove" would be a
tough out for the rest of the contest. Stoudemire then joined him in the finals
with an impressive collaborative dunk with his teammate (and former soccer
player) Steve Nash. Stoudemire threw the ball off the backboard as he started
towards the goal, and it caromed perfectly towards Nash, who then headed it back
in the air for a perfectly-timed alley-oop to Stoudemire. Both dunks received
50s from the judges.

Third Dunk:
As an Atlanta native, Smith grew up idolizing the astonishing power and grace of
his hero Dominique Wilkins, and he paid respect to his mentor with his first
dunk of the final round. Donning a throwback #21 Wilkins jersey, Smith ran down
the right side and threw down a nearly perfect replica of one of Dominique's
trademark one-handed windmill dunks. Smith, such an able leaper, took off for
the dunk from outside the paint in earning his second straight 50. Stoudemire
tried to keep up with a baseline between-the-legs reverse, but missed twice
before putting it through to earn only a 45.

Fourth Dunk:
With a chance to put Stoudemire away, Smith capped off his breakthrough
performance with a 360 windmill that earned him a record-tying third 50 from the
judges, tying former Hawk Spud Webb's winning performance in 1986 and Michael
Jordan in 1988 (though each of them attempted several more dunks). Equally as
impressive as his first two 50s, Smith started out the 360 with his right hand
before switching over at the last second to a left-handed finish. With the
contest all but over, Stoudemire brought back Nash for another soccer-inspired
attempt, as the Suns All-Star point guard rainbowed a pass with his feet for
another alley-oop attempt. But the feat took several attempts to pull off, and
Smith finished with a 100-87 victory.

Smith's performance will certainly put his name on the map the way it once did
for Wilkins, the Hawks VP of Basketball whose furious throwdowns once elicited
the same gasps and applause that Smith received in Denver.

"People asked me about Josh trying to fill my shoes afterwards," said Wilkins,
who won the event twice in 1985 and 1990. "But after his performance, he has his
own shoes now. He shocked me with some of the stuff he did out there."

Smith discussed afterwards his decision to honor Wilkins with the jersey and the
dunk.

"I grew up watching Dominique," said Smith. "He's been a mentor for me ever
since I came to the Hawks. He was a real big person in my life to follow, and I
knew I was going to do a tribute dunk for him. But I surprised him with the
jersey."

Smith's gravity-defying act has played for months in front of the home crowds at
Philips Arena, but for the most part has been a well-kept secret from the rest
of the NBA. After Saturday's performance (as well as his highlight-reel
contributions in Friday's Rookie Challenge), it is safe to say that the word is
out. And it could be part of the recipe for future success for the Hawks.

Micah Hart is the Assistant Web Editor for the Atlanta Hawks