Anatomy Of A Dunk Contest Championship
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.