Suns Greats Rate Dunks at All-Star Saturday Night
Posted: Feb. 14, 2009
It took a blast from the past, but the Suns ended up being well-represented in All-Star Saturday Night, after all.
Following Dan Majerle, Leandro Barbosa and Tangela Smith’s runner-up finish in the Shooting Stars competition to tip off the festivities at US Airways Center, “Thunder Dan” joined inaugural Slam Dunk champ Larry Nance, 1992 winner Cedric Ceballos, three-time All-Star Kevin Johnson and 1987 NBA All-Star MVP Tom Chambers as early round judges in the night’s Sprite Slam Dunk contest between Denver’s J.R. Smith, Portland’s Rudy Fernandez, 2006 winner Nate Robinson and defending champ Dwight Howard.
Between being on the receiving end of some teammate lobs, assorted gimmicks and props, the hometown judges had their hands full, deciding the early fate of the participants before giving way to fan voting in the final rounds.
“There were some dunks that were never seen before,” Chambers said. “I haven’t been at a dunk contest since I was in it back in 1987, so it was great to be out here.”
Among the highlights, Howard revisited his Superman persona once again this year, this time changing in a telephone booth before sinking an 11-foot dunk on a specially raised rim. The 5-9 Robinson literally used Knicks teammate Wilson Chandler as a stepping stone to the basket, as well as going kryptonite green with his entire outfit en route to the win.
“It was awesome,” Nance said. “Nate Robinson and the big guy put on quite a show. Dwight dunked 11 feet pretty easy. He probably could have gone 11-and-a-half or 12.
“I love that stuff. That’s what the fans want to see. That’s the stuff we were missing (back in the day), and it’s good to see guys with creativity. I love that Howard kid. He’s really good for the NBA and has a great personality. I just love everything he does.”
Fellow judge Ceballos is no stranger to creativity himself on All-Star Saturday Nights. His blindfolded dunk 15 years ago iced his title chances in the 1994 exhibition.
“I said it would take showmanship to win this dunk contest,” said the Suns gamenight emcee. “You had Superman, but the kryptonite did him in… shoes, sock, the jersey… and then he topped it off with taking the ball and jumping over Superman.”
Chambers added, “For a guy who can jump high and dunk an 11-foot basket, Dwight’s supernatural. But obviously when a little fella lands it, it’s impressive.
“It was David vs. Goliath, and tonight David won.”
Of course, the evening wasn’t without some good-natured controversy from the fans, who let their displeasure be known to the judges after some “suspect” ratings.
Chambers said, “They were booing me? I thought they were booing Majerle (laughs).
“People act like an eight wasn’t very good. An eight is a pretty dang good dunk. Giving a 10 is like perfection.”
Nance added, “That’s’ the way it is. You can’t always please everybody. We put up the scores we thought were best, and that’s what we went with.”
All-Star Weekend has definitely changed since “Leapin’ Larry” took home the title 25 years ago, especially with the level of talent in the league these days.
“1984 was like black and white TV,” Nance said. “This here is high-def. These guys are better athletes. They put on a better show. They show more things. It’s really been an improvement over the years.”
While the show marked the perfect precursor to Sunday’s All-Star Game, it also helped prove that fan interest, in the stands or behind the judges’ table, is still at an all-time high.
“It was incredible,” said KJ, whose 6-1 frame once dunked on 7-foot Hakeem Olajuwon. “I enjoyed judging alongside my old Suns teammates. What two great contestants it came down to – Nate Robinson and the big man out of Orlando. They worked well together – Superman and kryptonite. This is what the NBA is all about.”