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High-flying Nate becomes first three-time Slam Dunk champ

By Steve Aschburner,
Posted Feb 14 2010 11:01AM

DALLAS -- One of the concerns about the Sprite Slam Dunk, after more than a quarter-century of throwdowns on All-Star Saturday, is that all possible dunks have been done. Until players sprout wings or sneakers pack booster jets, there would seem to be a limit to the combinations of altitude, angles, intensity and gravity.

Imagine how New York's reserve guard Nate Robinson felt then, competing at American Airlines Center Saturday for the fifth consecutive year in a contest he already had won twice. To have any more tricks up his sleeves, the Knicks' pocket rocket would need Dikembe Mutombo's reach. And both arms.

And yet, Robinson came up with enough to defeat Toronto Raptors rookie DeMar DeRozan in the 2010 dunk event, earning enough acclaim from the former NBA players-turned-judges in the first round, then getting 51 percent of the fans' votes via text-messaging or online at He successfully defended his '09 title and became the first three-time champion, breaking his tie with two-timers Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Harold Miner and Jason Richardson.

"You've got to kind of figure out a dunk that nobody's tried,'' Robinson said of finding something new, or at least refurbished, to dazzle dunk devotees. "Or kind of like a tribute dunk, I guess or you know, a copycat dunk, you could say.

"But myself, I think, 'What can get the kids out of their seats? What can get people's attention?' That's what you've got to try to do.''

With four players -- Robinson, DeRozan, Charlotte's Gerald Wallace and the Lakers' Shannon Brown -- competing in the two-round, two dunks-per-round exhibition, the compact (5-foot-9), powerfully built (180 pounds) Robinson saved his best for last.

After Wallace and Brown were eliminated in the first round -- Brown, a favorite of many NBA players, was disappointingly ordinary -- Robinson went for local appeal by recruiting four Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders to stand in support -- and as scenery -- nearby. He tried twice to come in from behind the basket and twist in a slam, but missed, so Robinson went with a big bounce from the left wing that he caught and jammed home.

DeRozan -- who had earned his Saturday berth by besting Clippers guard Eric Gordon in the league's first-ever Dunk-In on Friday -- followed with a memorable dunk. The rookie had Raptors teammate Sonny Weems face the rim and toss the ball off the backboard while DeRozan ran up behind and then vaulted him. He controlled the rebound with his right hand and jammed it through.

DeRozan also had scored the night's only 50 in the first round after Weems tossed the ball off the left edge of the backboard and DeRozan cranked it down.

Said Robinson: "Young fella, he can jump. Downstairs when we was practicing, he was doing some different dunks that I thought he was going to do. But I guess they were just for warm-ups. So don't be surprised when you see him next year.''

It became a wait-till-next-year night for DeRozan after Robinson's final dunk. This time, the Knicks guard scooped the ball off the backboard, spun and put it through with two hands, backwards, in a move that accentuated his size and leaping ability. When DeRozan missed once, then countered with a two-handed windmill that seemed a little ordinary, the title was Robinson's. Again.

"No, no, no,'' he said later. "No more titles. It's the last one.''

Robinson said he never considered giving the Jerry Jones' cheerleaders a bigger role such as, oh, stacking them in a pyramid to jump over. "The main thing was just to have them out there,'' he said. "They're pretty much the face of the Cowboys -- there's about a hundred of them -- and they picked the best four.''

It also was a nice plug for the All-Star Game Sunday, which will be played in the massive Cowboys Stadium. "We're in Dallas,'' Robinson said. "Right when they said I was in [this contest], I was like, 'I've got to be creative, I've got to think of something fast.' I'm a football guy -- I watch a lot of football, so I see them all the time. Especially on that big Jumbotron, you can't miss 'em.''

Couldn't miss the little guy with the big hops -- and this time, no props -- either.


2009: New York's Nate Robinson soared over defending champ Dwight Howard of Orlando -- literally and figuratively -- in winning a dramatic contest in Phoenix. Robinson donned a cape and the Knicks' St. Patrick's Day green uniform and vaulted over Howard in one of the most memorable dunks in the event's long history.

Howard, the 2008 champ, had a memorable dunk of his own. He ordered a forklift driver to cart out a hoop and lift it to 12 feet, went to a prop phone booth to change into his Superman cape and then dunked on the 12-foot goal. Ultimately, Howard's most impressive dunk was one that didn't require any tricks. He tossed an alley-oop to himself off the side of the backboard, catching it with one hand and elevating to the point where his eyes were level with the rim before throwing it down.

Robinson's final dunk was much the same. Even though he was still wearing his green Kryptonite gear from his earlier jump over Howard, his last slam -- a reverse alley-oop off the bounce that he brought down to his knees before stuffing it through -- stood on its own athletic merit.

Robinson's signature dunk over Howard never would have happened if the defending slam dunk champ had not agreed to act as a 6-foot-11, 265-pound pommel horse.

2008: Howard scored a perfect 100 in the first round, then broke out a Superman cape to beat defending champion Gerald Green in the final round to win his first Slam Dunk crown.

Using a variety of props as well as teammate Jameer Nelson, Howard won the first-ever contest decided by fan voting. Howard started things off with a dunk he has been practicing for two years. Standing on the baseline, he tossed the ball off the reverse side of the backboard, caught it with both hands, and after peering through the glass at the rim, dunked left-handed.

The most creative dunk may have come from Green, who soared toward the backboard, blew out a candle on a cupcake placed on the back of the rim and threw down a hard left-handed jam.

2007: Boston's Green leapt past Robinson, Howard and Chcago's Tyrus Thomas in the first round, then held off Robinson in the finals to win the event in Las Vegas.

Green vaulted over a three-foot table in the final round, but his two most memorable dunks came in the first round. Green first made a two-handed slam on an alley-oop pass off the side of the backboard from teammate Paul Pierce in the first round. Green then jumped over fellow finalist Robinson while wearing the No. 7 Celtics jersey of 1991 dunk champion Dee Brown -- and shielding his eyes in the crook of his elbow in an homage to Brown's memorable no-look dunk.

Slam Champs
Year Location Slam Dunk Champion
2010 Dallas Nate Robinson, New York
2009 Phoenix Nate Robinson, New York
2008 New Orleans Dwight Howard, Orlando
2007 Las Vegas Gerald Green, Boston
2006 Houston Nate Robinson, New York
2005 Denver Josh Smith, Atlanta
2004 Los Angeles Fred Jones, Indiana
2003 Atlanta Jason Richardson, Golden State
2002 Philadelphia Jason Richardson, Golden State
2001 Washington, D.C. Desmond Mason, Seattle
2000 Oakland Vince Carter, Toronto
1997 Cleveland Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
1996 San Antonio Brent Barry, L.A. Clippers
1995 Phoenix Harold Miner, Miami
1994 Minneapolis Isaiah Rider, Minnesota
1993 Salt Lake City Harold Miner, Cleveland
1992 Orlando Cedric Ceballos, Phoenix
1991 Charlotte Dee Brown, Boston
1990 Miami Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta
1989 Houston Kenny Walker, New York
1988 Chicago Michael Jordan, Chicago
1987 Seattle Michael Jordan, Chicago
1986 Dallas Spud Webb, Atlanta
1985 Indianapolis Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta
1984 Denver Larry Nance, Phoenix


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