Anfernee Simons was in shock when he got the call from the NBA last week asking him to participate in the 2021 Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend in Atlanta.
Given that response to simply being invited, who knows how long it will take for the fact that he actually won it to sink in.
On the strength of three dunks, 6-3 guard in his third season out of IMG Academy bested Indiana’s Cassius Stanley and New York’s Obi Toppin to be named the winner of the 2021 Slam Dunk Contest.
“I’m still on shock that I just won the Dunk Contest,” said Simons. “It’s definitely a dream come true. Just watching the dunk contest over the years growing up, it’s one of the premiere contests, if not the premiere contest next to the game, at All-Star Weekend. Having a chance to come in and be a part of it and win it, it’s surreal.”
With the win, the Trail Blazers now have the last two Dunk Contest winners on their roster between Simons and Derrick Jones Jr, who won the even last season as a member of the Miami Heat. Simons also becomes the first Trail Blazer in franchise history to win the Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend, a fact he was also surprised by.
“I’m the first? I didn’t know I was the first,” said Simons. “That’s amazing. We’ve got a couple guys that were already in the dunk contest, great dunkers. It’s just a blessing to be the first Portland Trail Blazer to win a dunk contest, I didn’t know that.”
With both Stanley and Toppin being more regular in-game dunkers, Simons entered the contest as the underdog, though he had the benefit of being the last dunker of the first round.
“I was pretty nervous, not gonna lie,” said Simons. “When I first did that first dunk, just to get my legs going, I knew it was going to be a good night for me. Especially making my first (dunk), first chance.”
With his first attempt, he used a Nerf hoop, affixed with suction cups, to hold the ball at the top of the square on the backboard, grabbed the ball from that elevation (roughly 11 feet) and put the ball through the hoop. The dunk was awarded 46 points, better than Stanley (44) but behind Toppin (48).
“Shoutout to Coach (Dale Osbourne), he came up with the first idea on the dunk,” said Simons. “At first we did velcro on the side of the backboard but was like, if we can put something on the rim that and set the ball up there, that would be amazing, especially on the replay.”
With his second dunk, Simons swapped out his Portland “City” edition jersey for a Tracy McGrady pinstripe Raptors jersey and proceed to lob the ball up from the top of the three-point line, catch it, spin a full 360 and then finish with the two-handed jam, similar to the dunk that “T-Mac” pulled off in the 2000 Dunk Contest.
“The T-Mac tribute was something I just wanted to do because T-Mac was my hero growing up so I wanted to honor him with a dunk as well,” said Simons, who grew up in Orlando, where McGrady spent much of his career playing for the Magic. “I’ve been trying the whole week to flare my legs out a little bit more to make it seem more grand.”
Simons’ second dunk earned four perfect 10s and one 9 for a combined 49 points, which, combined with the 46 points from his first dunk, was enough to put him into the final versus Toppin with one dunk to go.
In an attempt to avoid the scoring controversy and discrepancy that plagued last year’s Dunk Contest, judges simply voted for which of the two finalists had the best dunk of the final round. Toppin went first, pulling off a between-the-legs dunk from a step inside of the free throw line.
But Simons would surpass that. With his final attempt, Simons jumped off of two feet, came within a few inches of the rim and made what he referred to as a “smooch face” to mimic kissing the rim. His lips didn’t make contact out of fear of knocking his teeth out, but the image of his head being level with the rim was enough to win the final round 3-2 and the contest overall.
“I tried to get close enough. Obviously I don’t hit my head on the rim too hard, so I was trying to get as close as I can as possible and then get out,” said Simons. “In practice, I’ve never actually kissed the rim, but I was like, I’ve got to commit to it. I tried to put a mouthpiece in last minute but it didn’t fit my mouth. I just scratched it and it was like, I’m just going to emphasize the smooch face so people know what I’m right there next to the rim and I’m trying to kiss it.”
Simons will now have a few days to come back down to earth before the Trail Blazers begin the second half of their 2020-21 schedule by hosting the Suns on Thursday. Considering how high he got and how surprised he was to even be included, it might take right up until tipoff to snap out of it.
Said Simons: “Two weeks ago if you would have told me I’d been in the dunk contest and I’d would have won it I’d have looked at you crazy.”