Aaron Gordon Selected to Participate in NBA Slam Dunk Contest
By John Denton
Feb. 2, 2017
ORLANDO – A runner-up last year, but easily the star of the show with his creativity and acrobatics in dunking, Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon will get another chance at taking home the NBA Slam Dunk Contest title at the NBA All-Star Game later this month.
The NBA announced the participants on Thursday for this year’s dunk contest during State Farm All-Star Saturday Night, which will be held Feb. 18 at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Arena. Gordon, Orlando’s third-year forward, should be a heavy favorite while competing against Los Angeles Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan, Indiana forward Glen Robinson III and Phoenix rookie forward Derrick Jones Jr.
Minnesota guard Zach LaVine, the champion from the past two seasons, declined to enter and potentially create a rematch with Gordon – something that was hoped for by basketball fans electrified by last year’s exhilarating finale.
In the days leading up to Thursday’s announcement, Gordon said he wasn’t thinking about the dunk contest as his focus was instead on trying to help the Magic rack up wins. But Gordon remembers last season’s event fondly.
``It’s incredibly special just to be out there,’’ Gordon said of competing on the dunk contest stage with all eyes on him. ``You have to trust your skills. To grow up wanting to be in the dunk contest and then to finally be doing it, performing at a high level, it’s an incredible feeling.’’
Gordon, 21, has blossomed into a solid all-around player for the Magic this season while averaging 11.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists a game. He’s scored double digits 26 times, 20-or-more points six times and at least 30 points twice. He scored a career-best 33 points on Dec. 14 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Gordon, who has played predominantly at small forward this season after playing power forward in his first two NBA seasons, has also evolved into Orlando’s best defender this season. He’s had defensive success against superstar players such as Chris Paul, James Harden, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum this season. He isn’t worried about being tagged as just a ``dunker.’’
``I’m not worried about that because people will put labels where they see fit,’’ Gordon said. ``The reputation of me being a dunker, that’s fine. I have plenty of other tools in my bag and aspects of my game that I’m not concerned about that. That’s just one more label for me – and he dunks.’’
Gordon, 21, waged an epic battle with LaVine in the finals of last February’s dunk contest at Toronto’s Air Canada Center. Gordon used Magic mascot, Stuff, for two dunks in the final – one time jumping over the mascot while it was spinning on a hoverboard and a second time jumping over the fuzzy, green figure while passing the ball underneath him before dunking. Both dunks earned perfect scores of 50, as did a third dunk that was assisted by teammate Elfrid Payton.
LaVine, the champion from the year prior, also had three perfect scores, forcing a ``dunk-off.’’ Both players were scored perfectly on their first dunk, and Gordon was given a 47 on his second try even though he converted a two-handed, double-pump reverse slam that was reminiscent of something Dominique Wilkins did two decades earlier. LaVine jumped from just inside the free throw line and dunked after passing the ball between his legs to win the repeat as champion.
Afterward, LaVine – who has been friends with Gordon for years from their AAU basketball days – said, ``we should share the trophy because (Gordon) did some stuff I’ve never seen before.’’
This is the ninth time that a Magic player will be appearing the dunk contest. Gordon (2017 and ‘16), Victor Oladipo (2015), Dwight Howard (2007, ’08 and ‘09), Darrell Armstrong (1996), Nick Anderson (1992) and Otis Smith (1991) competed in the event with Howard being the franchise’s only dunk champion after he donned a Superman cape and dunked from the free throw line in 2008.
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