The NBA’s annual slam dunk contest is this Saturday night, and it’s going to suck.
Four no-name players will be pitted against one another, none of whom matter in the slightest. Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (averaging a whopping 12.1 points per game this season) is by far the most established, and he’s joined by, in order of microscopic relevance, Houston’s Chase Budinger, Minnesota’s Derrick Williams and Utah’s Jeremy Evans.
A number of people likely don’t know what the big deal is. That’s fair. Watching the NBA is often behind cleaning up dog excrement on the “to-do” list.
But please understand the tragedy here.
The slam dunk contest is often terribly subjective, overhyped and sometimes incredibly boring. But at the same time, nothing has been as captivating as this particular competition when it is done correctly.
The All-Star Game itself often takes a backseat to the night before, when the game’s most athletic and innovative players do everything humanly possible in the air before throwing the basketball through the cylinder.
This 28-year-old contest has a checkered history: Some years, the players involved generate excitement, and other years, well, you find yourself watching Desmond Mason square off against DeShawn Stevenson (I’m looking at you, 2001).
But though the lows have been quite low — Brent Barry and Cedric Ceballos somehow garnered victories in the ‘90s, and the '98 competition was simply not held — some of the most iconic moments of all time have also unfolded in front of our eyes.
In 1984, Julius Erving launched himself from the free-throw line to nail one of the most iconic dunks ever. In '85, Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins narrowly outlasted legends Michael Jordan, Erving and Clyde Drexler. In '86, 5-foot-7-inch Spud Webb produced the contest’s most memorable victory.
The ‘80s were the contest’s golden era, the only time the game’s best players consistently showed up.
The excitement has waned since, but it has still offered random highlights. In 2000, Vince Carter, Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady put on a thrilling show before Carter, perhaps the best dunker of this generation, pulled off a through-the-legs alley-oop and a free-throw leap of his own to decidedly end the contest.
In 2008, Dwight Howard donned a Superman cape before taking off just inside the free-throw line en route to a win. In 2011, Blake Griffin supplied us with perhaps the most lasting image from recent years, leaping over a car for the win.
One thing will certainly kill a slam dunk contest: lack of star power.
It’s simple American math, after all. When there are no big names, there is no excitement. Since good dunking requires little more than a cool idea and athleticism, the quality of the craft will always be stellar no matter who is doing it (YouTube Javale McGee’s 2011 contest efforts for proof), but that’s not the point.
The stars don’t want to compete anymore. No longer do we have a chance to see our generation’s Dominique Wilkins or Michael Jordan.
But a fix is out there, and it’s simple — raise the compensation for competing (new endorsement deal, anyone?) to make sure at least two All-Stars get involved every year. Ratings would be off the charts if LeBron faced Kobe for dunk supremacy and, say, $100,000 to a charity of his choice.
If we can’t get the best players to compete, scrap the whole thing altogether. No one cares if Paul George is on TV or not.