Will NBA Slam Dunk Contest Create Another Legend?
The Rise And Fall Of The NBA Dunk Contest
From Dr. J To Jordan
Dr. J established the art of the dunk. Julius Irving and his “Rock the Baby” cradle dunk still ranks among the best in-game slams in history. Comprised of style and substance, Dr. J protected the ball from a Lakers defender before swinging his arm in a windmill motion and destroying the rim. The reaction from Philadelphia 76ers fans says it all.
Julius also established the first high watermark for dunk contests during his time in the ABA. He won the first competition by slamming the ball home from the free throw line. These pair of dunks grew the legend of Dr. J as a household name. His groundbreaking style and athleticism set the tone for the next dunk superstar: Michael Jordan.
The uber-competitive Jordan knew exactly what he was doing when battling against Dominique Wilkins during the 1988 dunk contest. Wilkins defeated Jordan in a previous showdown, making Dominique the only rival for His Airness. Jordan’s free throw dunk to beat Wilkins referenced Dr. J’s creation like a cover song respects the original. Michael nailed the dunk while adding his own flair, appearing to walk in mid-air before slamming the basketball home.
This helped to cement Jordan’s superstar status, which would only grow during the 1980s and 1990s. Symbolically, Michael grabbed the torch Dr. J lit in mid-air, leaping off the shoulder of a giant to eventually become the greatest basketball star of all time.
Vinsanity Rejuvenated Dunk Contest Before Killing It
The slam dunk competition became a non-entity after numerous disappointments, but Vince Carter unexpectedly resuscitate the event in 2000. He was already known as a rising star swingman for the Toronto Raptors, a franchise struggling to establish themselves on the radar. Incredibly, his cousin Tracy McGrady would also compete in the contest on behalf of Toronto.
In his only appearance, Carter was nearly perfect, exploding onto the scene with brand new feats of athleticism, including a modified East Bay Funk Dunk and the elbow dunk, which required a moment for the mind to comprehend.
Vinsanity would ensue, placing Carter on the map as Toronto’s first basketball superstar. Vince wasn’t only a legendary dunker, but he also had range, making it next to impossible to stop him on some evenings. He’d eventually drag the Raptors to their best-ever playoff performance, before he moved on to the Nets and other teams during his incredible career.
Millions begged Carter to appear in the dunk contest again, but Vince was more interested in being known as a complete player, rather than a one-trick pony. Similarly, LeBron James never showed interest in the dunk contest, preferring to compete in the skills competition. After Carter and James eschewed the competition, this once-great event went into decline again.
Media-Friendly Modern Dunk Contests
Dunk contests are tailored made for social media. They can be portioned into smaller pieces of easily absorbed video, providing the type of brief, spectacular entertainment that keeps people hooked to Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. Props entered into play after Vince’s all-universe performance, including Blake Griffin jumping over a car, and Dwight Howard donning a superman cape.
Aaron Gordon recent under-leg, over-mascot dunk didn’t win the contest, but the feat still emblazoned Gordon into the NBA history books as the greatest losing dunk of the competition. In 2018, competitors include rising stars like Donovan Mitchell and Dennis Smith Jr. Mitchell’s become the go-to-scorer for the Jazz as a rookie, while Smith’s already known for his insane vertical.
Either one of these rookies could leap into the superstar spotlight with a career-defining dunk. If Mitchell wins in spectacular fashion, his unexpectedly excellent inaugural season could turn into a rookie of the year campaign, despite Ben Simmons superb start with the 76ers. Odds remain slim for anyone to claim the lofty throne which Jordan and Dr. J owned, but the recent rebirth of the dunk contest could lift the upcoming group of young stars into the stratosphere.
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