Hakim Warrick. DeShawn Stevenson. Jamario Moon. Jonathan Bender. Gerald Green. Fred Jones.
Yep, those are all names players that have participated in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend since Vince Carter’s memorable show-stopping performance at the 2000 event in Oakland.
Not much attention-drawing star power on that list, is there?
While we’ve had a few exceptions (Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, for example), the primary criticism of the contest in recent years has been with regards to the lack of recognizable faces actually participating in the festivities.
We’ve also been subjected to incessant whining and moaning about how there are so few dunks left to be done, which leaves us underwhelmed and bored with the entire spectacle of the thing.
Shockingly, people were sick of watching guys like Moon and Bender spare us to death with dunks we’ve seen a thousand times over. I wonder why.
However, whatever luster had been absent from the contest in recent years was suddenly rediscovered Saturday night at Staples Center.
While the likes of DeMar DeRozan, JaVale McGee and Serge Ibaka may not yet be household names, you may have heard of a certain redheaded fellow they call “Blake Griffin.”
The Clippers’ redshirt rookie came into the night as the overwhelming favorite to take the crown, and he certainly delivered, dedicating the title to his recently-passed friend and high school teammate, Wilson Holloway.
What most did not foresee, however, was how strong the rest of the field would be.
The quartet of contestants dazzled the Los Angeles crowd with each passing dunk; from DeRozan’s amazing between-the-legs alley-oop to Ibaka’s free-throw line flight to McGee’s triple-basketball slam to Griffin’s choir and Kia shenanigans.
Former champion Dwight Howard, sitting in with the TNT broadcast team for the show, said it best:
“The dunk contest is back.”
While some argue that Griffin’s first pair of dunks were not necessarily strong enough to warrant his reaching the final round over DeRozan and Ibaka, did the judges really have a choice here?
Griffin is the NBA’s most rapidly rising star, and has almost single-handedly turned the Los Angeles Clippers (yes, those Clippers) into one of the hottest tickets around the league after just over one-half of a season.
While it may seem a bit crooked to pencil him into the finals seemingly regardless of merit, Griffin is probably the reason half of the audience even tuned in. His spectacular dunks have taken the league (and SportsCenter) by storm, and people wanted to see what he could do on a stage all to himself.
Oh, that, and the fact that the entire weekend of events was centered around his home town and arena. That may have contributed a bit, as well, I would think.
However, to say that Griffin’s dunks weren’t terrific in their own right would be wrong. Sure, the respective slams by Ibaka and DeRozan were nothing short of tremendous, but this wasn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill dunk contest.
The bar was higher, and the competition was greater.
Had Griffin not benefited a little from the generosity of the judges on his (good, but not great) windmill jam off the side of the backboard in the first round, the entire city of Los Angeles may have revolted, causing town-wide chaos and a global meltdown the likes of which have not been seen since the awful “2012″ film.
…or there would’ve been a few complaints and we would’ve been over it. One, or the other.
Still, though, Griffin, McGee, Ibaka and DeRozan effectively pulled out the imaginary defibrillators and gave the entire All-Star Weekend the jolt it so sorely needed on Saturday night.
Here’s hoping Blake and company come back for seconds next year.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.