By: Rob Botts
When you think of the best all time dunk contests there a few that immediately come to the forefront of one’s mind. There is of course, the all time favorite that involved a young “Swoosh” and “The Human Highlight Reel” going at it in 1988.(That’s Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins for those young pups out there) There was also Dr. J, Connie Hawkins and David Thompson who really started this whole dunk contest thing with truly eye popping, never seen before at that time, feats of athleticism and grace. Then of course there was the man known as “Vinsanity”(Mr. Vince Carter) who literally put his entire arm up to his pit after a dunk and just hung there for a few just for effect. Those examples are what we all think of when we hear about an NBA All Star Weekend dunk contest.
Well, guess what. We now, FINALLY have a new go to and it couldn’t have arrived via air mail at a better or more desperately needed time. Unfortunately the dunk contest had turned into the NBA’s version of the NFL’s pro bowl. Nobody really cared. Nothing new and nothing exiting. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. It was in a word, irrelevant. This dunk competition was NOT that. It was the NBA’s version of “The Revenant.” There was no bear, close up shots of frozen snot in beards or frigid temperatures, but there was some hard court history being written.
One of the biggest complaints over the years since Vince Carter blew away the field, is that there were never any dunks that we hadn’t seen attempted before. There were no great characters, no beefs between dudes or superstars to be part of the contests. With the guys that did show up, there was always the feeling of guys being more interesting in the lead up to the dunk than the actual dunk ended up being. The long walks to the end of the court while dribbling the ball a couple times and nodding the head back in thought. The backing up and then backing up some more to make guys on the sideline back up against each other thinking that this long take off runway is going to lead to a nasty rim rocking flush. Guys would also pull out all kinds of props and outfits and the end result just would’t move the meter of fans and pundits alike. Even though the yearly rotated table of ex dunker judges would immediately wave an 8 or a 9 score card up in the air and make wincing faces at each other as if they just saw the greatest show above earth. Even the crowds sounded like an overly friendly and polite audience listening to a stuttering, sweaty guy who just isn’t that funny at an open mike night at some dive bar in a place like Tulsa Oklahoma.(No offense Tulsa) Everybody just kept thinking the same thing: “When are they gonna get rid of this train wreck or get it back on the tracks with some exciting new rides???”
I’m sure almost any kind of dunk has been most likely tried before BUT, can you combine various past dunk different parts, mold them together by the hands of a supreme young athlete and make terrifyingly perfect frankenstein throw downs? The answer came loud and clear via the ooooohs and ahhhhhs and standing ovations that took place in Toronto, Canada for the dunk contest at the NBA All Star Weekend 2016 this past weekend.
Who were the two main mad dunking scientists? That would be none other than last year’s champ Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves and rookie high flier Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic. These 2 guys, LaVine in particular, bring a little more to the table than being just a high wire act. Zach has developed a very solid game quickly in this league and is forming quite a nice young backcourt with Andrew Wiggins for the Timberwolves organization. Down in Mickey Mouse land, Gordon is still learning the ropes and his game will eventually fill out some more. Aaron is really made in the Blake Griffin mold in terms of athletic power dunking on many lobs or pick and roll sets that teams in the league have really fallen in love with. What did these two young men do during the contest to make it one of the greatest of all time? I hear you and no I’m not being a prisoner of the moment. I didn’t say it was the best of all time, I said it was ONE of the best of all time. Although 6 CONSECUTIVE PERFECT SCORES??? Pretty amazing and had never been done before.
How about this for description of what the dunks were:
Aaron Gordon, via the help of the Orlando Magic’s mascot, had one of the most amazing dunks I have ever seen. The mascot held the ball high over his head and Gordon leapt into the air, grabbed the ball with one hand and then placed it through his perpendicular, pushed together legs(he looked like we was sitting in a chair) to his other hand then slammed it through. It looked like he was riding one of those automatic chairs placed in private homes that transport elderly people up and down the stairs resembling a theme park ride. Except this was really, really fast.
Not to be outdone of course, LaVine had a beautiful and majestic dunk that was highlighted by grabbing a bouncing ball in mid air then redirecting his in flight course by spinning back in the opposite direction, against the way his momentum had taken him and with only ONE hand on the ball, throwing the rock through the rim with mind numbing results.
Then, for a moment, you thought you saw Dominique Wilkins appear. Gordon pulled off a super slam that looked like it was plucked out of “The Human Highlight Film’s” dunk diary. But, it was just a little bit better. Why? Aaron jumped higher, pulled the ball back farther behind his head and also put it deeper between his legs and completed the dunk from a tougher angle. It was fantastic.
Then for a moment, you thought you saw Michael Jordan appear. LaVine’s walk off on air between the legs foul line flight was the stuff of legends. He took what Jordan made famous and decided to add in, oh I don’t know, a BETWEEN THE LEGS wind up thunder slam. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen and wanted to see the replay right away to make sure there was no trampoline snuck in there or if the rim had been lowered and pushed closer. No, no and no.
We also had drama. Double overtime, never seen before drama. These two kids were really going at and were forced, on the spot, to come up with combinations that they hadn’t really attempted before. Their round ball improvisations felt like an episode of “Whose dunk is it anyways?” From a pure technical basketball creative dunking perspective, these 2 guys blew away Dr. J, Jordan and Wilkins. But those 3 hall of famers were superstars who were doing what they were doing at just the right time. We secretly wish that this current contest was between a young LeBron and Kobe.
But that is just fiction. The reality we got this past weekend was a perfect 10.