The dunk contest appeals to all, thrills none

Benjamin Polk —  February 26, 2012 — 13 Comments

12-year-old me and present-day me probably would not agree on all that much. He desperately loved Cinnamon Toast Crunch and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and wearing extremely puffy pants with your best silk print shirt, whereas I do not. And I might not have been able to convince him of the benefits of getting massively stoned and listening to King Tubby. On the other hand, we would certainly agree on one simple fact: dunks are awesome.  He was partial to MJ’s pivoting, hand-on-the-floor throwdown over Patrick Ewing, while I might counter with Blake Griffin’s spinning, open-floor crushing of Danilo Gallinari. But on the basics, we would agree.

Given that knowledge, what exactly is wrong with the dunk contest? We might as well expand the question and ask ourselves what, for a basketball lover, felt so desultory about all of All-Star Saturday night. Because their bodies are so sleek and coordinated and powerful and because they have such mastery of the skills inherent to the game, when they play against air, their actions appear so effortless as to be pretty much vacuumed of all drama. Without competition, there’s no struggle; without a struggle to magnify and draw out the full measure of those incredible skills, there’s nothing to see. Even the three-point contest–which I normally find pretty engrossing simply for the rhythmic, hypnotic sight of the ball going through the net over and over–underwhelmed. Kevin Love is a fine shooter and all, and I’m crazy about the guy as a player, but the fact that he won tells you all that you need to know about the quality of this year’s competition.

And although its certainly impressive to know that Chase Budinger can jump over a famous hip-hop producer or that Jeremy Evans can dunk two balls at once, that same purposelessness applies to the dunk contest. The best dunks emerge suddenly, out of ordinary time, injecting very small moments with a revitalizing shock, a vibration that expands and extends those moments in our consciousness. The dunk contest lacks both the oppositional force (Jordan shredding that double-team, Ewing rising to contest) and the suddenness of of those great in-game dunks. We know exactly what to expect and the dunks themselves–black lights and glow-in-the-dark strips and motorcycles and capes and head-mounted video cameras and cupcakes notwithstanding–do very little to exceed those expectations.

So what could we do to fix this? Well, we could try getting Kenny Smith to ask a thorzine-mouthed, wasted-on-himself P. Diddy about his new projects. We could get Kevin Hart to dress up like a mailman. We could thrill the nation with a Cedric Ceballos cameo. We could get Flo-Rida to karaoke their second-best song. We could ask Big Shaq and Chuck and Reggie to convene an on-mic, cigar aficionado frat party. Oh I know, since the problem with previous dunk-contests was clearly that they were improperly judged, we could just start our own little social media revolution and allow the 99% (over three million people, we’re told, chiming in via text or the Twitter) to vote for the winner…aaaaand those three million people could promptly select the gangly
Evans who, if you ask me, was no better than third out of four. (The two best dunks of the night–again, if you’re asking me–were Paul George’s Larry Bird tribute and Derrick Williams’ 360 off the side of the backboard, if for no other reason than the fact that Ricky Rubio was giggling throughout the entire thing.)

We could try all of those things and the sparse crowd could still greet the proceedings with an email-checking, hot dog-eating non-enthusiasm punctuated by a smattering of lukewarm applause and even the occasional boo (for Evans’ first, decidedly unimpressive dunk). What was merely boring could now become overstimulating and occasionally cringe-inducing. I’m left now with the same feeling that always seems to descend on me during the aimless spectacularity of All-Star weekend: the desire to watch an actual NBA game.

Benjamin Polk

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13 responses to The dunk contest appeals to all, thrills none

  1. I’m so glad to hear you say this. I thought it was just me that wasn’t fond of the All-Star Weekend….not being from the USA I just assumed that I didn’t “get it” and it was something every basketball fan over there really looked forward to for reasons beyond my knowledge. The most ridiculous moment, for me, so far was BFFs Lebron and Dwyane in their matching “geek chic” eyewear…..my sides are still sore from laughing……I too am yearning for the real stuff to return.

  2. I promised myself I wouldn’t watch it, but after getting on DDL and seeing comments about lame dunks, I did watch the Dunk contest. It was horrible. None of them should have won. But at least it wasn’t as bad as Griffin supposedly jumping over a car from last year. Rubio’s smile was the best part of the whole thing.

    I did enjoy watching the Rising Stars game and I will watch the game tonight. That’s the part of the All Star weekend that I like. The biggest stars and fan favorites get to play around for a while.

  3. Kevin, thanks for reminding me about LeBron and Wade. I had meant to mention their courtside fashion–LeBron in his non-perscription glasses and the world’s largest, probably most expensive, cycle-punk jacket. I also noticed him (fyi, watching video clips of all-star photo shoots–not a great reason to stay up until 2am) wearing those glasses with a plaid flannel. Does that mean I have to stop wearing those now?

  4. Boring! I liked how they set up the Dunk Contest back when I was a kid. 1 dunk per round with 1 redo per round. Not this timing crap that makes the players feel a sense of urgency and not producing dunks like they could not feeling so rushed. Creativity has gone out of control with props and other people to help there cause. Stupid. Go out there by yourself and amaze us just like they used too.

    PS. Was it just me or does P Diddy need to be bitch smacked?

  5. They should have 10-12 competitors throw down their best dunk. I don’t get why it always has to be 4 relatively unknowns trying to get their name out there when you could probably get a better quality of competition with a best dunk setup. There is usually only one (rarely two and sometimes none) dunk that each player throws down that is in must see again territory, so why not have more people try to provide us with that one dunk. People just want to see the best dunks anyway so the league needs to find a better way of giving that to the fans.

  6. There is a billion things wrong with the dunk contest and one of them is what you mentioned, all the dunks missing the urgency of a game dunk. Second to that in no particular order:

    no names dunking

    props

    between the leg dunks (I am sorry but no matter how ridiculous those early 2000s contests were, J-Rich and Desmond Masons between the leg dunks and Iggys behind the backboard dunks were genius and need to be redone!)

    less trys (I liked a lot of Williams dunks, but I could not get excited for them because of his misses, Jeremy Evans to his credit did all his dunks on the first try)

  7. Everything you guys say is right–which is why its funny that the league imagined that allowing fans to vote via twitter would be the big fix. As if democratizing the process would somehow make the dunks more interesting.

  8. I’m with you all the way BUT… I’m glad our Wolves got some breathing time.

    It’s just a moneymaking thing they came up with that simultaneously encourages the overblown hype surrounding big players in big franchises in big cities and the idea of taking advantage of simpletons who don’t know any better.

    The end result? The people who are willing to step on people’s toes to get up the ladder are rewarded with more money. And somehow the conservatives still aren’t happy. Cue Jonathan Swift essay about eating Republicans.

    Oops did I overstep my bounds? Maybe 1 out of the 4 people that read this response will take offense. Don’t worry, I’m ready for you :P

  9. It’s funny that you say that because I actually thought of the dismal Republican primary when I saw those four guys up there waiting for the winner to be announced. Although I’d definitely rather see Jeremy Evans run for president than Rick Santorum attempt to dunk. Two thoughts: first, you can’t really blame people’s terrible choices when they have nothing to choose from. Second, the opinions of millions of people taken in aggregate are hugely less interesting than that of any one of those individuals.

  10. Zeiram – Dont forget about JR Rider. He was the pioneer for the between the leg dunks.

  11. pagingstanleyroberts February 26, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    The biggest problem is lack of star power, which needs to be fixed but the league doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to fix. When looking at the dunks themselves, they’re better than what ‘Nique was winning with 25 years ago. The difference was that people thought they were seeing the league’s best dunkers square off in the contest. If a person watched the full coverage of 80s or 90s dunk contests (which, ashamedly, I have), there were plenty of examples of bad dunkers; those guys just got weeded out early. Now, those guys are the only contestants. The only real competition on Saturday night is the 3 point contest, which is reliant on guys getting hot.

  12. @Shawn

    Shame on me, he was sick too.

    After re-watching some old dunk contests, I came to the conclusion that the biggest sickness is props, followed closely by too many tries. If you just see the highlights even the 06 contest looks good, because they didn´t use a lot of props and all the misses were cut out.

  13. I’ve been watching old dunk contests On Demand this weekend, and all those factors are apparent as both the reason for prior successful dunk contests, and the reason the recent ones sucked.

    This year was terrible for all those reasons and more. Did you see that terrible, clearly-cheating Budinger dunk? Did he not know we can see where the blindfold is on Hi-def tvs? Now that I mention it.. I think I just hate Chase Budinger now. That stupid cheesy “White men can’t jump” dunk with Diddy? So lame.

    Back to my point from paragraph one.. The old dunk contest had NAMES (obviously) which of course was a draw, and the crowd CARED. The tries thing seems to be a big factor too.. In the old contests you got one try and if you screwed it up, you got penalized but got points for the creativity of the attempt. The tries make the dunks anticlimatic. It’s like watching someone try to make a halfcourt shot at the gym and celebrate a make after missing the first 15.

    One other factor I noticed is the AUTHORITY which the dunks were executed. While older dunk contests may be dated as far as creativity goes, they were actual SLAM dunks. There was no hesitation or fear of injury or failure when throwing down, it was all or nothing. These no name players are either afraid of injury or embarrassment, because those were some of the most timid dunks I’ve ever seen.

    I’d give near anything to see a Russell Westbrook/LeBron James/Blake Griffin dunk contest… with no gimmicks (NO KIAS!!!!). That would be spectacular. Real leapers with POWER and creativity.

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