I’ve been watching the NBA dunk contest for as long as I can remember.
I don’t quite go back to the days of MJ and ‘Nique, but I do recall watching Air Canada and Jason Richardson take the contest to new heights back in the early 2000s.
The contest itself has always had its peaks and valleys.
For every Vince, J-Rich, Dwight, and LaVine, there’s an equal amount of Fred Jones, Hamidou Diallo, and Jeremy Evans (WHO?!). All of that being said, this past weekend's contest may have taken us to a new nadir of what has historically been something both NBA hardcore fans and casuals alike enjoy.
Here are some highlights:
- Jalen Green took about 15 attempts on his first dunk even though they had a limit of three.
- Two contestants failed to complete dunks and got 30’s, including Juan Tuscano-Anderson on his first attempt of the final round.
- And our ‘champion’ Obi Toppin was asking for a replay immediately after his final dunk because he knew the impact couldn’t be seen in real-time. (Guess what? It wasn’t that great in slow-mo either)
And this all points to one obvious truth: The dunk contest is in a bad place.
But don’t you worry, here comes my uneducated opinion with a patented five-step plan as to how we can fix the whole thing.
Step 1: Attract the Stars
Who comes to mind when you think of the best dunk contests of all time? Michael Jordan, Dominque Wilkins, Vince Carter, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, and Zach LaVine. All bonafide all-stars and a few hall of famers. (Yes, I know Kobe won one too but it wasn’t a great contest)
Sure, there are some exciting no-name high fliers that have come through like Isaiah Rider, Desmond Mason, and the previously mentioned Jason Richardson, but since it's named All-Star Weekend for a reason: no one is tuned into watch back-ups try to dunk.
So how do you get the stars to participate? Take a page out of your own playbook and incentivize them.
The charity aspect of the All-Star game has revitalized the competitiveness of what is still a glorified scrimmage. Do the same thing for the dunk contest! Award a player's foundation money based on how they finish and make it enough cash that guys like Ja Morant consider taking the leap.
Boom, there’s your star power.
Step 2: Adjust the ‘Attempt’ Rules
As a self-proclaimed dunk contest aficionado, there is nothing more devastating than watching a guy do what Jalen Green did this past weekend. He took what felt like 100 run-ups trying to get the right pass and gather for what would have been a pretty nice alley-oop off of the side of the backboard. The problem is, it loses all its excitement after just 2-3 failed take-offs.
The NBA defines an attempt as follows:
ATTEMPTS PER DUNK – For each scored dunk in both rounds (Dunks #1 and #2 in the First Round and Dunk #1 Final Round), each dunker will be limited to three attempts to complete his dunk.
ATTEMPT DEFINITION – An attempt is defined as the player controlling the basketball and moving it towards the rim
This needs to change, immediately.
An attempt should be counted when a player leaves the ground. I don’t care if it's a bad pass, lost control of the ball, or they just didn’t get enough bounce right away, if you leave the ground it’s 1 of your 3 attempts, keep it simple.
Plus, it’s just boring to watch a guy practice like that.
Step 3: Adjust the Scoring
This section is basically a continuation of the last one, I personally have no problem with the judges — it adds a fun human element to the contest. Plus, I’m a Heat fan so I loved D-Wade stealing a victory for Derrick Jones Jr. back in 2020.
Here’s the fix, and it’s pretty simple if you asked me: A scoring adjustment.
For every missed dunk the maximum score you can receive goes down by 1. For example: If you miss 2 attempts but make it on your third, the highest score you can receive from a judge is an 8 and a maximum of 40.
Why the change? It incentivizes making the dunk on the first try.
I know the tricks these elite athletes try are difficult, and I’ve never dunked in my life, but nothing sucks the air out of the dunk contest than missed attempts. Add a little bit of pressure by making it impact the score and hopefully, it ups the ante enough that contestants are ready to go from the jump.
Step 4: Limit Props
No one needs to see your NFT chain before you dunk. Not only that, I stand by, to this day, that Blake Griffin's car dunk is the most overrated dunk in contest history… he jumped over the hood.
I’ve watched plenty of videos of guys jumping over the sunroof and throwing it down, Blake did the knock-off version and people lost their minds. I digress, whether it’s a car, a painting, or a large model airplane (yes this happened), we don’t need props.
One exception: Gerald Green blowing out a candle. Admittedly, that was dope.
Step 5: Take a Hiatus
Vince Carter’s 2000 dunk contest win is legendary for a variety of reasons.
The dunks he put on were unique and exciting. He nailed them mostly on the first try and the competition was fierce. That contest had six extremely relevant players at the time: Vince, his cousin Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Ricky Davis, Jerry Stackhouse, and Larry Hughes. They put on an absolute spectacle.
However, a big part of the hype for the 2000 contest that people often forget about, there were no contests in ‘98 or ‘99 and yes, absence made the heart grow fonder.
I say let’s try that again, take a few years off and reset. There’s no guarantee we get a Vince Carter level showing in 2024, but hey, it can’t get much worse than what we all watched on Saturday night.
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