Remembering the NBA Dunk Contest and a Suggestion on How to FIx It

I just finished watching the 2012 Slam Dunk contest, and while I still think that 100% fan voting is a horri-awful idea, at least it helps us realize the most important thing about the current dunk-off: it doesn’t matter.

To understand how we ended up at the 2012 Sponsored Slam Dunk contest, let take a look at how we got there, broken down into five phases: (1) 1984-1992, (2) 1993-1996, (3) 1997-2000 (4) 2001-2010 and (5) 2011-2012

Back in the day, the dunk contest was won by heavyweights with no need for flashy costumes or G-list celebrities

During this period, the dunk contest was in a sort of honeymoon phase in which the novelty of the event attracted the best talent in the league. The winners of the early contests were prominent NBA personalities like Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Dee Brown. This is the heyday of the dunk contest. The Dunks were elite and the dunkers were also elite.

Harold Miner (Champ in ’93 and ’95) was a pretty good dunker, but not much of an outstanding player. He was good enough to make it on the NBA JAM: TE roster, If it weren’t for the dunk contest, Miner wouldn’t be celebrating All Star weekend. He wasn’t a good player, like the early dunk contest winners, he was only a good dunker. The same can be said about Isaiah Rider 9’93” and (’96). The dunks were good, bbuttu the dunkers weren’t great. The dunks were good, but the dunkers were less of a draw

There were technically only two dunk contests in this period, but the winners (Kobe Bryant in ’97 and Vince Carter in’00) were great players. For a brief time, the dunk contest was back to phase 1 status.

This is formally the death of the dunk contest. A quick look back at the participants revealed a pretty embarrassing group of players to coincide with some pretty disinteresting NBA seasons. As a Pacers fan, I remember watching Fred Jones win in ’04, but in retrospect, why was Fred Jones a part of All-Star weekend? These dunk contests were won with bad dunks done by bad dunkers. Sure, Dwight Howard spiced it up a little, but he won contests against no-name players. It certainly wasn’t Jordan over ‘Nique.

The introduction of fan voting and a few successful kitschy stunt dunks at the end of phase 4 left us with a problem. The contest isn’t about dunking any more, it’s largely just a basketball-themed circus. Blake Griffin1 won in ’11 despite getting thoroughly out-dunked by Javale McGee. McGee did three dunks that no other living person could do in 10,000 tries. Why did Griffin win? First off, there’s a healthy rumor with a lot of meat to it that the NBA selected Blake as the winner before the contest even happened. Second, Blake’s big dunk was a regular one, with an expensive car parked underneath. Finally, to no surprise, the contestant from the biggest city represented (also the host city) received the most fan votes. Watch this video and tell me how Javale lost last year:

This year, there wasn’t a clear best dunker. There wasn’t an outrageously amazing dunk that will stand out as replay fodder years from now. There were a ton of dunks done in costumes and Paul George even had a dunk that glowed in the dark. What we saw were a bunch of pretty regular dunks done with heavy loads of creative props and minor celebrities.

Why does the dunk contest sort of suck right now? We may have seen it in Derrick Williams’ final dunk attempt tonight: there are not enough new dunks for this contest to survive any more. For a contest that thrives on creativity, we may have just hit the end of the road on possibilities.

Not only are we running out of dunk road, but the contestants have already gone off the cliff. Seriously, the number of people who own a Jeremy Evans jersey can be counted on one hand. And one of those is Jeremy Evans. The man won on a dunk that involved two hands and two basketballs for two dunks. One year AFTER a guy lost doing two hands and three balls.

Sure, the dunk contest is sort of stalling right now, but it’s useless to complain about it if I don’t have a suggestion on how to change it. So here goes:

Dunk Contest Solution:
Stop having it. Seriously, get rid of it.

Replace it with something called “Best shot” that’s more like the X-games “Best Trick” contest. Four players get five minutes to make three crazy shots from anywhere. They could still dress up in costumes and use other people and props. They could still miss a ton, they just need to get three makes. All three could be dunks. Maybe throw in a full court shot or a shot from the stands. And the judges? They’re all the NBA All-Stars sitting courtside anyway. Each guy who earns an All-Star appearance also earns a vote for a player. After all four guys have gone for their five minutes, the All-Stars each vote for one of the four contestants. I think that would be more exciting.

Do you think the dunk contest sucks? Have any ideas on fixing it? Let me know in the comments…