The NBA Dunk Contest Is Boring
Eastbay dunks are getting old
Take a look at the caliber of dunkers that hold the NBA dunk contest trophy. Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Dominique Wilkins, Blake Griffin, Zach LaVine. Each of these players’ career dunks alone could make a 20-minute highlight reel all worth watching.
Each of these dunkers had a type of swagger about them when it came to throwing it down. Michael Jordan’s infamous free throw line dunk will never get old, and Blake’s eye-watering posters wouldn’t look out of place in an art museum. Dunk contest lineups were enough to put any celebrity on the sidelines, patiently waiting for another uber-athletic throw down.
This has always been the case. But not in 2021. Between COVID and players wanting to focus on the playoffs, the NBA pushed the three-man dunk contest — yes, three-man dunk contest — to the halftime period of the All-Star game. Anfernee Simmons (the winner) of the Blazers went up against Cassius Stanley of the Pacers and Obi Toppin of the Knicks.
Some say Cassius Stanley was robbed, but that’s not the point here. All respect to Anfernee Simmons and his dunking ability, but for a dunk that claimed to “kiss the rim” — which it didn’t — to be a winner is a sure slap in the face to competitors like Aaron Gordon, whose dunk over Tacko Fall still wasn’t enough to beat Derrick Jones Jr. for the crown.
What happened to the dunk contest, you ask?
Insane athletes happened.
I have some fears that I ruined the dunk contest, that people aren’t going to want to do it anymore.
New eras have always graced the NBA, whether good or bad. Mid-range shooting was once in, now it’s out. Three-pointers were once out, now they’re most definitely in. Despite all this, one skill has always remained relevant in the NBA’s decades of existence — dunking.
Basketball fans are spoilt for choice when it comes to picking great dunkers. There are graceful dunkers, who seem to walk on air, like Julius Erving, and there are vicious dunkers, who threaten to pull down the rim multiples times a night (ahem, Shaq).
As time goes on, athletes seem to get better and better, and dunks begin to look crazier and crazier. The smart league that it is, the NBA began to capitalize off its players’ athletic prowess with the dunk contest, with the first one in 1984 featuring the likes of Larry Nance, Dr. J and David Thompson.
The list of winners continues. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter — they all snagged at least one dunk contest trophy. As the modern NBA came in, a rivalry was brewing, and one fact is undeniable, regardless of who you think should have won.
Dunking has come a long way.
The Gordon-LaVine matchup is one of the greatest dunk contest matchups of all time, if not the best, no doubt. But ironic as it is, this matchup triggered the downfall of the NBA Dunk Contest.
It started with the free throw line dunk.
A standard regulation NBA free throw line is 13 feet away from the hoop, give or take. The award for the first free throw-dunk ever seen is widely given to Julius Erving, who pulled the trick from his bag in the 1976 ABA dunk contest. However, the most iconic free throw dunk is undeniably Michael Jordan’s in the 1988 contest.
Many players have toyed with the concept since then. But none did it like Zach LaVine did in the 2016 dunk contest. Nobody had ever dreamed of a windmill from the foul line, let alone seen one, before Zach’s show-out. An Eastbay from the free-throw line — in the same contest — was more than enough to set the sports world alight, and there it was.
The Gordon-LaVine rivalry has always been the most entertaining dunk contest matchup. Every time they match up,
Since then, both dunk quality and voter fairness has dropped drastically, and it makes the competition painful to watch. The 2020 dunk contest is arguably the biggest culprit here . After all, it brought us this Dwyane Wade meme after the former Heat superstar failed to give Aaron Gordon a 10 for dunking over 7'7 Tacko Fall.
Derrick Jones. Jr ran away with the trophy, and fans were left as confused as Wade was. Many disagree that AG was robbed in 2016, but if he wasn’t in the first, he definitely was in 2020, and this sealed the deal for him. He announced that he would no longer take part in the competition in succint fashion:
It’s a wrap.
It certainly was, and it hurt the NBA. Not one, but two of the modern contest era’s best dunkers were out of the question (LaVine mentioned that he has nothing else to prove).
Without its best performers, the excitement behind the dunk contest simply wasn’t there anymore. This year’s contest was pushed to the All-Star game halftime show, and yet again, another controversial voting decision resulted in a divided opinion on the winner’s merit for the crown.
There will no doubt be many more great dunk contests. But, as painful as it is to admit, we’ve seen it all before. We’ve seen the Eastbays, the windmills, the no-looks. LaVine, Gordon, Erving, Jordan, Wilkins. They’ve all done it before.
Everything that can be done, has been done, and fans are waiting for something, someone, to pull the dunk contest back, before it fades into irrelevancy.
But who — or what — will it be?