Poetry in Motion at the Slam Dunk Contest

Aside from the Bavetta vs. Barkley race for the ages, the Slam Dunk Contest was the best part of this year’s All Star weekend. Interestingly, this event had some controversy a couple weeks before it even began.

“I’m just going to go out there, get my check and call it a day,” Bulls rookie forward Tyrus Thomas said earlier this month. “I’m just into the free money. That’s it. I’ll just do whatever when I get out there.” This stupid, stupid comment by Tyrus earned him a $10,000 fine from the Bulls and the scorn of the judges once the contest started. The other post player competing this year, Orlando Magic F/C Dwight Howard, also generated discussion of the event early. Howard asked the league to raise the backboard for one of his dunks to 12 feet, from the regulation 10 feet. Unfortunately for Howard, the league turned him down.

Why would someone want to raise the backboard you ask? Why make it harder on yourself? The answer lies in the fact that it is much harder for tall, post players to win the dunk contest. In fact, its never been done. The only NBA big man to win the contest in the past was 6’10” Larry Nance in 1984, beating Dr. J and Dominique Wilkins. Nance wasn’t even a post player like Thomas or Howard according to the loquacious NBA expert Bill Walton, who described Nance as “more of a small forward.”

It is harder for big guys to win because the most important thing in a dunk contest is to look cool. Shorter players have the advantage because the judges can easily examine the physical dimensions of what the smaller guys are doing. If two guys do the same dunk on a 10-foot rim, and one is almost seven feet like Dwight Howard while the other is closer to five-and-a-half feet like Nate Robinson, the smaller guy’s dunk will be more impressive.

Speaking of Nate Robinson, he was back this season to defend his crown. One of Robinson’s most impressive dunks last year was when he jumped over 5’7″ Spud Webb. Webb is the only other sub-six foot player to win the contest. The chance for players to jump over each other while dunking was added to the contest in 2005. The NBA changed the rules to allow for a second teammate to assist the dunker. It was hoped that this would increase creativity and originality among the competitors. My favorite example of this came in 2005, when Steve Nash did a bicycle-kick to alley-oop a ball to Amare Stoudemire for a dunk.

The final competitor in this year’s contest was Gerald Green, a 6’7″ swingman from the Boston Celtics. Smart fans felt Robinson’s best competition would be Green, a second-year player who came to the league straight from high school. In his senior year, he won the McDonald’s All-American Game dunk contest over current Duke center Josh McRoberts.

The judges for this year’s contest were five of the best dunkers of all time: Michael Jordan, Dr. J, Dominique Wilkins, Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter. Those five are like the old wise men among dunkers; they consist of three legends and the two active players with the most impressive dunk resumes. After each dunk, each judge gives his score from zero to 10. The sum of the five numbers is the dunker’s score for that dunk, ranging from zero to 50.

The first round of this year’s contest went as most expected. The two big men each had one very impressive dunk. Tyrus Thomas jumped over 6’3″ teammate Ben Gordon for a left-handed tomahawk slam. This dunk gave him 43 points, but that was not enough to go to the second round. Dwight Howard got revenge of sorts on the league, dunking while at the same time touching a backboard sticker with his face on it.This sticker just so happened to be placed 12’6″ off the ground Like Thomas though, it was not enough for him to survive the first round.

The two favorites, Green and Robinson, both did well in the elimination round. Robinson got 45’s for both of his first two dunks. Green’s first dunk was completely new, a lob from Paul Pierce off the side of the backboard which he grabbed and then dunked. Green’s piece-de-resistance, however, was his second dunk. Similar to Josh Smith donning Dominique’s #21 jersey in the 2005 Slam Dunk Contest for a tribute dunk, Gerald Green wore Dee Brown’s retro #7 jersey for dunk number two. He performed a “blind dunk” in tribute to Brown, covering his eyes as he soared in for the jam. To add some flavor, he also jumped over Nate Rob. In the final show-off, Robinson showed that he had no more dunks in his repetoire, while Green continued to shine. He capped his performance with a picture perfect windmill, earning him a fittingly perfect score of 50 to seal the win.