The Step-Back: Dunk Contest Blues

Last weekend saw the 71st annual NBA All-Star Weekend come and go. A new and improved team skills challenge, a 3-point contest that crowned the center’s first winner since 2012, and an electrifying All-Star Game made for a great weekend. However, one contest clearly stood out from the rest as particularly unexciting, boring, and downright embarrassing.

In recent years, the Slam Dunk Contest hasn’t been his usual self. Participants look uninspired, overly cautious, or simply unable to complete a period of dunks. Even NBA legend Dwyane Wade called this year’s iteration a “solid 6” immediately after the contest. The lackluster performance that concluded All-Star Saturday Night was a real eyesore and signals to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and future All-Star Weekends that it’s time for a change.

By stepping into the commissioner’s shoes, the first step towards solving the Slam Dunk contest is to increase the incentive for players. Other major sports leagues, like MLB with its Home Run Derby, already have a huge prize money for the winner. This change could automatically bring more high-flying star players like Ja Morant and Zion Williamson into the fold, making the event more watchable overall.

I like a change proposed by none other than ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. Smith proposes that instead of NBA players entering the contest, the NBA hold a national tournament that recruits the best streetball dunkers to play in the contest with NBA players acting as sponsors for each dunker.

An article by Ben Felderstein of Complex Sports really, and I mean really, suggests limiting dunk attempts. Last weekend, Jalen Green attempted what looked like 500 dunks before finally making one. Green used a loophole in the rules by not “hitting the rim” to count some of his “attempts” as true dunk attempts. By making the rules stricter, there is more suspense, more pressure on the player to get it right, and a more exciting pace.

My personal proposal would be to allow an “in-game” style of choreography for each dunk. Using the full court, involving multiple people, and simulating an “in-game” rhythm leading up to the dunk might yield the best results. The first thing I notice is that although players are starting to run in these competitions, their explosiveness isn’t as natural and fluid as it is when dribbling in a real game of the NBA. By allowing more liberal use of the entire field and introducing new elements such as trampolines to the contest, it could lead to a revived style of contest, a la Harlem Globetrotters.

I wasn’t even alive then, but I miss the days of Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins. I miss Dwight Howard taking flight as Superman, Nate Robinson jumping over Spud Webb and Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine fighting to the end. We all miss the true spirit of the Dunk Contest, and it’s up to Adam Silver and the NBA to bring it back.

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