The 2012 Dunk Contest is coming up in Orlando on Saturday night, and while it turns out that Jeremy Lin's couch won't be involved this weekend, it still gives us an excuse to look back and relive great dunk contests from year's past. That may be the only thing that's keeping the dunk contest alive, actually.
Even if the contests of today are predictable and contrived and corporate and mostly just depressing, they still give us an excuse to remember the Glory Days. To that end, NBATV will be re-running Dunk Contests all day Thursday, so just for the hell of it, we'll get in on the act. First, five of the best dunk contests of all time, and then five of the absolute worst.
Without further ado...
1. Dominique Vs. Michael Jordan in Chicago, 1988
The gold standard. There have been better dunks over the years, but there's never been a better matchup. You had young-MJ defending his slam dunk crown in Chicago. You had Dominique in his prime, one of the three greatest dunkers of all time. You even had a whiff of scandal, when judges completely screwed 'Nique on his two-handed windmill and cleared the way for Jordan to win it at the end. As the announcers said at the end, "This IS Chicago..."
And that was as good as the Dunk Contest will ever get.
2. Vince Carter in Oakland, 2000
"LET'S GO HOME. LET'S GO HOME." Kenny Smith said it best. Keep in mind: The dunk contest didn't happen in 1998, and there was no All-Star Weekend in 1999 (lockout!), so this was the first time in three years there'd been a dunk contest. And good GOD did it deliver. Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady had ridiculous dunks of their own that would've won in just about any other year, but it was Vince who put down the most absurd individual performance in dunk contest history. As Smith says at one point in the video above, "10 IS NOT ENOUGH!"
3. Spud Webb vs. Dominique in Dallas, 1986
Here you've got three of the most famous Dunk Contest participants in history. Dominique Wilkins, Terrence Stansbury, and Spud Webb. You have Stansbury unleashing his famous "Statue of Liberty" at the start, and then 'Nique and Spud Webb in the finals. 'Nique probably got screwed again because the crowd in Dallas fell in love with Spud Webb, but it's still one of the biggest upsets in dunk contest history, and one of the best to re-watch years later.
4. Shawn Kemp, AND Isiah Rider, 1994, Minneapolis
This might be favorite contest of all time. You have...
- ROBERT PACK dunking with Snoop Dogg blasting over the loudspeaker
- Young Charles Barkley getting his feet wet as announcer
- Of all people, ALLAN HOUSTON getting his dunk on
- Shawn Kemp and J.R. Rider, two of the NBA's greatest, craziest dunkers of all time, and two fallen icons that should be remembered as often as humanly possible.
- And look, there's Gary Payton courtside, talking shit the entire time.
A VHS of this contest should be frozen and mailed to future generations of fans to tell them what '90s NBA was like. J.R. Rider never topped this dunk contest, but this moment lives forever.
5. "Time For The Birdman To Fly" Denver, 2005
This is the Dunk Contest equivalent to Dock Ellis' no-hitter. There have been plenty of successful, eye-popping dunks of the, but no failure will EVER top Chris Andersen in 2005. Who knows whether he actually said, "It's time for the Birdman to fly" before taking the court, but given the year-long drug suspension he got later that year, everything's on the table. And honestly, chemically enhanced or not, the sheer audacity of missing that many dunks is more impressive than anything Birdman ever could have landed.
Now then... The Five Worst Dunk Contests...
1. The Wheel Was A Terrible Idea, Philadelphia, 2002
Nothing announced the decline of the dunk contest quite like "The Wheel", where players had to spin a giant wheel and try to replicate some of the greatest dunks in contests past. In theory? Not a bad idea. In practice, Steve Francis lost the contest because he couldn't palm a basketball, Charles Barkley realized this was a horrible idea almost instantly, and more than anything, The Wheel made it impossible to ignore the reality that, Post-Vince, the Dunk Contest had to rely on gimmicks and nods to history to stay relevant. This was really depressing at the time.
2. Nate Robinson, Dallas, 2010
I was at this Dunk Contest in Dallas, and all I remember is what felt like a million failed dunk attempts from Nate and how uncomfortable the crowd was while he tried to put each dunk together. The problem with a failed dunk attempt is it ruins the element of surprise. The problem with multiple failed dunk attempts is that everyone gets so uncomfortable that we don't even care if the dunk ever gets made, we just want it overwith. It's excruciating. I remember walking out of Dallas thinking, "Wow, it may really be time to cancel the Dunk Contest for good."
3. There Were Holes In That Blindfold! Orlando, 1993
Although, on second thought, this was still pretty great.
4. Jason Richardson in Los Angeles, 2004
GOT DAMN. The dunk above was the greatest dunk the contest has seen post-Vince, and maybe the best dunk we've ever seen, in general. Just unreal. The problem was that dunk contest didn't end there. There was still the Finals to play. What came next:
Jason Richardson ... threw the ball up high, and appeared to be trying to do the same dunk Jones did, only with the added twist of pulling it through his legs. But he missed his first attempt. Richardson tried it again, but missed again, only because he didn't hit the rim, he got another chance. Again he tried, and again he totally missed - yet missed the rim completely so he got another chance. This time he drove right down the middle and threw down a pretty nice but unspectacular 360.
Fred Jones threw the ball to a friend in the stands. The guy is a few rows back. He threw a lob, but Jones missed it, hitting the rim so it counts as a miss. They tried it again and the ball accidently bounced in like a layup. Unfortunately, if it hits the rim or goes in, it counts as a dunk. Weak. Jason Richardson needs a 42 to win the competition. He started in thtree-point range at the left elbow, threw the ball up, jumped to catch it and throw it down, hit the rim but missed. He can't replace it and got a low score.
So, after the most spectacular play the dunk contest had seen since Vince, we had to sit through a Finals where both guys missed their dunks badly, one guy dunked accidentally, and when it was all over, Jason Richardson didn't even win it. The contest was alive for a second there, and then worse than ever. Wonderful.
5. Really Just A KIA Commercial, Los Angeles, 2011
Javale should've won, Blake shouldn't have made the Finals, and even the car dunk wasn't THAT amazing. Any dunker could have dunked over the hood that KIA. Hook Mitchell once dunked over an actual car, and he's only 5'9. But... How many dunkers could DUNK THREE BALLS the way Javale did? He even had his mom make out with Julius Erving. Does that count for NOTHING?
But yeah, this was the dunk contest where you realized that absent actual creativity and superstars going head-to-head like 'Nique and M.J., the dunk contest's basically been reduced to an excuse for marketing and synergy. Which is okay, because it's still fun. But still. Blake Griffin won because he was more famous, and because the NBA let fans vote, and because KIA needed a spokesman, and because let's be honest here IT'S ALL A CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE WIZARDS.
This weekend? Here's to hoping we can keep the product placement to a minimum, the gimmicks are kept to a minimum, and someone like Jeremy Evans can bring this whole thing back to life.