ORLANDO, FL -- Jeremy Evans got onto my elevator Friday night, and honestly, I thought he was a 16 year-old kid. I only realized who he was because LaMarcus Aldridge asked him from the back of the elevator, "You got something crazy planned for tomorrow night?"
Evans answered with a smile that exposed a mouth full of braces. "Not too crazy," he said. "They picked me kinda late, you know? But I got something." Then Aldridge laughed back, "Ohhhhh so you already makin' excuses? They picked you kinda late?"
Evans laughed too. "I'll be ready."
And from that point on, I was rooting for Jeremy Evans to somehow win the 2012 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Which is exactly what he did Saturday, thanks mostly to one dunk that was, for lack of a better word, "crazy."
Hate the dunk contest if you want. But even if most every other dunk Saturday night seemed to suck the last breaths from whatever life the dunk contest had left ... Jeremy Evans is still pretty great, it's great that it was him who won, and this was fantastic:
The rest of the contest was an abomination, sure. But what'd you expect? As it stands now, there are three problems with the Dunk Contest that will doom to us to years and years of "OMG that was the worst Dunk Contest EVER they should just cancel it" until they're fixed.
"Everything's Been Done." This is bullshit, though. One of the biggest problems plaguing the dunk contest is the prevailing idea that we've "seen it all" or whatever. I don't know about you, but even if we've seen, say, Vince Carter pull off a 360-reverse-windmill, it would still be pretty great to see LeBron James try it. And look at Jeremy Evans Saturday night. Nobody had seen someone jump over a teammate for a double alley-oop, and that was AWESOME. All it takes is A) a little creativity, and B) absent something new, guys shouldn't be afraid to just pull off a ridiculous dunk, even if it's been done before.
Too Many Gimmicks. The NBA can't help itself, man. The chance to involve celebrities, engage the crowd with ZANY tricks like bringing a motorcycle onto the court, bringing Kevin Hart onto the court in a mailman costume (?) or ... whatever, really. This was the year things got completely out of hand, but it's been a problem for a while. Partly because guys feeling like "everything's been done" and partly because the NBA encourages everyone to "think outside the box," the dunk contest has, in a way, stopped being about dunking. And that's totally lame.
(For what it's worth, fans voting on the winner is the dumbest, corniest gimmick the NBA's tried since "The Wheel", and it's so stupid that it's not even worth discussing as a serious problem. So we'll ignore that, except to say that no matter how "hip" and "engaged" it makes the league look, Twitter should never get to decide anything.)
No Stars. This is a fairly obvious point, but not for the reasons you think. It's not that the NBA needs to have famous players in the dunk contest to succeed, but when you take a bunch of random young players from around the league, what you'll get is a group of guys that are mostly just happy to be there. With a handful of established stars, they won't be entering just because they've got nothing better to do. If superstars enter -- Russell Westbrook, LeBron, Blake Griffin, Kobe, Derrick Rose, whoever -- each one of them will fully expected to win, and the contest will actually be a competition again.
How do you get stars to enter? First of all, the NBA has to force their hands. This weekend, after LeBron said "I’m not a dunk contest type of guy," someone asked him whether he'd do it if the prize was a million dollars. "Then I'd reconsider," he said "Wouldn't you?"
Maybe money's not the full answer there, but it's certainly a conversation starter, and in a league that whores itself out to corporate sponsors better than any organization on the face of the earth, it wouldn't be hard to raise a million dollars from a sponsor. That's less than a Super Bowl ad. And however they do it, this much won't change: Until the NBA gets rid of the gimmicks and brings stars back, every single year will bring the same refrain of "the dunk contest is dead!" chants from fans and players alike. And they'll all be right; until someone brings it back to life.
Now, elsewhere in Orlando ...
ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT, Y'ALL
This picture captures the scene surrounding All-Star Weekend pretty perfectly.
Not pictured: David Stern and Adam Silver in the EXACT SAME POSE a few feet away.
DAVID STERN IS (STILL) AN EVIL GENIUS, BUT FOR HOW LONG?
David Stern and Adam Silver gave a joint press conference before the festivities All-Star festivities on Saturday night, and the most telling exchange came here, when Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com pressed him on the Chris Paul veto from earlier in the year.
STERN: I didn't veto anything. We are acting on behalf of the owners, as the owners' rep. New Orleans decided not to make the trade.
SHERIDAN: Well, whose decision was it to stop the trade?
STERN: No, not to stop. There's no superstar that gets traded in this league unless the owner says, go ahead with it. And in the case of New Orleans, the representative of the owner said, "That's not a trade we're going to make."
SHERIDAN: But that representative was you?
This was great. You had David Stern looking 100 reporters dead in the eye talking in politically correct circles about the "representative of the owner", then when pressed, he does a complete 180 and says, "Oh right, that was me (and the answer I just gave was complete bullshit)." I'm not sure which part of the equation takes more audacity, but it's all pretty impressive, and a textbook case of Stern at his best/worst.
The thing is, sitting through the rest of the press conference, you sorta got the feeling that whether he's the best or worst, Stern's not sticking around for much longer. He reiterated his promise that he won't be around to negotiate the next CBA, he openly endorsed Adam Silver as his successor, and deferred to Silver more than ever during the press conference. Even when he did answer, he just seemed bored. Not the usual detached, bemused Stern. Just bored, and going through the motions.
Beforehand, when a full room of reporters sat anxiously waiting for his arrival, someone in back of me said, "Jesus it's like we're waiting for the President." Afterward, as we all shuffled out, someone else said under his breath, "He really might be on the way out ... I've never seen him like that." And it's true. The President/Dictator really might be moving on. Maybe sooner than anyone expected.
JAM SESSION, THE STATE FAIR SPONSORED BY LITERALLY EVERYONE EVER
If you've never had the privilege of attending an NBA "Jam Session" over All-Star Weekend, the best way to describe it would be like a basketball-themed state fair. You have an endless array of games and activities, photo booths everywhere, long lines, overpriced food ... there's even a station for lost kids.
I don't mean that to sound negative. State fairs are awesome, and so is basketball, so combining the two is a can't-lose proposition. If you have kids, Jam Session would be a pretty outstanding way to spend a Saturday afternoon. If you don't, it's still a pretty great way to spend two hours screwing around with your friends.
But probably the most remarkable wrinkle to all this -- the part that makes it so perfectly NBA -- is all the corporate synergy, like we discussed on Saturday. If you spend an afternoon at Jam Session, here are some of the stations you can navigate through...
- Adidas Center Court
- Adidas Experience at the NBA Store
- Cartoon Network
- Gatorade Activity Courts
- HP Slam Dunk Courts
- KIA MVP Courts
- NBA Cares
- NBA FIT Arena
- NBA D-League Call Up Court
- Sport Court Backyard Basketball
- Sprint: WELCOME TO THE NBA WITHOUT LIMITS
- Taco Bell Skills Challenge
- X-Bus, Brought to you by XBOX
Note: The Coke Zero Lost Kids Station doesn't exist yet, but give it time.
THE ONE CELEBRITY EVERYONE HAD TO SAY WHAT UP TO
It's about to go CAM. As he walked through the tunnel, every NBA player within 50 feet had to come over and say what's up. They were just as mesmerized as those kids in that picture. It's all just a reminder: if the Panthers ever actually win, prepare for Cam Newton to become one of the three or four most famous people in sports. It's only a matter of time.
Elsewhere in the bowels of Amway Center ...
SPECIAL SHOUTOUT TO ...
Kevin Durant's mom and three of his aunts, all of whom were REALLY excited to see Kevin Hart before things got going on Saturday night. They giggled and pointed and one of his aunts even got to shake his hand. I don't understand the whole Kevin Hart thing, but watching how excited he made those women made me kinda love him, just for a minute.
ADDITIONAL SHOUTOUT TO ...
Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams. As Kevin Love was busy winning the three-point competition, Ricky, D-Will and the rest of the Dunk Contest participants watched from the hallway. And the only thing better than hearing Ricky Rubio say excitedly, "Kevin won!" was hearing Derrick Williams then announce to everyone else, "Kevin won it? That means I gotta go win it, right?" This would be 10 times better if Williams had actually won it, but that's okay. Even if the Dunk Contest turned out to be a letdown in more ways than one, the most important lesson from Saturday is that the T'Wolves are still the greatest.
TOMORROW: A full recap of the All-Star Game and All-Star Weekend, plus a trip inside one of the many All-Star parties this weekend. PREVIOUSLY: Jeremy Lin and more highlights from Day One.