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Never give up on the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

Previously killed and long considered a shrinking concern, the Slam Dunk Contest owned NBA All-Star Saturday once again.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a rising sentiment that in the age of Stephen Curry, in the age of the Warriors, the three-point shootout was a stronger NBA All-Star Saturday main event option than was the dunk contest. Even TNT's hosts bought in, wondering on air if the shooting contest should be the night's final event.

And the three-point contest did live up to its billing as Klay Thompson nailed eight straight shots to ace his partner Stephen Curry in the final round! The Skills Challenge was super exciting, the shootout was fantastic -- hell, even a totally unscripted and impromptu (uh huh) shooting contest between Draymond Green and NBA All-Star mascot Kevin Hart was entertaining. After all that, the dunk contest stood a huge chance of disappointing the crowd.

Nope. Nope nope nope nope nope.

Andre Drummond was boring and bad, and Will Barton struggled. But Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine went back and forth in a final round for the ages, finally won by the reigning champ on his third dunk from roughly the free throw line.

It's hard to overstate how spectacular the contest was. I mean, Aaron Gordon did this ...

... and this ...

... and he still lost. Why? Because Zach LaVine is the undisputed best dunker of his generation (and most others, too). The ease with which LaVine flies from a take-off point roughly 15 feet away from a 10-foot hoop is simply awe-inspiring. Not a single one of LaVine's free throw line(-ish) dunks was basic. He took an alley-oop from Andre Miller on the first.

He hit the windmill on the second.

And he finished off Gordon going between the legs from a step inside the line.

Just incredible. And despite those wondrous jams, Gordon had easily the two most creative efforts of the night. That's what can't be replaced in the shooting contest. It's loads of fun to see Curry heat up and to watch gunners like Klay, Devin Booker and J.J. Redick shoot flames out of their hands.

But the serendipity and raw spectacle of the dunk contest at its peak can't be matched. You never know what's next. That can go poorly, like when Steve Nash struggled to loft a ball with his feet for Drummond, or when Barton was on Consecutive Missed Dunk No. 5. The dunk contest is an artistic entertainment event that is almost completely unscripted. There's little in our culture like it. Of course it can have down years, lulls, weak showings. Of course the league will sometimes get desperate and try to inject life into the format. Of course we'll start to doubt its power.

That's when the dunk contest comes roaring back. That's when it recaptures our love for at least a few more years. We need these ingenues -- LaVine and Vince and Gerald Green and JaVale McGee -- to give us the dunk lifeforce we so desperately want. The dunk contest is fickle not by design; the NBA would love for it to be this good every time. That's just not possible. If all dunk contests are special, after all, none of them are.

So here's to the amazing dunk contests like the one we just witnessed. They make all of the bad ones worth it.