NBA All-Star Weekend has seen its highs and lows through the dunk contest, which has historically made or broken the midseason festivities. There were the good years of Michael Jordan jumping from the free throw line, Vince Carter putting his elbow through the rim and Nate Robinson and Dwight Howard playing the roles of Superman and kryptonite, but as we’ve seen more recently, the event hasn’t been all that fun for its lifespan.
In fact, one dunk contest was SO bad that the NBA decided to do away with them entirely.
The miserable dunk contest of 1997 happened, and it was about as bad as it gets.
Traditionally, dunk contests were led by stars in the 1980s and beyond, with Jordan and Dominique Wilkins winning competitions. But as time went on from 1984 when the contest began, fans watched players perform the same dunks over and over again. It got bland to the point where stars no longer wished to compete.
That’s how we were left with the lifeless, subpar battle between rookies Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen, Michael Finley and three “What’s His Names?” (Chris Carr, Bob Sura and Darvin Ham).
The contest featured extremely basic and already seen dunks, including an Allen double-pump fake — which LeBron James has done regularly in real games before — and a Bryant through-the-legs dunk that was executed worse than when it debuted three years earlier.
Kobe Bryant won (almost by default), and the league decided to end the contest for the next year after fans were seen visibly unamused in the audience.
What came in its place?
Starting in 1998, the NBA introduced the 2Ball competition to replace the dunk contest. It lasted three seasons (a lockout canceled the entire 1999 All-Star Weekend) until 2001.
2Ball was a shooting event, where teams consisted of one NBA and one WNBA player who played in the same city. Each team was given one ball and sixty seconds on the clock, as each teammate alternated shooting and rebounding with each other at one of seven different locations. Each spot was a different distance from the hoop, and worth a different point total (layups were two points, and three-pointers were eight points.)
A 10-point bonus was given to any team that made a shot from each of the seven distances, and a 10-point deduction was given for any team that didn’t at least attempt a shot from each distance.
Here’s what the competition looked like, and thank you to Kevin Harlan’s magical voice for making it sound more exciting:
Was it better than the dunk contest?
It was an event that took up time during the All-Star break for sure, but that was about it. Harlan’s voice overdramatized the event to keep it watchable, but even players didn’t appear to be into it.
After winning the 2000 2Ball contest, then-player Jeff Hornacek shrugged off making seven consecutive “seven-pointers.”
That’s probably because seven-pointers were shot from inside the three-point arc.
How did 2Ball end?
The 2Ball competition evolved into what we know as the Shooting Stars Challenge (which has since been scrapped), but could never take the place of what the Dunk Contest was.
After the 1999 lockout, the Dunk Contest came back, and co-existed with 2Ball for two years.
How was the Dunk Contest revived?
Headlined by Steve Francis, Tracy McGrady, and the champion, Vince Carter, the dunk contest was deemed “back.”
Carter threw down a 360 windmill, put his elbow through the rim, went between his legs, and came close to dunking from the free throw line.
At just 6’3, Francis was with Carter every step of the way, coming in a close second with a barrage of double-clutch dunks.
McGrady’s hang-time made for an enticing third-place finish as well.
It was exactly what the NBA needed to restore order to the Dunk Contest, and make it a seasonal event. The event still has its up and down years, but there hasn’t been rumors of shutting it down again.
Probably because nothing will be as bad as the 1997 contest.