After much anticipation, the NBA All-Star Weekend has come and gone. The 2022 festivities took place at the Rocket Mortgage Field House, the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. This year we found ourselves in the presence of notorious legends with the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team in attendance. This, in addition to the new formats of the Skills Challenge and Rising Stars Challenge, Stephen Curry breaking the All-Star Game three-point record, and numerous other highlights we witnessed made this event a success.
However, there was one flop that overshadowed all of this: The Dunk Contest.
There are multiple problems with the Dunk Contest that have arisen in recent years making it hard to watch. Firstly, the creativity of dunks is seriously lacking. Ever since 2016 when Zach Lavine and Aaron Gordon faced off, creativity has gone downhill. Some say Lavine and Gordon set the bar too high, and now we are doomed to be disappointed.
I feel for the participants though because most dunks that are humanly possible have been done before. For example, Obi Toppin who won this year’s contest won on a between-the-legs dunk. This reminded me of the 2000 Dunk Contest in which Vince Carter had one of the most notorious moments in Dunk Contest history for a between-the-legs dunk. Carter received a bounce pass-style lob from teammate Tracy McGrady, went between his legs, and dunked it down. Afterward, Carter pointed at the sky and then swiped at the air saying, “it’s over.” The judges of the contest were falling over the scoring table to congratulate Carter before even revealing the scores and the crowd roared.
22 years later, this same reaction is lacking as we have become used to seeing dunks done in this style. Another feature that works against Toppin is that taller players tend to have a harder time winning as their dunks do not appear as impressive or skillful to the naked eye. Creativity only goes so far nowadays, for example in pre-dunk antics such as Cole Anthony putting on his father’s jersey and a pair of Timberlands to dunk in this year.
This leads us to our second predicament, missed dunks. Throughout the years, Dunk Contest rules have changed frequently. When the contest was first introduced, dunkers were allowed one dunk attempt only. In 1986, this was upped to two failed attempts. In 2005, dunkers were allowed to dunk until a made attempt, and a time limit was added in 2007. This year consisted of 24 missed dunk attempts including 10 from Jalen Green on one single dunk. Missed dunk attempts kill the buzz in the air as the audience’s energy goes from awe-inspired to thankful that the dunk was finally made. The rules for attempts need to be adjusted. Viewers spent more time on pre-dunk antics and missed attempts this year than they did on actual dunking.
The third problem as of late has been the participants. This year’s participants were Jalen Green, the second overall pick in the 2021 Draft from the Houston Rockets; Cole Anthony from the Orlando Magic; Obi Toppin of the New York Knicks; and Juan Toscano-Anderson from the Golden State Warriors. These are quality NBA players with potential but they are not notable enough names to draw in viewers. The highest-rated dunk contests have had perennial superstars such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Over the last decade, we have witnessed role players or end of the bench players with sprinkles of All-Star quality players here and there. Without these names, viewers who are not die-hard basketball fans are not interested in watching because they don’t know who the participants are.
The simple solution would be to have superstars participate, right? It’s not that easy. The Dunk Contest has become unpopular for high-level talents to partake in. Two young stars that fans are itching to see compete are Anthony Edwards and Ja Morant. In an interview this past weekend, Edwards was asked if he would participate in the dunk contest. His response was, ”Nah man, I’m an in-game dunker. I don’t have dunks in my bag like that for tricks. I’m not really a big trick guy. I just like to dunk on people.” Morant was treated with a similar proposal when the former player and current TNT announcer Reggie Miller “begged and pleaded” Morant during the All-Star Game to participate in the Dunk Contest next year. Morant laughed and said, “I don’t think the ten-foot rim’s high enough.” The Dunk Contest is the laughingstock of All-Star Weekend. With the success in changing formats of the Rising Stars and Skills Challenge this year, the NBA should apply this same mentality to the Dunk Contest before it becomes unsalvageable.