The 2012 Dunk Contest was absolutely terrible this year. In years past, the Dunk Contest had a history of being the most significant event of All-Star Weekend other than the All-Star game itself, but recently it has gone downhill until this year it reached an all-time low. In 2012, the Dunk Contest might have been the worst event of the entire weekend (and that’s saying something). The big names weren’t there, the dunks were mediocre at best and the entire show just seemed like a huge flop. How has an entertaining event like this that provided us with signature dunks from the likes of Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Vince Carter and Jason Richardson sunk so low?
There were three big problems with this year’s Slam Dunk Contest. The dunkers and their dunks were the first problem. Nothing against Paul George, Jeremy Evans, Chase Budinger and Derrick Williams, but where are the big name dunkers? Even though he competed last year and did an overrated theatrical dunk, Blake Griffin also had the best dunk of the year so far, why isn’t he being persuaded (or forced if necessary) to participate? How about LeBron James, one of the most athletic guys in the game who can jump entirely over another human being? Or even John Wall, who threw down a behind-the-back dunk in the rising stars game? The Dunk Contest has been so entertaining in the past because it got the most electrifying dunkers in the game to compete. Paul George and Jeremy Evans had their moments, but other than that there were few memorable dunks.
The second problem with the Dunk Contest, which is increasingly becoming a bigger trend, is the theatricality. What made Dunk Contests in the past so awesome was that it emphasized creativity, but at the end of the day it was really about the dunks. The theatricality of the Dunk Contest has completely overshadowed the sole purpose of the night: athletic and inventive dunks that shock and amaze the audience. Dressing up like Superman (while throwing the ball at the basket, not actually dunking it), jumping over the shortest part of a Kia, and other similar gimmicks have blinded people to the point that now the audience doesn’t even bat an eyelash at the truly difficult dunks. Paul George’s dunk in the dark was cool and unique, but was the dunk itself really that great? Meanwhile Derrick Williams takes a page out of Blake Griffin’s book and dunks over a motorcycle, completely abandoning originality AND any dunking skill (it took him multiple tries) he might possess for the sake of putting a shiny motorcycle on the court. Chase Budinger didn’t try to distract fans with theatricality, but his complete lack of originality kept him out of the race. Fortunately, Jeremy Evans’ impressive feat of dunking two balls at once was not overlooked and he rightfully ended up winning (although Paul George’s dunk over Roy Hibbert was really impressive. And don’t talk to me about him putting his hand on Hibbert’s shoulder to “boost” himself. You try dunking cleanly and completely over a 7-footer and then talk to me). Theatricality has taken the emphasis off of the dunks themselves and turned the Dunk Contest into a circus show.
The final problem was minor and easily fixable, but definitely prevalent this year more than most. The TNT commentators absolutely killed the atmosphere of the whole event. The Dunk Contest thrives on the noise of the crowd, the energy of the arena and the burst of exclamation that erupts when somebody throws one down. It’s really hard for people to get into that kind of mindset when Kenny Smith is talking to the dunkers and interviewing them right before they’re about to do their thing. I love the TNT guys; Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson, Shaq, Reggie Miller and Mike Fratello are all great because they know the game and are entertaining to watch. But they’re commentators, not circus ringleaders. I know the whole weekend is about the fun and festive atmosphere and that they’re trying to be a part of that, but their efforts to get the crowd involved are having the exact opposite effect when they take on a constant host/interviewer role. Lose the mics on the court and give your commentary after the dunks. The people don’t need a play-by-play and interview every time something significant happens.
If the NBA fixes these three problems, the Dunk Contest might go back to its glory days in the 90s and early 2000s. But until then, we’re going to keep sitting through an hour of mediocre entertainment with small-time dunkers and constant talking. Please, NBA. Bring back to the glory days.