Saturday, February 14, 2015

End The Dunk Contest (As We Know It)

So it's kind of the worst sports weekend of the year, actually. It's mind-crushingly cold outside. It's mid-February, so money is tight as people finish getting out of the Christmas hole, and don't have their tax return bucks yet. If you're not down with soccer on ice -- sorry, hockey -- or non-tournament college hoop, all that you've got left is the NBA. And the NBA is on break for the All-Star Game, which means that we're watching skills contests, and whoop de damn doo on that. But I've got a blog post to fill, so I'm watching. While doing other stuff, but still.

And for a while, this is mildly entertaining. The Shooting Stars gimmick lets you see people flail at a half court shot. The Skills Contest saw wily Patrick Beverly come from behind twice in a head to head contest when his competitors whiffed on three pointers to finish, and well OK then. The three-point shooting contest, where Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving were all borderline scoring record in the first round, only to see Curry set a new mark and eradicate both rivals in the final, was downright fun.

Then came the Slam Dunk Contest, and to call it a fart in church would be unfair to flatulence. Those, at least, provide a small moment of relief to the farter, a break from the tedium for the audience, and a giggle to the immature. This year's contest, with the exception of three of four Zach LaVine dunks and one of four efforts from Victor Oladipo, made me feel bad that I wasn't watching commercials.

No, I'm not overstating this for comic effect. Mason Plumlee had home court advantage and no discernible plan. Giannis Antetokoumpo failed on his first dunk and made everyone who has figured out how to spell or say his name sorry for the effort. The only enjoyable part of this, outside of four good dunks out of twelve attempts, was watching Julius Erving deliberately slow roll his judging scores, almost as if he was reconsidering even watching this.

Is there a way to fix this mess? Well, I don't think you can trust guys to come up with three different stylistic dunks that they can't try in games. I'd go with just two rounds. I'd also kill the comedy rule of three on dunk attempts; if you can't get the dunk down on the first (or at most, second) attempt, it's just sad relief to see them pull it off on the third, at which point you've spent two good minutes to watch five seconds of Phew. The idea that not completing a dunk gets you a 6 out of 10 is also a wrong call -- let judges troll guys with 0 scores, if only to hear the crowd gasp -- and open it up to D-Leaguers or whoever else, assuming the league's stars continue to give this a miss. (Oh, and up the penny-ante prize monies, so that the league's stars don't miss this.) Have guys warm up and get ready in the other half court so there isn't so much dead time between dunks. Never, ever, let Kenny Smith and Reggie Miller near the mic again, because their "work" made me want to think better of Chris Berman during the Home Run Derby, and nothing on earth should make me do that.

But all of this has the feel of lipstick on a pig, really. LaVine made some sick dunks tonight, but what made them look impressive was his jumping ability (dude really looked like he was going to hit the rim with his head) and aesthetically correct height for jumping, not any great creativity. None of the guys in tonight's contest are known by the general public, and none of them will do this once if/when they become starters.

We've had dunk contests for nearly 40 years now. It's been bad for over a decade. It's not coming back any time soon. You don't necessarily have to stop having them, but for heaven's sake, stop making it so long, and stop closing with it. 

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