The NBA All- Star Weekend was another resounding success and able to sustain the attention of not only hardcore basketball fans, but also the mainstram television audience.
The Slam Dunk contest was also a gem, given how much the side event has changed over the last few years. But, since the late 1990's, the slam dunk contest has been a problematic but necessary evil for the league.
On one hand, it is the ideal showcase of the signature superhuman leaping ability that sets the NBA athlete apart. On the other, everybody can jump out of the gym. There are also fundamental elements that can't be changed, like the height of the ring and the size of the ball that keep the game constant but also hamstring some of the artistry. Having watched slam dunk contests since the 1970's, I never really found it boring, but perhaps television ratings showed different.
I have a few problems with the way the dunk contest as it is today. Call me a purist, but like food, I think there are too much artificial ingredients to supposedly make it better. I think the main issue is actually who plays and who doesn't.
If the league can't find a way to compel its most athletic superstars to be sporting enough to join and risk being upended by some unknown upstart, the it will always be missing some dimension of competitiveness.
On to the "artificial ingredients". Michael Jordan recalled his one-handed take-off from the free throw line dunk in a later Nike commercial to disprove rumors that he had lost a step (or a foot) from being His Airness. In his younger years, the newly-minted 50-year-old made a big deal of the fact that he dribbled while executing the rare feat, implying that Julius Erving, who first did it en route to beating David Thompson in the ABA slam dunk cntest, was less spectacular for not dribbling. Of course, some people found this sacrilegious.
Photo: Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors takes his turn the slam dunk contest during NBA All-Star Saturday Night basketball Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
If Jordan is right, then dunks should be as close to actual game actuations as possible. Then again, dunking is supposed to be fun, so being a nitpicker doesn't work, either. Besides, you are judged for what you do after taking off, not what you do on the ground. Just like professional surfing, it doesn't matter how you get on the wave, you are scored on what you do once you stand on your board atop a swell.
But even relaxing that belief, I think we've even gone too far in the opposite direction. If you ask me, having someone assist you by throwing an alley-oop pass is crossing a line. It becomes a two-man effort, a team play, not a solo performace, and so the score would lose value.
Jumping over somebody else is a totally different matter altogether. It's something that can happen during games. In a slam dunk contest here in the Philippines, import Alex Coles once jumped over five people.
We've seen NBA dunkers leap over tables, chairs, cars and other objects you wouldn't find on a basketball court. But once you head down that path, you'll run out of objects to bound over. Participants can only jump so high, even their prodigious ability still has earthly limits. What's next: a truck, an aircraft engine, an outhouse? That may be why the, eagle tried to replace the dunk contest with NBA 2-Ball at the turn of the millennium.
Another thing that I find awkward is the time limit. Each contestant has a minute and a half to make as many dunk attempts as they can. This slows down the pace of the contest for me. And as some commentators have noticed, judges tend to give lower scores once a participant misses a dunk attempt. No matter how magnificent the last made dunk is, if there are many misses along the way, the previous tries look like practice and cheapen the made shot.
At the end of the day, the slam dunk contest is, at its core, a display of raw athletic ability. Wearing costumes and jumping over teammates may add some flair. But adding obstacles is like putting catsup on your steak. It shouldn't be necessary. There is still so much athletes can do, or improve on. Props are just distractions. It's the players' creativity, ability and personality that make each contest unforgettable.