One of the big stories this past week in the world of sports was Magic Johnson's intriguing remarks regarding next year's Slam Dunk Contest. Magic, like many NBA commentators and analyst, has made it very clear he would love to see LeBron James enter the dunk contest. Now he may be putting his money where his mouth is. In an ESPN telecast last week Johnson announced he would put up a one million dollar prize for the winner of the event, but only if LeBron James were to participate in what would be the first of his career. Other pundits are now starting to chime in with cash amounts they'd be willing to throw in the pot as well.
The Slam Dunk Contest is historically one of the most entertaining aspects of the NBA All-Star Weekend, putting together timeless highlights of incredible dunks by some of the NBA's best players ever. But over the last few seasons, the once hallowed competition has been watered down to say the least. Recent contests have featured names like James White, Chase Budinger, Jeremy Evans, and DeMar DeRozan. Hardly a who's who list of star players. While from a marketing standpoint I understand that the NBA may want to use the highly viewed dunk contest to feature talented young players, I also know that if it was up to fans, the competition would boast a more spectacular field.
While getting a chance to see the talent of some lesser known players is nice, it's obvious that the competitors are relying more on cheeky intros and over the top presentations, than just pure athletic poetry in motion. This point was illustrated best in 2011. In Blake Griffin's rookie season it was pretty evident that he had the potential to be marketing gold. In the final round of the Slam Dunk Contest a brand new Kia Optima was brought out and parked with it's front end under the rim. Griffin's teammate at the time Baron Davis emerged from the sun roof and provided the assist to Blake as he jumped over the hood, caught the pass from Davis and dunked it home. Not long after Griffin was announced the winner, Kia aired a commercial featuring the dunk and the shameless product placement it represented. Three-time Slam Dunk Champion, Nate Robinson, has even raised questions as to whether the NBA planned for Griffin to be crowned champion before the contest even started.
This type of discussion surrounding the dunk contest has taken some creditability away from an event that once featured all-time greats like Micheal Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Clyde Drexler and Julius Erving. Back then there wasn't a need for cheesy displays or cheap props. These were the best of the best. Their pure competitive urge to beat each other filled arenas with energy and made every throw-down seem better than the last. So how does the NBA return to this time of unadulterated spectacle? By gathering the most worthy players from every aspect of the game. Six contestants, one amazing event. Here's how to do it.....
Defending Champ First of all, one of the invites would always go to the previous year's champion. The idea of coming back to defend the dunk title would surely bring a sense of legacy to the event and allow players to try and match the likes of Jordan, Nate Robinson, and Jason Richardson by winning back to back years. This format would also allow for the NBA to play off the idea of "dethroning" the previous champion, which would be a great marketing angle. It would of course be up to that player though whether or not to defend their title, so in the chance they decline the invitation the field would only include five competitors.
All-Star Team Selections This would be where the star power comes from in this format. Each of the All-Star squads, East and West, would come together once the weekend starts and decide amongst themselves which player will represent each conference in the dunk contest. The competitive spirit to top the opposing conference would no doubt be a factor, especially when being cheered on by an all-star team of ones peers. Could you imagine the hype behind this event if LeBron James and Kobe Bryant both accepted their respected teams nominations to compete? That pairing would instantly rival the build up to 1988's Jordan vs. Wilkins match-up, which is widely regarded as the greatest Slam Dunk Contest ever.
International Player Here is where Commissioner David Stern could really leave his mark on the game globally. The NBA should select an international player who leads their respected country's league in dunks, and invite them to participate on America's premier dunking stage. Each year a different foreign league can be represented, further expanding the exposure of the NBA to international markets. This would give a talented player a platform they may have never gotten to showcase their skills, which in turn could inspire the youth of their country to pursue playing the game of basketball. This selection could prove very valuable to the NBA and the sport of basketball in general and I would love to see Stern further help in building the international interest in our country's league before he retires.
Fan Selection No, this wouldn't be fans selecting another player to participate, but rather them selecting one of their own. That's right, I want a fan out there alongside the all-stars giving the Slam Dunk Contest a yearly underdog for fellow fans to root for. If the dunk featured below by fan Guy Dupuy (Easy J) at the halftime of a Chicago Bull's game last month has taught us anything, it's that there are fans out there that can ball. Leading up to All-Star weekend the NBA can have candidates submit highlight videos of dunks to be voted on by fellow fans, ultimately narrowing the selection down to one participant to receive the invitation. Giving someone such a stage could change their life forever and would surely attract more casual fans to tune in than ever before. After all everyone loves an underdog story.
Retired Star How often do you roll your eyes when listening to analysts negatively describe a dunk and think to yourself, let's see you do it. Well this would be your chance to. One spot of this format would feature a retired NBA player that wants to lace them up one more time and show the young bloods how it's done. Any interested ex-players would put their names in the running and then either the fans or NBA itself would select which retiree would be given one last chance to leave their mark on the game. I heard recently there's a certain 50-year-old GM in Charlotte that's been working out to get down to his playing weight....just saying.
So there you have it. The sure fire way to fix the Slam Dunk Contest while still having it be as marketable as ever. Invites going to the defending champ, a player from each all-star team, an international player, a talented fan and a retired NBA star. For the sake of fun, let's picture the best field available for next year's contest given this format. In David Stern's last year as Commissioner he could give the fans the most anticipated dunk contest of all time.
We'd get to see Terrence Ross try and defend his title. Kobe Bryant could attempt to set a record for longest time between dunk contest titles, in what could also be his last year. We'd finally get to see LeBron James enter the contest he seemingly practices for every night in pregame warmups. The best international dunker would be introduced to the world. Guy Dupuy could continue showing what a 5'11' fan is capable of. But most intriguing of all would be to see the pandemonium fill the streets when a 50-year-old Michael Jordan makes good on his Hall of Fame speech and comes back to the game for only one night to show what Air Jordan has left in his arsenal.
While that would obviously be the dream line-up for next year's contest and may not ever be a reality, I do believe the selection format I detailed has potential to revive the once sacred dunk contest. One things for sure, the NBA needs to change it up somehow before the Slam Dunk Contest is added to the endangered list with the NFL Pro-Bowl.....