Ladies and gentlemen, all flights to this year’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest in Los Angeles have been delayed until further notice. Flight Blake Griffin has already departed for the Feb. 19th scheduled event, but the rest of this year’s NBA Slam Dunk contestants (Serge Ibaka, Brandon Jennings and JaVale McGee) have not be cleared for operation, let alone entertainment.
And, unfortunately, it may remain that way until some of the NBA’s finer aircrafts (LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Jamario Moon, Rudy Gay, Shannon Brown, Derrick Rose, J.R. Smith and Josh McRoberts) are commissioned and re-commissioned for airspace invasion.
Face it, ever since Nate Robinson’s first dunk contest in 2006, which pitted 10-foot basketball goal against 5-foot-9 basketball player, our fascination with windmills, between-the-legs and three-sixties has been floundering faster than the chances of a lockout-free season next year.
Sure, Robinson was a dynamite dunker, but with him in the picture for four of the last five years, the dunk contest has become nothing more than a plane stuck in a terminal, looking to take off and be anything other than a time-lapsed demonstration of how a dunker loses both his appeal and ability as each year passes – and don’t even start with me about Dwight Howard’s 12-foot dunk, because Ced Ceballos threw one down on a 12-foot goal in a Harlem Globetrotter jersey, and his frame at the time makes Antonio McDyess look like the definitely athlete of 2011.
Mind you, this dunk drought has been taking place as the anointed one, LeBron James, sits idly by in some trend-setting get-up, acting as if he’s impressed by anything he’s watching from any of the four participants since 2004 – four being the number of dunkers in each contest since 2002, impressed being LeBron’s assurance to himself he’s the superlative flying machine of his generation and doesn’t need a contest to prove it.
But forget James. This isn’t about him. It’s about Blake Griffin.
Griffin is great, so great, but isn’t this a contest? Shouldn’t the people competing against him enter the aforementioned contest with some sort of assembled dunk-resume?
This isn’t the Blake Griffin Variety Dunk Hour. Don’t get me wrong, I would have no problem with that, but if that’s the case, why has NBA.com even bothered labeling the event: “The Top Pick [Griffin],” against “The Comeback Kid [Brandon Jennings],” against “The Team Player [Serge Ibaka],” against “The Family Man [Javale McGee]?”
Look, Javale McGee is an extraordinary athlete with springboard legs. But with his larger build and limited dunk repertoire (put-back dunks, alley-oops, power slams) he’s not necessarily the airliner I’m using to book my trip to All-Star weekend in L.A. next month.
If you need some perspective, just think Stromile Swift, Chris Andersen and Tyrus Thomas. All have been great dunking big men, but never creative or small enough to captivate the imagination of dunk fans at large – this coming from a man who puts the styling’s of Swift somewhere in his top-five dunkers of the modern-NBA.
As for Serge Ibaka, I’m sure he’s shown some nice things to his coach Kevin Durant – yes, this year’s contestants have “coaches” who will aid each dunker in God-knows what fashion other than being a notable name or a lob-passer — but I’m not sold.
And Brandon Jennings, I’m sure his coach Darryl Dawkins — my favorite dunker of all-time — knows he can do some wonderful things with a basketball in his hands. But like the rest of us, he’s more familiar with Jennings’ lay-ins, not his crowd-inciting slams — kid needs a full-court with no one in front of him to pull off a basic two-handed dunk. Did I mention he’s not even playing right now, out with a broken foot?
The way I see it, the NBA is toying with us. They’ll give us one-fourth of a proper dunk contest, but we aren’t getting the show they’re capable of producing – I can legitimately name 20 players more suited for dunk than Ibaka and Jennings.
In no way am I anti-any of this year’s participants not named Blake Austin Griffin; I’m just saying I want to be filled with youthful-exuberance like I was in the early 2000s when Vince Carter and Jason Richardson were pushing the limits of the seemingly infallible progression of the slam dunk.
Yes, Blake Griffin is cleared for take off, but not everyone can fly on his wings — one man alone isn’t going to save the slam.
The NBA has always loved dunk rivals (Jordan-Wilkins, Webb-Wilkins, Richardson-Mason and Robinson-Howard the first go-round) so I’m a little confused on how the league has failed to fully take advantage of the incredible hangar of dunkers they have at their disposal outside of Griffin.
It’s time this flight show departed the gate, because like I’ve already beat to ground, with the exception of Griffin, the dunk contest is starting to look a lot less delayed than it does permanently grounded.