When the NBA’s dunk contest finally got cranked up late Saturday, the annual tradition of ripping the state of the showcase event quickly began. Twitter lit up with demands to fix the competition, declarations of its death, and general lamentation about the quality of the participants.
The dunk contest isn’t broken.
The dunk contest hasn’t changed.
For many of us, we fell in love with the Dunk Contest when we were kids. The NBA all-star weekend was targeted at us, with their ‘Stay in School’ message and the natural tendency is to glorify the good ole days.
The NBA hasn’t helped matters. Back in 1988 at Chicago Stadium, arguably the pinnacle of the dunk competition (2000 was no contest) between his Airness and ‘Nique, look back at the famous picture of MJ soaring. There’s a clock in the background. 3:51 PM. By moving the skills competitions to prime time, they’ve raised the visibility and expectations to the point that the lower seats are dominated by stars dressed to the nines instead of nine year-olds.
People can nitpick LeBron’s lack of participation, but the NBA dunk contest wasn’t always won by great players in its heyday. Harold Miner played four seasons in the NBA and won the contest twice. He and Kenny Sky Walker’s names are known almost exclusively because of their dunk contest wins. Neither averaged more than 11 points per game in any season. Brent Barry and Dee Brown had longer careers, but they were just guys. On the flip side, Dwight’s sticker and forklift dunks, Blake’s Superman dunkshot, and even lil Krytonite’s show were all better than 95% of revered dunks from days past. Going back to the 1989 contest (won by Walker), almost all of the dunks have been or could be executed in a game. The same can’t be said about Saturday’s performances (props and Mark Eaton aside).
No, the dunk contest isn’t always great, but it never has been. The difference is we were kids and now we’re grown. Just like many of the things we enjoyed when we were kids, we’ve outgrown them. Going to Disney World’s no longer as special (except enjoying it through the eyes of a child), but we accept that. It’s time for many of us to lighten up and accept the dunk contest isn’t for us. It’s for the kids, who can’t wait to grab a broom and lower their hoop in the driveway. Hopefully, the NBA will recognize that as well and move the contest to a more kid friendly time. It will only help grow the league’s popularity.
P.S. Shawn Kemp got robbed by Dee Brown’s Reebok’s Pumps.
Listen to Colin on The Mac Attack from 6a-10a (M-F) and on the Weekend Warriors on Sunday from 8-9a. Interact on twitter: @ColinWFNZ