“I’d take that last guy… between the legs. I don’t know his name.”
Shaquille O’Neal’s statement after the 2013 NBA Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday is the epitome of what the quality of the event has come to. I mean, just look at the roster: Eric Bledsoe, Jeremy Evans, Kenneth Fareid, Gerald Green, Terrence Ross and James White.
The Slam Dunk Contest had been the highlight of the NBA All-Star weekend from the 1990s to even the early 2000s, with names like Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, and Vince Carter competing and putting on a spectacle for the game’s fans. But with names like Fred Jones, Gerald Green and this year’s winner, Terrence Ross, being crowned in the recent years, the star-power has completely diminished.
For some odd reason, you don’t see LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Dwayne Wade out there. Instead, they’re on the sidelines looking pretty with their thin, leather jackets and glassless glasses on.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m envious of any professional basketball player’s ability and I understand that every young stud that gets into the NBA has an extreme talent. Albeit, the whole idea of the All-Star break is to showcase the cream of the crop of the sport. For the last few years, the Dunk Contest has definitely not done its part, with the exception of Dwight Howard and an up-and-coming Blake Griffin of two years ago.
With the fate of the event ready to slip through jittery hands, here are some things that the NBA could amplify the quality of the event and vacuum in more fans, eager to see the brightest lights on the brightest of names…
1: Have fans vote in dunkers. Let’s be honest, the whole reason the NBA or any other professional sports association is around is because of the fans. Fans buy merchandise; fans buy tickets; fans cheer on players, giving them a reason to play. So why don’t the fans decide who they
want to see during the All-Star break? If they want to see a high-flying Andre Iguodala or a ferocious Amar’e Stoudemire, why can’t their wish be granted? The only way to get more viewers and to return the event to its former glory is to put it in the fans’ hands. The so-called superstars might be afraid to break a nail or ruin their outfit, but, just like Charles Barkley said at the proceedings of the Contest, “The stars need to give something back to the game.”
2: Have not only a time limit, but an attempt limit. The feeling when watching the Slam Dunk Contest should be sheer and utter thrill. Watching the best of the best contort their bodies in mid-air while defying the strict rules of gravity should make you want to spring up out of your seat, drop your jaw and throw up an invisible sign with the number 10 emblazoned on it. But, of late, the trembling and nail-biting in the stands hasn’t been from the suspense; frankly, it’s been from the uncomfortable feeling that follows after witnessing a professional basketball player scurry around the court like a chicken without a head, trying his best to get a single dunk through the rim. In 2005, Chris “Birdman” Anderson put his nickname to the test as he flew to the rim 15 times for 2 different dunk-attempts in order to finally sink one in. The crowd and the announcers painfully – and hilariously – watched for over a minute-and-a-half as the Birdman couldn’t quite get his wings to flap. Another similar unfortunate series of dunk attempts came a year later in 2006, as Nate Robinson, a three-time winner whose height resembled NBA legends like Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues, failed 14 consecutive times before hammering his through-the-legs dunk home. His miniature body got a major workout while even his competitors were cheering him on to finally execute his dunk.
3: Keep some things, too! Although the show may not have been what NBA fans all over the nation were hyped for, the fact that, throughout the course of the night, thousands of dollars went towards charity was a major-league move of its own. Also, the way social media was utilized and fan-voting was embraced was a step in the right direction. Instead of the panel of judges consisting of former players like Yao Ming – yes, Yao Ming was a judge of a dunking competition – perfunctorily throwing up their scores, the winner was dubbed by the fans, themselves, via Twitter. Notwithstanding, some criticism arose when host Nick Cannon was seen with the results before the polls were closed. I’m hesitant to label the Dunk Contest as rigged, but who would blame the NBA for trying to salvage what it can of the event?
4: Finally, have someone other than Fall Out Boy be the opening act. I mean, seriously, people probably would’ve been more excited for a Backstreet Boys reunion. Just because the band, who went on an indefinite hiatus after their successful CD in 2007, may be attempting to perform CPR on their careers, it doesn’t mean the NBA has to bore what little viewers they may have left to death with sounds of 6 years ago. It was an appropriate tip of the hat to Fall Out Boy, who announced their return in early February, but, for the sake of the Slam Dunk Contest, I’d suggest picking a band with a tiny bit more relevancy next year – if there even is a next year for the event.