Posted: Wednesday February 1, 2006 11:33AM; Updated: Wednesday February 1, 2006 11:33AM
The spontaneous nature of dunks by the likes of LeBron James leaves the All-Star dunk contest feeling more artficial than ever.
John W. McDonough/SI
The dunk is dead. Not dead as in disappeared, of course, but dead as in ho-hum, so what, who cares? It died of natural causes -- it just grew old and tired, and far too commonplace. We have seen so many dunks that they're just not that special anymore. The dunk was done to death.
LeBron James pronounced the shot's last rites earlier this week when he declined an invitation to appear in the annual Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend. Not only did LBJ say no thanks, he also added that he didn't think that he would ever participate in the competition. "I don't want to be defined as being in the Slam Dunk Contest," James said. "When I dunk I'm just trying to get two points. For the most part I don't predetermine what I do."
The Slam Dunk Contest is so 1980s. Most of the NBA's elite players have been dodging it for years now, but when the league's No. 1 young star -- arguably it's biggest star of any age -- disses the dunk, the shot has officially lost its cool quotient. SportsCenter's Top 10 highlights might feature a collection of jams, but how many of them can you even remember the next day?
Forget the old-school rant about how the dunk has ruined the game. The dunk has become old-school itself, in a way. It has become just another shot, no longer one that sets a player apart from the crowd. Any decent high school team has at least one or two players who can slam. In the NBA, 99 percent of the players could roll out of bed and throw down a reverse jam.
Since the dunk is dead, the annual contest that celebrates it should surely be buried. It might be intriguing to watch 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks rise to the rim a couple of times, but other than that, there's very little reason to pay much attention to this year's contest, which also includes defending champion Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks, Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers and Hakim Warrick of the Memphis Grizzlies.
They're all fine dunkers who are probably cooking up some elaborate jam at this very moment, but the chances are slim that any of them will come up with any variation on the shot that will excite us the way we once were, back in the days of Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins. That's not the fault of today's leapers, it's just that they're playing to a crowd that's been there, seen that.
The organizers of the dunk contest seem to tweak the rules every year in a desperate attempt to make it entertaining, but they can never eliminate one of the contest's biggest problems -- its artificial setting. The best dunks, as James, for one, seems to realize, aren't planned. They are flights of improvisation that arise out of competition. They come at us out of the blue, a complete and breathtaking surprise.
A plain vanilla dunk over a defender is far more impressive than a 360-degree throw down with no one trying to stop it. When Vince Carter has to contort his body to avoid Alonzo Mourning before he slams one, it's worth seeing. When Kobe Bryant drives baseline, comes up on the other side of the rim and whips down a lightning quick dunk between two defenders, it's worth seeing. But when some young pogo stick takes the court all alone and performs the dunk he's been working on for two weeks, it's worth, well, not much at all.
That's why the Slam Dunk Contest is really the worst way to showcase the shot. But don't feel bad for the dunk. It lived a good, full life, and in its prime, it was truly something to see. May it rest in peace.