Old man Mason captures slam-dunk crown
Updated: Monday February 19, 2001 3:57 PM
WASHINGTON (Ticker) -- This was why they canceled the Slam Dunk Contest in the first place.
Mason emerged from a field of six no-names that got itself in a jam with jams that missed in every way imaginable, including an airball. The oldest player in the field at 23, Mason botched a pair of dunks in the final round and still won rather easily.
"That was the worst feeling ever," Mason said of his misses. "You go up there and you've got all these people screaming at you and you've got players on the sideline trying to pump you up. And then you miss a dunk -- that takes a little bit out of you."
Repeated lackluster events forced the NBA to eliminate the Slam Dunk Contest after Kobe Bryant won in 1997. It was replaced by 2ball in 1998 and there were no festivities because of the lockout in 1999.
However, the league reinstated the competition last year, and Toronto's Vince Carter rejuvenated interest in the athletic display with the best array of dunks in recent history, recalling dunking demons Michael Jordan and Spud Webb.
Fans anticipating Carter's title defense were disappointed when he announced he would not participate because of his "jumper's knee." Others, such as Orlando's Tracy McGrady and Houston's Steve Francis, followed suit and the league was left with no big names in All-Star Saturday's big event.
There were nearly as many misses as makes that had the crowd at the MCI Center muffling laughter. In addition, Indiana's Jonathan Bender and Vancouver's Stromile Swift both were in violation of contest rules in the first round.
Bender missed his first dunk, then immediately replaced it as he went out of turn. For his last dunk, Swift held up the competition for three minutes looking for an empty chair before being told that props were not allowed.
But neither of those escapades came close to matching Charlotte guard Baron Davis. Considered the favorite, Davis advanced to the finals, where he tried a dunk with his headband around his eyes. He dribbled into the lane, sprung for a one-handed cradle-rocker and found empty space two feet in front of the rim.
"You've got to go out and relax," Mason said. "We're all young guys, first- and second-year guys, and we were all nervous. It wasn't the strongest dunk contest ever, but it was fun doing it."
Mason totaled 89 points in the finals. Utah Jazz rookie DeShawn Stevenson, who entered the NBA directly out of high school, finished second with 85 as he did not take the risks that make champion dunkers. Davis was third with 77.
"After the first dunk, I was fine," Stevenson said. "It was all right, but with all the fans here and all the celebrities here, I was kind of nervous."
The five-man panel of Julius Erving, David Thompson, Nate Archibald, Kenny Smith and Danny Ainge was extremely generous. Every dunker except Swift and Los Angeles Clippers swingman Corey Maggette needed to replace a missed dunk in the first round.
"I missed my first dunk and I started thinking, `I've got to come out with something big,'" Mason said.
The 6-5 Mason did just that, leaping over teammate Rashard Lewis, who was crouched in the lane with his shirt pulled over his head.
The event was not without innovation. Davis completed a dunk in which he took a lob pass from prone teammate David Wesley, who held a minicam in his other hand and taped the effort.
In the finals, Mason completed a simple flying letfhanded slam and -- after missing twice trying to put the ball through his legs, a la Carter -- a rock-the-cradle from the right wing.
"This has been a lifelong dream, to come to All-Star Weekend and to participate in the dunk contest," Mason said. "It's been fun for me."
At least it was fun for somebody.
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