When It was the Main Event: The Chronicles of The Dunk Contest’s Slow Painful Death

If the NBA has any true advantage over any other sports league, it’s its precious All-Star Weekend, which will take place in the Mecca of basketball this weekend, New York City. Other leagues like the NFL and NHL struggle to bring together all of its stars onto one playing field (or ice) to show off the best talent and play a competitive game that gives the fans their money’s worth.

Major League Baseball capitalizes on the whole “Winner gets home-field advantage in World Series” aspect, which adds plenty of spice into the game, yet still lacks to truly celebrate the game of baseball at times with the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game itself in just two days.

Over the course of an entire weekend, NBA All-Star Weekend delivers year-in and year-out captivates the NBA faithful with multiple events that showcase the league’s talent across the board. And since 1976, when Dr. J and that perfectly picked Afro of his floated from the foul line, the Dunk Contest has been the main event.

WATCH: Julius Erving becomes the first to dunk from the free-throw line

But it isn’t anymore.

It was one of the most looked forward to events of the NBA season. The NBA and its world-class athletes doing things in the air you didn’t think were possible with a basketball. Dunking is a part of basketball’s lure. People have it embedded in their minds the day they first threw one down, or vividly remember constantly failing to.

Some of the most memorable moments in NBA History have come from the contest. All of which I’ll mention throughout. Sadly though, in recent years, it is the owner of the least memorable moments as well.

The 80’s and 90’s are the perceived “golden age” of the Dunk Contest where Hall of Famers like Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler ruled along with legendary Dunk Contest performances from Spud Webb, Shawn Kemp and Kenny Smith. But those were the days where stars wanted to put reputation on the line and see who was the best man at throwing it down in the league.

In 1997 a young Kobe “Bean” Bryant salvaged what was left of the contest before the league decided to cancel the event for ’98 and ’99. And well, we all knew what happened in 2000, which we will come to later on.


Let’s go back 13 years to 2002, where some guy thought it be really cool and spontaneous to use a “Wheel of Fortune” in a Dunk Contest. Thankfully Jason Richardson was there to save us that night, regardless of the wheel telling him what to do.

2003 and 2004 showcased more of J-Rich and Kenny Smith, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley constantly saying “The Dunk Contest is BACK!!!” Even though you wouldn’t need them to tell you it was back, because you would know.

From 2006-2009 the contest actually saw a mini-revival in life (We don’t talk about 2005 because a young Chris Andersen made a complete fool out of himself, before all the tattoos) With Andre Iguodala, Nate Robinson and Dwight Howard (“SUUUPPPPERRRMANNN IS IN THE BUILDING!”) making it a little more than bearable to watch again. The NBA and the NBA Dunk Contest will be forever grateful to Nate for his 3-time championship run, as well as Howard’s Superman stunts, but it would prove to be the beginning of the end of the Dunk Contest. Ushering in the “Social Media and Prop” era.

Sprite Slam Dunk Contest

Twitter shouldn’t decide the Dunk Champion, maybe it’s an old school line of thought, but there is something more enjoyable about seeing Doctor J, Dominique Wilkins and Jordan holding up a “9” or “10” but hey, that is just me. Post-2010, the Dunk Contest is dying a slow painful death, with NBA executives trying to come up with any sort of gimmick possible to make people say, “The Dunk Contest is BACK!!!”

2011: This Dunk Contest featured a prop-overload. Blake Griffin jumped over a Kia, Serge Ibaka dunked and picked a stuffed animal off the hoop with his mouth, JaVale McGee used two hoops and two basketballs and DeMar Derozan came up with some pretty impressive dunks without any props, but sort-of jumping over a car was good enough for the win.


2012: Jeremy Evans won. Without judges. Paul George dunked in glow in the dark clothing. This is all you need to know about the worst Dunk Contest in NBA history.

2013: If 2012 was the worst contest ever, 2013 was complete rock-bottom. The NBA brought in Nick Cannon to emcee the event to keep the crowd awake and he was unsuccessful. Terrence Ross from Toronto went on to win the championship that is now formally known as, “World’s Tallest Midget Award.”

2014: Was it even a contest? A year later and still no one has any idea what happened. John Wall definitely had the best dunk of the night, but since there were teams, it was pretty unclear who actually won. Four years into the new decade and once again I ended the night watching this:

In 2015, the NBA is going back to the old school rules. Four contestants (Zach LaVine, Mason Plumlee, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Victor Oladipo. They may not be the star-studded names that we look for in this event, thankfully YouTube will get you hyped up about Zach LaVine:

The 19-year old has the minerals (and the hops) to conquer the NBA universe Saturday night, but it might just be too late. Things change with time, same goes in the NBA. It’s no secret the Association is becoming more and more three-point oriented, the drive-n’-dish era is in full effect.  It comes as  no surprise that the main event on Saturday looks to be the Three-Point Contest that features quite possibly the best field ever in the event’s history.

(Top: Wesley Mathews, J.J. Reddick, James Harden, Kyrie Irving. Bottom: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, Marco Belinelli
(Top: Wesley Mathews, J.J. Reddick, James Harden, Kyrie Irving. Bottom: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, Marco Belinelli

But if one of those four guys in the Dunk Contest has a night to remember much like Howard, Robinson, or Carter, no one will remember the great 3-Point Contest field, that’s the power of the Dunk Contest, its history is rich, but the past five years have been far from what it is known for. If all else fails, nothing wrong with watching ‘Nique and Jordan square off in Chicago Stadium one more time.

Prediction: Oladipo beats LaVine in a semi-entertaining Dunk Contest.


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