Basketball fans enjoyed two pleasant surprises as this year’s Slam Dunk Contest participants were announced. Firstly, the NBA caught us all off guard by going with six contestants. This used to be the norm (as many as nine have dunked in the past), but the league reduced he number of dunkers to four following the 2001 contest. More dunkers obviously means more dunks, so six is better than four. Secondly, the NBA absolutely nailed its selections. All four players I suggested — James White, Gerald Green, Terrence Ross, and defending champion Jeremy Evans — are in, as well as Eric “Mini LeBron” Bledsoe and Kenneth “Manimal” Faried (who apparently thought the contest took place during Thursday night’s game against the Bulls). My six-man field would’ve included DeAndre Jordan rather than Faried, but that’s an extremely minor gripe (rumor has it the league actually asked DJ, but he refused). What’s really important here is that James White and Gerald Green are in. Finally.
For years, James White and Gerald Green have represented the dream dunk contest matchup we thought we’d never get to see (except for in Russia). Despite their almost unprecedented athleticism, each has struggled to hang in the NBA. Neither was in the league at the start of last season, and both are presently the last men off of their respective teams’ benches. Green has actually been cut from a Chinese team more recently than he appeared in his last dunk contest, and White had been out of the league since 2009 prior to signing with the Knicks last summer. Not long ago it seemed unlikely that either would ever appear in another NBA game, let alone a dunk contest.
Now that the unlikely has come to fruition, many are suggesting that next Saturday’s dunk contest could be the greatest of all-time. Based on the field, it should be. However, I suggest that you be cautious in your optimism for a couple of different reasons. Consider primarily that the dunk contest has not been on life support for a lack of athleticism; it’s been the gimmicks, the formats, and the fan voting that have ruined it. Unfortunately, at least two of these issues will undoubtedly remain relevant in 2013, with the biggest problem likely to be yet another new format. Allow me to explain.
For the first time ever, All-Star Weekend will be structured as an East vs West showdown. Points will be awarded to the Conference of the winner of each Saturday night competition, and when all four events are finished there will be one ultimate victor. Sounds all well and good, especially considering that it’s all for charity, but it presents a little problem in regards to our dream dunk contest matchup. Namely, James White and Gerald Green can’t go head-to-head in the second and final round, as they both hail from the Eastern Conference. This means that one of them will be limited to just two slam dunks, which is obviously a goddamned shame. We’ll have to hope that White and Green tie with a pair of perfect scores in the first round, resulting in a dunk-off to determine the Eastern finalist.
And that stupid fucking fan vote. They open it before the championship round even begins. Rather than cast a meaningless vote, wouldn’t most fans prefer to see the most deserving dunker win? Judges, though not perfect, are typically capable of making the right decision. The fan voting system, on the other hand, turns the whole thing into a popularity contest (fortunately, none of the players involved are all that popular).
On a positive note, I’m quite certain that we’ll see some of the all-time greatest dunks in the history of the contest. I wouldn’t even be surprised if we see the most incredible overall display of dunks ever. With two past champions, one living legend, and three more astonishing athletes, the field is stronger than ever. Surely some unprecedented shit is about to go down. That said, the flawed format is liable to leave a deserving finalist on the outside looking in, and the fan vote always presents potential for disaster. No matter how well the contestants perform, this contest will likely feature some unfortunate developments, thus excluding it from the “greatest of all-time” discussion.
All things considered, I suggest that you be cautiously optimistic about the 2013 Slam Dunk Competition. Prepare to see some dunks you’ve never seen on this stage, but be equally prepared for shenanigans. Concern yourself not with who advances or wins, but with the magnitude of each individual jam. Treat it like more of a showcase and less of a contest, as the showcase is likely to be spectacular but the contest flawed.