Dominique Wilkins, a two-time dunk contest champion and current broadcaster for the Atlanta Hawks, thinks that LeBron James should quit worrying about what everybody will think and just dunk already. According to CNBC’s Darren Rovell, Wilkins was quoted saying the following at a recent event:
“I’d love if all the big names got involved again. It’s something you can do to give back to the fans…Everyone knows what and who LeBron is. The dunk contest is not going to define his ability or compromise his likeness or his star power.”
Wilkins is probably correct in saying that it would be a good idea for LeBron to go ahead and show fans just what kind of dunks he can come up with at the dunk contest. The one thing I would warn against is the thinking that getting big names will save the dunk contest by itself.
There’s a lot more to being a great player than being a great dunker. In fact, there’s a lot more to being a great in-game dunker than being a great leaper, which is what makes most great dunk contest dunks. Getting a dunk in a game requires quickness, timing, the ability to get off the floor quickly, the ability to power through a help defender, knowing how to play off the ball and catch the ball in a position to dunk, and many other attributes besides how high a player can jump. Kevin Durant already has 98 dunks this season, just four less than LeBron James, despite the fact he’s not much of a leaper. Durant’s max vertical was measured at 33.5 inches at the draft combine
, which isn’t very impressive at all. During a game, Durant can flush at any time, often with authority. In a contest, Durant may underwhelm.
Likewise, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony, two great in-game dunkers whose names were mentioned in Rovell’s article, recorded verticals of 35.0 and 33.5 inches at the combine. It works the other way around, too. Brandon Jennings, who could casually do between-the-legs dunks in high school
, has all of one dunk this season. Three-time dunk contest champion Nate Robinson has three dunks
this season. James Harden recorded a better max vertical than Durant, Anthony, or Wade, and he’s one of the worst finishers in the NBA this season.
Players like Dwight Howard, LeBron James, and Dominique Wilkins, superstars who can also jump out of the gym, are rarer than you’d think. Dwight Howard was great in the dunk contest, but so was Gerald Green. There are plenty of great leapers who aren’t much as players, and often times those are the guys who have time to goof off with Rashad McCants and come up with the idea of putting a cupcake on the rim. Everyone acknowledges that the dunk contest needs a shot in the arm, and LeBron James would certainly provide that. However, rounding out the rest of the field with big names for the sake of having big names in the contest could lead to less creative dunks being performed closer to the ground.