Damian Lillard, Paul George

2014 Slam Dunk Contest the most star-studded ever

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It’s been 14 years since the Slam Dunk Contest has featured multiple All-Stars.

Heck, in the last two years, no All-Stars have participated.

But after years of pleas, the NBA has finally assembled a Dunk Contest field that includes the game’s top talent. Paul George, Damian Lillard and John Wall headline the 2014 event – matching the most All-Stars ever to participate.

By volume, this Dunk Contest is special. Only 1988 (Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler) and 1985 (Jordan, Julius Erving and Larry Nance) have featured this many All-stars.

But percentage, it’s unprecedented.

The Dunk Contest field has varied in size over the years, ranging from four to nine players. This year will have six participants – Terrence Ross, Harrison Barnes and Ben McLemore have also been invited – which means half the competitors are All-Stars. That’s never happened before.

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The last time even two All-Stars competed in the Dunk Contest was 2000, when Vince Carter and Jerry Stackhouse dunked Saturday then played Sunday. The NBA really needed a boost that season. After three years without an All-Star in the Dunk Contest, the league dropped the event completely before reviving it in 2000.

And, with the multiple All-Stars participating, the dunks were the best ever.*

Carter won the event, slipping his elbow through the rim on one dunk and then catching a bounce pass, putting the ball between his legs and dunking on another. Really, though, the whole display was impressive.

*Only the 1988 Dunk Contest could make an argument, but that one was great more due to the dunking rivalry between Jordan and Wilkins than the actual dunks. Don’t get me wrong. The dunks were great in 1988, too. They were just a little better in 2000.

This year, instead of just two All-Stars like in 2000, we have three.

Are George, Lillard and Wall NBA’s biggest stars? No. The league didn’t reel in LeBron James, who would have been the biggest catch.

But that’s not a fair standard.

Just two players have ever competed in the Dunk Contest after finishing better than 10th in MVP voting – Erving and Jordan.

Erving entered the first two NBA Dunk Contests, 1984 and 1985, but his best dunking and playing days were behind him. If Erving, who won the 1976 ABA Dunk Contest, had begun his professional career in an NBA that had a Dunk Contest, he likely would have participated during his first few seasons and then outgrown it.

Jordan reached such great heights at such a young age, he rose up the honor list quicker than he could bow out of the Dunk Contest. But once he won his first MVP, he never competed in the Dunk Contest again.

Most of the great stars who participated in the Dunk Contest – players like Kobe Bryant, Clyde Drexler and Scottie Pippen – didn’t become great stars until after they participated in the Dunk Contest. We remember their Dunk Contest showings and their superstar statuses and conflate the two, but they really came at different points in the players’ careers.

Maybe Paul George, Damian Lillard or John Wall will eventually become megastars and get treated the same way.

For now, we know those three are at least stars of the moment, as their inclusion in the All-Star Game shows. That they’re also competing in the Dunk Contest puts the 2014 event in historical footing.

Everyone yearning for more of the NBA’s stars in the Dunk Contest has gotten their wish. Now, we’ll see whether that actually translates into better dunks.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: