NEW ORLEANS — John Wall’s final dunk of the night won the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest for the team representing the Eastern Conference, but the drastic format changes to the event, and not any of its dunks, are what will be remembered most from this year’s All-Star Saturday showcase.
“I think it was cool,” Wall said of the new format. “It was fun. Brought some excitement to it in the first round. And basically the second round you go toe to toe with the guy from the West, and you got to have a great opportunity to beat those guys.”
Judging by the fan responses coming in live over social media channels, he was a member of a very small minority.
The event began with a 90-second freestyle round, where each team took turns throwing down dunks with all three of its respective members on the court at the same time. This resulted in a lot of teamwork, and one of the better dunks of the night — Terrence Ross drove and threw it off the backboard, Wall caught it and passed it off the shot clock, and Paul George finished with a thunderous one-handed flush.
The West struggled in the freestyle round, missing too many attempts overall. But Lillard saved it with an athletic attempt that saw him catch the ball off the bounce, before putting it through his legs in the air and then throwing it down.
After that it was onto the Battle Round, which featured a player from each team going head-to-head in competition. The winer of each round was voted upon by judges Dominique Wilkins, Magic Johnson and Julius Erving, though there was little drama because there was a decisive victor in every single round. The team to win three rounds would be declared the contest’s winner, and the East was able to sweep it.
The first battle featured Lillard against Ross, and while Lillard’s pass to himself and finish with a one-handed, 360-slam was impressive, Ross brought more creativity with him to his performance — along with a fellow Canadian, rapper Drake, as a prop.
Drake held the ball in an outstretched arm, and Ross ran up, grabbed it and put it through his legs before finishing a one-handed slam.
Neither was amazing, but Ross got the 2-1 nod from the judges.
The second battle matched up Harrison Barnes against George, and this one was really no contest. Barnes put a device of some kind in his pocket before taking a few attempts to complete an extremely modest dunk by Dunk Contest standards.
We saw once it was over that the device somehow was meant to capture Barnes’ motion, and we then were shown an NBA2K video game version of the dunk that he had just finished. The lack of creativity of the actual dunk, along with the forced product placement were an underwhelming combination.
George took advantage, and considering he was one of the more athletic dunkers in the event, his entry appeared effortless by comparison. It took him a few tries, but George completed a between-the-legs, 360-dunk that most felt was the best of the night. All three judges voted for George, so all that was left was for Wall to finish things off.
With the assistance of the Wizards’ mascot G-Man who began holding the ball, Wall leapt over him, taking the ball and bringing it down below his knees before finishing with the two-handed reverse slam. That was far better than a nonsensical routine performed by Ben McLemore before him, who had Shaquille O’Neal sit in an elaborate throne that was placed in the paint before jumping over him for his turn at a slam.
Another easy 3-0 decision for the judges, and the contest was over.
It was a bit anti-climactic, and the format was initially confusing to fans, before most decided along the way that it wasn’t a change for the good. Seeing a team awarded the event’s trophy messes with the iconic history of the signature All-Star Saturday event, too, where we’re used to seeing one dunker crowned as the Slam Dunk champion.
But Wall didn’t seem to mind so much when all was said and done. He was voted as the Dunker of the Night by the fans (even though George’s body of work seemed more deserving), and discussed how he came up with his final, contest-winning attempt.
“Somebody sent me a YouTube link on my Twitter and said 27 dunks that haven’t been done in the NBA dunk contest,” Wall said. “And the first one was that one, and it seemed hard, but for me it came out to be easy.”
Wall then detailed just how meaningful it all was to him personally.
“It’s a humbling experience for me, a great opportunity,” Wall said. “I wouldn’t be here without my coaches, my teammates and my fans in the city of DC supporting me for my first three years. So I did it for all those guys and did it for my mom that’s in the hospital sick right now, so it was a big moment for me.”