The days of the Dominique tomahawk are gone. The Jordan cradle dunk is a dinosaur. Throwing it off the backboard to yourself is passé.
Blake Griffin dunked over a car while a gospel choir sang at midcourt. And he is your 2011 Slam Dunk Contest champion. It was impressive and entertaining.
That, my friends, is where we are headed with the dunk contest.
Saturday night the four participants — Griffin, JaVale McGee, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka — used props, skits and showmanship to make the dunks spectacle. It was made-for-television. This wasn’t just four band members in jeans and T-shirts rocking out, it was a Kanye West concert. It was pure spectacle with some dunks thrown in.
And it was the most entertaining contest in years.
It’s how things will be for years to come. Say you miss the old school Dunk Contests all you want, the event has evolved.
“A lot of the things that are possible have been done, you know what I mean?” Griffin said after the contest. “So it’s tough to come up with something that nobody has ever seen before. That’s always the big thing. Everybody is like ‘Oh it’s going to be something nobody has ever seen’ but you kind of have to use props for that. It’s kind of become — it’s kind of moved toward that.”
“All of us definitely came prepared,” said runner up JaVale McGee. “We came with props and everything. We all came for entertainment because we definitely didn’t want to be another disappointment for the Slam Dunk Contest like the year before was.
Last year, after the year of Dwight Howard’s show, guys went old school. Few props, just athleticism on display. The event got panned as dull.
Griffin is spot on — we’ve pretty much seen it all. Serge Ibaka executed a dunk taking off from the free throw line and couldn’t get a perfect score from Dr. J (who was one of the judges).
But he didn’t just do the dunk. The Congo native came out to Kanye music with people carrying African-colored flags. The flag carriers lined his path to the free throw line.
It was like that through the first two rounds — two of the best rounds the contest has ever seen. Ibaka grabbed a stuffed animal hanging on the rim with his teeth while dunking. McGee dunked three basketballs at once (John Wall assisted on that).
McGee even had them bring out a second backboard, lined up right next to the first, so he could dunk on both at once.
There was still the crazy athleticism — on Griffin’s first dunk of the final round he put his arm through the rim and hung there on his cocked elbow for a while. DeRozan got a perfect score without props and just leaping and spinning. McGee dunked from behind the backboard having to duck his head out of the way.
But that alone is not enough anymore. The contest has evolved. More importantly our expectations have evolved. It is a show. It is a spectacle. Just being athletic is not enough; you have to be an entertainer.
Could you argue that some dunks were better than the winners, that someone got robbed? Sure. Knock yourself out. I’ll even agree that with fans voting for the finals Blake Griffin won this thing a month ago. But that’s all besides the bigger point.
This dunk contest forever changed the game. Don’t accept if you don’t want to be a showman. In-game dunks don’t cut it here, this is an exhibition and the bar has been raised.
In the end, Griffin had the biggest spectacle of the night — Baron Davis lobbing an ally-oop out of a sunroof to Griffin leaping over a Kia while a gospel choir sang R. Kelly. The dunk contest has never seen anything like it.
It moved the needle and now there is no going back.