This year’s dunk contest stunk. Everybody but Nate Robinson’s mother is on board with that. The competitors were plenty athletic, but save one throw down by DeMar DeRozan it seemed like we had seen it all before. And we were bored.
The NBA and TNT don’t want that — the dunk contest gets as much publicity as the All-Star Game, you don’t need people saying they would rather watch a Law & Order rerun — so they sat down today and started talking about how to fix it.
Any changes to the event ultimately will have to be made by the NBA, but TNT has carried the event for 25 years, and Levy’s opinion is certain to carry weight in league circles.
While Levy would not be upset to have LeBron James compete against Kobe Bryant in future dunk contests, he does not believe that the event necessarily needs that kind of star power to thrive. Levy, Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting’s president of sales, distribution and sports, is more interested in having the players who agree to participate put more effort into it. In some cases this year, it appeared that dunkers were trying to make up dunks on the fly.
Star power drives the entire NBA — any glance at the ratings over the last 20 years show that. Or look at how once Kobe pulled out of the NBA All-Star Game ratings in Los Angeles dropped 40 percent from last year. David Stern and crew chose from way back with Magic vs. Bird to make the NBA about the individual stars, so when an event lacks star power you have to expect some level of excitement to drop off.
But the dunk contest needs more than just Dwight Howard slapping stickers on the backboard to get it going again. Ratings for the dunk contest were good again this season, second best in the history of the event, people want to see it. But they don’t want to see what they have seen before, and Levy is right that previous years seemed to have more preparation. But on the flip side, where do you expect these guys to go? Expecting three guys every year to come up with something nobody has ever done before is not realistic.
Like any serious debate — and this isn’t serious, really, it’s the dunk contest — there are a variety of options. And a variety of people laying in wait to shoot down those options once they go public. But even if it leans toward the radical — letting in amateurs such as Taurian Fontenette, for example — something needs to be done. Because we won’t keep watching what we have seen before.