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.
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.