Anfernee Simons never touched lips to rim during practice. He wanted to avoid hurting himself Sunday night in Atlanta. He couldn’t find a mouthpiece that fit.
So, when the Trail Blazers guard took off for his final attempt, he knew he had little chance of sealing the dunk contest with a kiss.
“I’m just going to emphasize the smooch face,” Simons said he told himself.
That was enough.
Simons’ ambitiousness and creativity set him apart as he won the 2021 NBA dunk contest over Obi Toppin and Cassius Stanley. Though he didn’t quite kiss the rim on his last dunk, Simons at least appeared on the verge of doing something special. That alone drew appreciation.
Simons successfully built toward that moment. Before his socially distant rim kiss in the final round, Simons used props well in the first round. One dunk, he grabbed a ball placed near the top of the backboard square and threw it down. On another, he put on a Tracy McGrady Raptors jersey to recreate a McGrady slam from the 2000 dunk contest:
Toppin also advanced to the final round by dunking over his father (Obadiah Toppin, a streetball legend nicknamed “Dunker’s Delight) and Knicks teammate Julius Randle:
In the final round, judges chose a winner between Simons and Toppin rather than independently scoring each entrant’s dunk. The format change was welcome.
But it came too late for Stanley, whose first dunk – a self-pass, between-the-legs power slam – scored just 44 as judges struggled to set a baseline:
Overall, this dunk contest ranks low. The dunks themselves weren’t awful. But they mostly lacked originality. The dunkers lacked name recognition. And a lack of fans dulled the environment.
Time to kiss this dunk contest goodbye and hope for better next year.