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Fixing the dunk contest

Let’s talk about the Dunk Contest — an event that I’d bet inhabits a soft spot in the vast majority of your hearts. Fixing it is a hot topic, a delicate issue, and I am in no way professing to have a panacea that will cure all our slam-dunk woes. I just know that something is wrong with one of our seminal sporting events, and based on the conversations I’ve had with friends in the last few days, I think most of you agree change is needed.

I’m going to start my suggested solutions with something indisputable: Nick Cannon must go. I know that we all enjoy Drumline for some inscrutable reason and may have even watched an episode of Wild ‘N Out when we were feeling especially hapless, but come on. You’re telling me the NBA can’t get a more reputable emcee for the Dunk Contest than a humorless comedian attempting to stretch out his fame with more desperation than disgraced former NBPA executive director Billy Hunter? I’m not buying it.

On a similar note, Ne-Yo should also not be welcomed back next year. Actually, all of the musical acts should go. It felt like every 10 minutes I was watching another mediocre singing performance or an ostensibly impromptu dance routine. It’s fine if you want to have one headlining event like the Super Bowl halftime show, but I never want to have to question whether I’m watching an NBA All-Star event or Stomp The Yard ever again.

Now, to the heart of the matter. Most of the people I talked to have insisted that the only way to return the Dunk Contest to the glory of yesteryear is if we get the preeminent players in the league to participate. The way the contest is currently constructed, however, the game’s brightest stars are never going to get involved. If the NBA upped the prize money dramatically, then maybe, but it would take a considerably larger incentive to make up for the extreme pressure a superstar who participates in the Dunk Contest would face.

Remember, though, Jordan participated before he was Jordan, and Kobe did before he was Kobe. It is an event for rising superstars, not entrenched ones. Yes, Lebron should have done it years ago, but now the stakes are too high for him to take the chance of disappointing his fans or embarrassing himself with a loss.

To me, what the Dunk Contest is missing is not superstars, but drama. After the second dozen of missed dunks Saturday, I realized the Dunk Contest used to be more fun when guys actually made the dunks they attempted. I don’t care how incredible the dunk is if I have to watch you miss it six times first. By then, I am bored and the dunk has officially lost all meaning. It deprives the moment of all suspense.

I hate to sound like Skip Bayless here, but I actually went back and watched YouTube videos of Jordan vs. Dominque in ’88, and those guys nailed their dunks on the first try, every time. Same with Vince in 2000. I don’t know if the augmented interest in the event has made guys stretch their limits and attempt dunks they can’t regularly finish — or what other reasons might be underlying this trend — but all the misses need to go. If we have to lower the rims to 9-and-a-half feet, or bring out the trampolines à la Slam Ball, then so be it.

Something else I noticed when I was re-watching MJ v. ‘Nique was that the sense of actual competition seems to have disappeared. Back in the day, these guys used to do nine dunks in a contest — three in each round — so by the time the finals rolled around, they were going back and forth with a palpable “Yeah, that was pretty nice, but I can do it better” attitude. This year, I didn’t feel that tense, pent-up drama, probably because of the diminished number of dunks each contestant performed and the new East v. West structure.

The nadir of the event for me occurred when Jeremy Evans jumped over a veiled picture of himself jumping over a veiled picture of himself and then proceeded to sign said picture. It was the epitome of these so-called “creative” dunks that have recently become de rigueur and sum up everything I feel is wrong with the event. I’m not sure if I was supposed to be transfixed by the circuitous nature or the extreme narcissism inherent in the image, but the dunk itself was trivial. Creativity, when expressed through props, is highly overrated in this event. I didn’t like it when Blake Griffin jumped over a Kia, nor was I particularly amused when Terrence Ross endangered the life of a diminutive ball boy. Theatricality and histrionics cannot replace competitive drama and suspense — even though I was terrified for the helpless kid.

I don’t want to be impressed by the effort and preparation you have put into the setup of your dunk, but rather by the physical and athletic prowess you show by performing it. The slam-dunk contest has become adulterated by pomp and circumstance, as evidenced by the garishly clad superstars adorning the front row, and that is not a fair fate for such a beloved spectacle.

Like most of you, I will never stop watching the Dunk Contest, year in and year out. So, for all our sakes, something needs to be done.

At the very least, there can be no more Nick Cannon.