Above The Rim
The NBA continues to evolve and adapt like other sports. So much has changed in the century since the four American major sports were invented, so it only makes sense for the sports to continue to change as well. One prime example of these changes and the state of the current NBA is its annual All-Star Weekend. This year’s festivities in Cleveland maintained the more recent themes of the league.
The NBA fills starts All-Star Weekend off with the Celebrity game. Every year the definition of “celebrity” gets looser, as evidenced by Grammy award-winning singers and current and former professional athletes losing out on MVP honors to Peloton instructor Alex Touissant. I felt that Myles Garrett got robbed here, and I’m not saying that because I once saw him try to murder an opposing player with his own helmet. He really deserved it.
The NBA makes sure to highlight its best up-and-coming superstars in the Rising Stars game, which is only available to first and second-year players, and the G-League All-Star Game. The NBA G-League is a Gatorade-sponsored developmental league for the NBA players of tomorrow. This includes some players that have gone to college and weren’t ready for the NBA yet and some players that decided that college wasn’t for them and wanted to begin a career of being paid professionally to play basketball. But the most important parts of All-Star Weekend are the Slam Dunk Contest and the Three-Point Contest.
Traditionally, the Three-Point Contest has taken a back seat to the Slam Dunk Contest in terms of buzz, excitement, and a certain “must-see TV” feel. That’s because usually, the best athletes in the entire league are on display doing dizzying gravity-defying dunks to entertain the crowd and the TV audience, but that wasn’t the case for this year’s event. This year’s Slam Dunk Contest was the worst dunk contest I’ve ever seen at any level.
Between a lack of imagination from the dunkers, a lack of execution at actually being able to execute their dunks, or some combination of both, most of the contestants struggled to do the one thing they had set out to do at the beginning of the day. And that was dunk a basketball. To drive home my point, this was the second Slam Dunk Contest since the NBA started the event in 1984 that did not have a dunk obtain a perfect score of 50, and the second straight time this has happened. I think I know why this is happening though.
The NBA’s best dunkers simply don’t want to participate in the dunk contest anymore. It’s become blatantly obvious for all to see that the NBA rewards the most marketable dunkers and not the best dunkers. This started in 1988 when Michael Jordan defeated Dominique Wilkins to coincide with the launch of the Air Jordan sneaker. This continued as Blake Griffin controversially defeated JaVale McGee in 2011 to signify the league’s partnership with KIA. The NBA even asked Griffin to jump over a KIA for his final dunk, something Griffin was unable to do, so they compromised and had him jump over the hood instead.
Aaron Gordon was robbed of a dunk title in 2020 and the title was given to Derrick Jones Jr., who also happened to be launching a shoe with Puma at the time. Since that watershed moment, the league’s best and brightest simply don’t want to deal with the dunk contest. This is evidenced by former dunk contest champions Donovan Mitchell and Zach LaVine now attempting to win the Three-Point Contest. It’s reached a point where the NBA announcers and sideline reporters were openly begging players such as Ja Morant and Anthony Edwards to participate in next year’s dunk contest, only for both to politely decline on air.
As with everything else in today’s NBA, the league has become obsessed with the three-point shot. In Sunday’s All-Star game, Steph Curry went off for 50 points and made a record 16 three-pointers in the process. If you enjoy long-range shooting you probably had a blast watching the game, but for fans like myself who prefer to see alley-oops and players violently dunking on 10-foot rims, this was not the year for you. I don’t know if the NBA will ever return to promoting the best dunkers, but I at least want balance and entertainment from All-Star Weekend. Unfortunately, Cleveland disappointed in that regard, but I have hope that things will return to normal for next year’s game.
Because Cleveland sucks.
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