When it comes to criticism, the National Basketball Association is never far from reach.
This really isn’t a huge revelation — NBA players have 82 games during the year to boost their stats as much as they can to increase their salary, their fame and their SportsCenter highlight reels.
It should be fitting that the NBA All-Star Weekend is a condensed form of the NBA regular season on steroids. The best players from the best teams join forces to see how far into triple digits they can climb on the scoreboard as a super-group (143 points was good enough for the West to take the game this year).
If this is what you expect of the All-Star game, it’s a great time. In what other setting can you watch Chris Paul (All-Star game MVP) bounce a behind-the-back pass to three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant for an emphatic dunk? It’s fun to see players from around the league join up to play the year’s biggest game of pick-up basketball where you can see alley-oop slams from players that normally don’t have the guts to pull it off in a meaningful game.
NBA All-Star Weekend is supposed to be like any other award show. Like the Grammys or the Oscars, there are even more celebrities off the court than actually participating in the event. And that’s partly what people want to see — it’s fun to see Beyoncé and Jay-Z cuddling in prime seats watching the game like any other fans.
However, the stars of the sideline shouldn’t overshadow the athletes on the court. But that’s exactly what happened Saturday night.
One of the NBA All-Star Weekend staples is the slam dunk contest. It is by far the most entertaining event of All-Star Saturday and it is the event that propels basketball all-stars to basketball legends.
The first slam dunk king was Julius Erving, who is famous for dunking a basketball after leaping from the free throw line 15 feet away from the hoop. It’s no surprise that’s how Dr. J took the inaugural dunk contest back in 1976.
But there was no iconic moment from this year’s slam dunk contest — not because the contestants weren’t capable of dunking a ball from 15 feet away from the rim, but because the contestants’ names were barely recognizable.
This year’s slam dunk winner was Terrence Ross, back-up Toronto Raptors shooting guard, playing on one of the NBA’s lowest valuated teams. Ross is a rookie who averages just over six points per game, good for 164th best in the league. He is only the 11th-highest scorer on his own team and doesn’t even start for the Raptors.
The other contestants weren’t much to write home about either. The five other competitors have combined for exactly zero all-star appearances. You’d be hard-pressed to find one of these players’ names on the back of an NBA jersey in any NBA apparel store.
Where are the good old days when Dwight Howard was plastering stickers of himself to the backboard two feet above the rim? What happened to the slam dunk contests in which Blake Griffin was leaping over mid-sized sedans to dunk the ball? These days flew out the window when the NBA decided it was a good idea to put no-name players in the league’s biggest spectacle of the year.
Fans looking for some excitement on All-Star Saturday won’t find it when the dunk contest is slated with players who have struggled to earn their way into the starting lineup and have flopped between the NBA and the lowly Developmental League.
The average viewer was easily bored watching players with little history on a stage meant for basketball celebrities. Even if Terrence Ross can pull off a through-the-legs dunk while jumping over a small child, I would rather see the likes of Howard, Griffin, LeBron James and the true stars of the NBA show off on All-Star Saturday’s main stage.
Like the Grammys, the dunk contest should feature players that have already proven their celebrity status in the NBA. Even if no-name bands have stellar albums in a given year, people want to see and hear the biggest names in music. But this year’s dunk contest was headlined by the small indie-rock bands of the NBA, not its pop stars.
The NBA should consider raising the standard of its dunk contest participants when it becomes more interesting to focus on the street-clothed celebs on the sidelines instead of watching second-rate players still trying to make a name for themselves.
Lee is a junior majoring in strategic communications. Think that the NBA Slam Dunk Contest is fine the way it is? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.