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Finally, An NBA Dunk Contest To Remember

Serge Ibaka's legit free-throw line dunk got little love, but it was one of the many highlights on the night

Saturday night’s NBA dunk contest had many of the qualities that made the previous decade of coma-inducing showcases so forgettable, including plenty of misses and an overall lack of star power.

But who needs actual dunks when you’ve got imagination? That’s what made the 2011 edition so special. In recent years, a single personality or a single dunk has been the sole takeaway for viewers — Jason Richardson going between the legs and directly over his head in 2003, Josh Smith in 2005, Nate Robinson over the top of Spud Webb in 2006, Dwight Howard in 2008, Robinson jumping Howard in 2009.

But outside of those nice notables, the contest has become an exhibition to see who can throw down the most authoritative windmill or tomahawk. Gerald Green almost wore out the between-the-legs dunk for eternity. Last year gave us nothing extra, just a bunch of seen-it moves.

But clean dunks aren’t required to make a contest memorable; just show some thought. The dunks are actually secondary if you’ve got the props to go with them. The props make the program. It’s the setup for the dunk that everyone loves. The possibilities of what you could do with whatever that is and then slam it home make everyone stop and notice. We are all fools for buildup and original elements outside of just athleticism.

This year, the participants emphasized originality or, in the case of Serge Ibaka, being just as good as the original.

(sidebar: Seriously, a 45-out-of-50 score for lifting off exactly at the free-throw line and dunking smoothly on the first try? Nothing about that dunk was only 90 percent fantastic. The “who will attempt a free-throw line dunk” has been a silent storyline of every dunk contest since Jordan in ’88. Vince Carter couldn’t do it. Brent Barry, Johnathan Bender, Gerald Wallace, Jamario Moon, Dwight Howard all tried it, just to name a few. All of them launched from inside the line. Josh Smith failed twice. Hell, even Julius Erving had half a foot over the mark in ’76, but it’s iconic. Yet, when we finally get a true free-throw line slam, from a seven-footer no less, with nothing more than a single toe touching the line like the cherry on an ice cream sundae, it earns only one point more than DeMar DeRozen’s ho-hum opener? Ibaka was victimized by his lack of recognition. If it was Blake Griffin, I’m pretty sure Erving would have crawled over to drink his sweat.)

Ibaka got it started off right with a proper homage to Erving/Jordan in one take. He was flanked by eight women holding NBA AFRICA flags, which led to a somewhat uncomfortable statement from Reggie Miller: “Win the crowd, you win your freedom.”

In the second round, he came from behind the basket to simultaneously dunk and grab a stuffed animal hanging out from the rim with his mouth. It took him a couple of tries, but so what? He grabbed the bear with his mouth!

JaVale McGee opened by dunking two basketballs in side-by-side regulation hoops. He then tried to top himself by — what else? — dunking three balls at once into a single basket. Thirteen combined attempts, zero worries. The end product was still phenomenal when he got the dunks down.

Blake Griffin needed three tries to complete a 360-degree, down-and-up dunk. It remained awesome. He copied Vince Carter in the second round by putting his forearm in the basket. But to his credit, he did bruise the inside of his elbow.

Blake’s worst dunk of the night was his last as he dunked over a Kia … kind of. He jumped over the hood, not the roof. That doesn’t count. If he had lined up three folding chairs, it would have held the same measure of difficulty. He needs to learn how to actually jump over a car.

But again, that finish wasn’t about the dunk. That moment was made by a church choir singing “I Believe I Can Fly” prior to the dunk.

While DeRozen was propless, his second-round attempt, a one-handed reverse, was pretty nasty. Plus, DeRozen gets a few extra points because the commentary of his coach, Darryl Dawkins, nearly overshadowed the event.

As much as Magic Johnson says it seemingly every year, the dunk contest is not “back.” It will never be “back” until a field of elite, well-known players return to the stage, which will never happen. But if the participators are willing to contribute some ingenuity, entertainment will be had and that’s all we want.

So bring your choir, cars, flags, stuffed animals, multiple hoops and multiple basketballs — three if you must! Then if you can actually dunk by your fifth try, that’s cool I guess. It is a dunk contest after all.

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