The 15 Biggest Disappointments in NBA Dunk Contest History….you probably don’t remember
No basketball event disappoints fans, receives more criticism and NBA tinkering on an annual basis than the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Once considered the highlight of NBA All-Star weekend with the NBA’s best and most exciting players — from Dr J to MJ to Nique to Pippen and Clyde Drexler — to an event that the NBA and fans are contemplating giving a million dollars to LeBron James to compete, when Michael Jordan only won $12,500.
It’s hard to point a finger at one person or cause for the downfall of the dunk contest. Most will say the NBA, who even cancelled the contest in 98 after a lack luster win by rookie Kobe Bryant the year before, is most responsible because of it’s constant format changes, including the disastrous Wheel that wanted short off two feet dunkers like Steve Francis to jump off one foot and do a 360 statue of liberty dunk.
Then we had the gimmicks that turned the dunk contest into a spectacle that split fans. To the average basketball fan, watching dunkers involve celebrities and their moms, blow out candles, save teddy bears for crying children and jumping over cars to the sound of a choir is great entertainment. To many dunkers and dunk fans, it was a mockery of the art. Like all art, there’s only a small minority that can fully appreciate the most critically acclaimed pieces — from film to music — and rarely do those pieces fall under profitable mainstream success.
So what happened was the contestants stopped introducing new dunks and just brought more entertaining ways of doing the same old dunks. This supported the perception that there’s no new dunks that can be done. But amateur dunkers featured on Ballislife over the past 5 years have proven this theory wrong and shown over the past decade that most of the best dunks have never been seen by fans of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest (here’s 27 examples).
Now here’s where the amateur and “YouTube” dunkers have ruined the contest. They have created the perception — via short 1-2 minute long montages made up of hours of raw footage that included way more misses than makes and sometimes on rims slightly less than 10 feet in a no pressure empty gym — that a good dunk contest contestant should be able to perform the best dunks from these montages on any given attempt on any given day at any given event. That’s just not happening, especially with the pressure of millions of people in the crowd, watching on TV, on their computers, tablets and phones, texting and tweeting every second of the event. It’s a pressure that puts marketable All-Stars in a low incentive can’t win situation that they just don’t want to deal with. And since the average NBA fan rather see a great player do a mediocre dunk than a mediocre player do a great dunk, we end up with the 2013 NBA dunk contest that you have probably already forgot about.
The most disappointing moments in NBA Dunk Contest history, like the 2013 disaster, have been discussed many times over the years — most recently by Dunkademics — so I made up a list of the 15 most disappointing moments (in no particular order) that you probably don’t know about or remember. So you wont hear much more about the Wheel, LeBron not competing, Josh Smith and the mysterious tape or me talk about the 88 home job again that saw Michael Jordan win in Chicago with the help of some judges that thought MJ deserved a 50 on his free throw line dunk in the finals after missing it and making it in the first round and only getting a 47. If you watch any NBA recaps of the contest, don’t expect to see any of this footage because they removed it the same way Topps removed Michael Jordan from a card showing John Starks famous dunk on the Bulls — that’s another story.
- Charles Barkley, Iverson and Grant Hill dropping out because of injuries
The first NBA dunk contest was stacked with dunk legends from Dr J to Dr Dunkenstien to the Human Highlight Film and the Glyde but it was Larry Nance that came out victorious. Charles Barkley was originally a contestant and it would have been really interesting to see how well Barkley’s power dunks would have done in this event. Even if he didn’t do that well, I’m sure he would have done better than Edgar Jones.
Grant Hill and Allen Iverson both dropped out of the 1997 dunk contest, which was won by Kobe Bryant. Iverson was reportedly looking forward to the contest and thought he had a good chance since he was the shortest guy but a shoulder problem and bruised ribs made him drop out. Those injuries didn’t seem to bother him when he played in and won MVP of the the Rookie Game that took place on the same day. The NBA cancelled the contest the next year but if Hill and Iverson were able to compete maybe things would have been different.
- Shawn Kemp & Clyde Drexler losing 4 & 5 times
Nowadays big names wont compete in the contest but in the 80s and 90s it wasn’t uncommon for the league’s best to compete and lose multiple times. And nobody has lost more than Dream Team member and members of the NBA’s Top 50 players Clyde Drexler,who lost five times.
Before Kemp’s final contest he said he didn’t want to be known as the Jim Kelly of the NBA dunk contest. Less than a hour later, he was the Jim Kelly of the NBA dunk contest.
- Spud Webb’s not so memorable follow-ups to his Cinderella win
We all remember that magical night when 5’7″ Spud Webb won the NBA dunk contest by beating his teammate Nique. What we don’t want to remember is Spud Webb getting eliminated in the 1st round of the 1988 dunk contest with the two lowest scores of the contest. He came back again the next year and was eliminated in the semi-finals.
- No dunk contest during 98 & 99
Go back to #1 for the reasons why the NBA cancelled the 98 contest and then the NBA had a lockout the next year. Thankfully when the NBA did return we were treated to the return of the dunk contest and it turned out to be the best one ever with Vince Carter, T-Mac, Steve Francis and Larry Hughes…maybe not because of Larry.
- Let(blank)dunk.com: Shannon Brown, Demar & James White
The LetShannonDunk.com website and campaign was a great idea in 2009 to get Shannon Brown into the NBA dunk contest. It worked and Shannon made the contest only to do absolutely nothing impressive in it. The most memorably moment of Brown’s performance was getting Kobe to pass him the ball.
We created the LetDemarDunk.com campaign, which helped get DeMar DeRozan in the contest but he was robbed by the judges. Most recently, K1x did a big #LetJamesWhiteDunk campaign for the Knick’s James White and the 2013 dunk contest happened…or didn’t happen…or just happened the way it happened.
- LSU dunkers (Shaq, Rauf, Stromile & Tyrus Thomas)
During Shaq’s rookie year he dunked on every major center in the league and took down two backboards. The league asked him to compete but he declined and said it would be too easy for him to win. Another rookie, Harold Miner, would end up winning the 92 contest.
In 2001, Shaq picked LSU alumni Stromile Swift to win the 2001 dunk contest against a very disappointing follow-up lineup to the 2000 dunk contest. Swift finished 3rd behind Deshawn Stevenson and Desmond Mason. Like Swift, Tyrus Thomas was another big man from LSU that showed lots of potential and posterized a lot of of defenders but finished last in the 2007 contest against Gerald Green, Nate and Dwight.
- Minor drop off: From Harold to Greg
Thanks to Shaq not competing in the 92 contest. Harold Miner won 2 NBA dunk contests. He declined to do the 1996 dunk contest after beating JR Rider in 95 and a last second addition was Greg Minor of the Boston Celtics. Although Minor finished 3rd in a week contest that saw Brent Barry win by doing the free throw line dunk twice, he just wasn’t the Minor we wanted to see.
- The NBA ignoring Russell Westbrook and inviting Durant and Ibaka instead
Kevin Durant is a great (understatement) player but it was a joke when the NBA invited him to compete in the dunk contest, especially considering his teammate Russell Westbrook said he wanted to be in it. Not only did the NBA ignore the best dunker on the Thunder, they invited Durant then Serge Ibaka when KD declined. Ibaka finished last in the 2011 dunk contest.
There’s been a lot of other impressive high flyers like Terrence Williams that have campaigned to get into the dunk contest but the league continued to ignore them and invite guys like Chase Budinger instead.
- Defending Darrell Armstrong
What people don’t know was he was injured and taken off the IL a week before the dunk contest just so he could participate and entertain Shaq and Penny, who pushed him into the contest. That was also during the time when the dunk contest format was a 90 second timed routine and with the time running out and no hope of advancing to the next round, Darrel just threw up a layup at the buzzer. The perception built over time is that Darrell actually did a layup for a dunk attempt.[youtube id="sCqwoZmO7Eo" width="600" height="350"]
- Davis Dunkers: Antonio, Baron and Ricky
There’s been some great dunkers in the NBA with the last name of Davis and the Hornets had two of them that I thought had a good chance of winning. Baron Davis came in 3rd place in the 2001 contest and Ricky Davis finished 4th in the stacked (no pun intended) 2000 contest beating only Stackhouse and Larry Hughes. Ricky returned 4 years later as a member of the Celtics only to finish last and (worse) behind Chris Anderson. For some reason 6’9″ Antonio Davis competed in the 94 dunk contest against the likes of JR Rider, Robert Pack and Shawn Kemp. He was so awful that even Allan Houston finished ahead of him. [youtube id="emGO4Wph-aE" width="600" height="350"]
- Darvin Ham’s last place finish in the last contest of the 90s
The 2007 contest with Kobe has been brought up for a lot of reasons and here’s another reason why the last contest of the 90s was a disaster. Darvin Ham was eliminated in the first round and probably deserved to advance over Finley and Carr. [youtube id="RWcR0N4iGSk" width="600" height="350"]
- 2002 Tournament format
The NBA messed around with the format a lot in the past decade and the Wheel from 2002 is the favorite to pick on but what most people don’t remember about this contest was the NBA created a tournament format where 2 players faced off against each other in the first round and the winners of those two faced off in the finals. After getting eliminated in the 1st against Gerald Wallace, Steve Francis said he was done with the contest.[youtube id="3v-lij6N0Z0" width="600" height="350"]
- 2012 fan voting by text & twitter
I’ve seen fan voting ruin so many contests over the past few years when finalist found ways of winning by having large followings on social networks vote for them eventhough they had no idea what dunks were even done. I’ve also seen local favorites win at events because they had the most family and friends. Then we have the 2012 NBA dunk contest that was determined 100% by fan voting via text and tweets. The controversial gimmick heavy contest was won by Jeremy Evans with only 29% of the votes which was 1% more than Chase Budinger and 5% more than Paul “glow in the dark” George. The next year the NBA ditched the text voting and just made the final round a fan voting event via Twitter.[youtube id="9JUSJXSN85k" width="600" height="350"]
- The Sprite Slam Dunk-in with Eric Gordon and DeMar DeRoza
DeMar DeRozan finished 2nd in the 2010 dunk contest but almost missed the opportunity to be there because he had to participate in a silly “Slam Dunk-In” against Eric Gordon the night before. Gordon and DeRozan had to perform two dunks each and the winner would be decided by….fan voting via text and tweets! Thankfully the NBA killed this idea.[youtube id="ML1w0-F9MyQ" width="600" height="350"]
- Larry Johnson, Ceballos & Drexler refusing to dunk in the finals
I mentioned earlier that Drexler was a loser in 5 dunk contests so I’m going to excuse him for not wanting to do a final dunk when he knew he wasn’t going to win but Larry Johnson was the favorite going into the 1992 dunk contest and had the highest scores in every round going into the finals but after 2 mediocre dunks and watching Cedric Ceballos score a 50 on his blindfold dunk, LJ decided to forfeit and not do a final dunk. Since he didn’t do a dunk that meant that Cedric was the winner so he skipped his final dunk too. A similar thing almost happened a few years later when JR Rider won his first dunk contest. He didn’t want to do a final dunk because he already had the contest won with his east bay funk dunk but eventually threw down a dunk for the fans.[youtube id="LrPF0-WbkQ4" width="600" height="350"]