That is Maintaining Rating, the place Albert Samaha dissects the juiciest dramas of the sports activities world.
Yearly, halfway by way of the season, the NBA hosts its All-Star Weekend festivities that includes a slate of low-stakes competitions. Probably the most polarizing is the dunk contest, through which a handful of gamers attempt to impress a judging panel with aerial acrobatics — principally like Olympic diving that ends with a ball in a hoop as an alternative of a splash in a pool.
The winner of this yr’s dunk contest, which occurred final Saturday, was Mac McClung.
Not accustomed to McClung? Neither have been the numerous NBA followers who don’t comply with highschool basketball. McClung, who reached mild internet virality because of his gravity-defying dunks as a young person in 2017 and 2018, is now a fringe participant who has spent a lot of his professional profession within the NBA’s minor leagues.
Not way back, gamers like McClung wouldn’t have been invited to the competition, which was once reserved for greater names. However occasions have modified, to the chagrin of a sure type of old-school hoops fan. Considered one of them, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, said this week that LeBron James, the NBA’s greatest star, had “ruined” the dunk contest. James has infamously by no means participated, regardless of as soon as saying he would. By Smith’s reasoning, different stars have adopted James’s lead. Even the league’s greatest present dunker, the explosive Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies, has mentioned he has no plans to participate within the contest.
For these NBA followers, this reluctance to compete in a meaningless spectacle embodies all that’s unsuitable with the league: allegedly entitled athletes who lack the unquenchable aggressive spirit of the sport’s most unimpeachable icon, Michael Jordan.
You see, Jordan competed within the dunk contest 3 times, successful twice. In 1988, he went face to face in opposition to fellow star Dominique Wilkins in a memorable showdown extensively thought-about to be the best dunk contest of all time.
The lore of that occasion casts a shadow from which no high-flying NBA famous person can escape. Nevertheless it’s an unfair normal.
The dunk contest had solely been round since 1976, and no one was recurrently hovering for dunks in basketball video games till Elgin Baylor did it within the Sixties. The dunks Jordan amazed individuals with in 1988? They have been unique and exquisite, however anybody who executed them as we speak would draw yawns, like if Thomas Edison arrange a gathering with Google engineers to point out them his lightbulb.
The dunk contest will get tougher yearly as a result of we viewers develop numb to every development of the craft. Improvements come fewer and additional between. In 2000, Vince Carter put collectively the greatest dunk contest performance of all time with a sequence of jams that includes by no means earlier than seen spins and tips, together with one through which he jumped so excessive that he dipped his forearm into the online and hung from the rim by his elbow — Jordan himself called it “essentially the most superb dunk” he had ever seen. This yr, when Jericho Sims of the New York Knicks hung from the rim by two elbows, the group barely cheered.
Standing out within the dunk contest requires an rising degree of creativity and a corresponding quantity of thought and time. Do Lakers followers really need James spending hours every week choreographing a high-flying act outlandish sufficient to awaken our jaded souls?
As a substitute, why not let the McClungs of the world earn their option to the highlight by honing their aerial artwork whereas the larger stars cheer them on?
“He solidified himself,” James said of McClung in a press convention on Sunday, “as one of many best slam dunk opponents we’ve ever had.” ●