Another year, another NBA All-Star Weekend in the books with a game that was actually pretty entertaining and saw the players try in the fourth quarter. But the one event that usually stands out as the marquee event of the weekend was a letdown, I am of course talking about the Slam Dunk Contest.
Coming into the contest fans were excited about the four competitors, Victor Oladipo, Donovan Mitchell, Larry Nance Jr., and Dennis Smith Jr., who are legitimately athletic guy who can throw it down.
But aside from two dunks, one of which somehow didn’t advance Smith to the final round, they were pretty tame, and nothing super special that brought the crowd at home or online into a frenzy.
But I have a theory as to why the Dunk Contest is either a massive hit, or a big dud like it was this year: There is only so much that a human can do with a basketball.
Hear me out on this, I compare it to watching the X-Games (or I guess the Olympics), when somebody is the first to do an amazing trick, spin, flip, or whatever on their snowboard or skis, everyone goes crazy and you see the replay 9,000 times over the next few days, and that person is arguably the most recognized athlete in the world until the novelty of that trick finally wears off. But then once they do that trick it becomes the new standard that EVERYONE in the event tries to replicate for next year’s event, and then when you see it five times in the same event it isn’t as exciting anymore.
And that’s the problem with the dunk contest, especially because dunking a basketball has been mainstream far longer than skateboarding or snowboarding. There were amazing dunks back in the dunk contests in the 1980s, then some awesome jams by Vince Carter when he set the world on fire with his performance, and a few fun ones by Dwight Howard in his prime.
When Vince Carter laps the field with nothing but awesome dunks, the crowd and NBA is constantly chasing that moment, and selling you on the idea that you could see that at every dunk contest, when 99 percent of the time they don’t come close to replicating that.
Add in that as media evolved, you didn’t just see the guys in the NBA pulling off dunks. How many times on Twitter of Facebook do you see somebody post a dunk from some guy in a high school game, or some small college game, or the And1 guys dunking. We’ve saturated the market with too many dunks, to the point where good ones in the actual contest are no longer impressive.
But again, it all cycles back to the idea that there’s only so much a human being with a basketball. You can only spin so much or have the ball go between your legs or around your back so often while still being 10-feet above the ground to actually dunk the ball. And you saw starting around 2010 when Howard and others starting bring props like cars out onto the court to try to make you forget the fact that their dunk wasn’t that great, but it was over a car! So that makes it good.
So while there will still be great dunks going forward, you’re unlikely to see an electric performance where someone dominates from start to finish like Vince Carter did, and that’s because we’ve seen pretty much everything you possibly can when it comes to dunking a basketball.