LOS ANGELES—NBA fans all over the world are still reeling from last weekend’s All-Star festivities, and L.A. Clipper forward Blake Griffin’s star shines even brighter with his multiple appearances throughout. Griffin impressed spectators by playing in both the Rookie Challenge and the All-Star Game, but what people will remember most is his performance in the Sprite Slam Dunk.
The imagination of the competitors held off any suspicion that the contest is due for its cyclical lull. Following the lead of dunk contest showmen like Nate Robinson and Dwight Howard, Thunder center Serge Ibaka, Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, Wizards center Javale McGee and Blake Griffin worked to maintain—and surpass—the standards that those previous champions set for this generation.
These four young men featured their talents using aerial contortion, multiple balls (and rims!) and other props; one prop dunk even had a skit written into it. There isn’t much to criticize about the exceptional display of athleticism and creativity. However, the consistency with which the Slam Dunk has entertained in recent years will, in itself, demand another level of excellence in an area that has been largely overlooked by judges: extra attempts.
Analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith have commented on the diminishing returns that come with failing on the first try in the Slam Dunk for years. And although the near-impossible execution of the dunks this year made fans forgive their lackluster previews, the electricity of getting it right the first time will become an important part of scoring now that the contest is just as much about pageantry as it is vertical leap and dexterity.
Perhaps it is fitting that the Slam Dunk was so close to Hollywood this year. In a town designed for multiple takes, DeRozan, Griffin, Ibaka and McGee fit right in. But even when the dunks reached perfection, it was clear that what fans really crave is the experience of saying, “Did you see what he just did?” without their friends saying, “Yeah, kind of.”