Adam Silver has to find a way to convince these three to dunk on All-Star Weekend. (Getty Images)
"The Point Forward All-Stars" will have a new theme each week centered on a single shared trait that brings together the team members. This week, we present The All-Dunk Contest Team, a six-man dream lineup of the best active dunkers in the NBA.
Previously: The All-Grateful Team | The East's All-Letdown Team | The All-Atrocious Team | The All-Ignored Team | The All-Stocking Stuffer Team | The All-Recalibration Team | The All-Payday Team | The All-Gridiron Team | The All-Sanctioned Team
The ink wasn't even dry on outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern's thoughtful "farewell" email to the media before the conversation had already shifted to the challenges and opportunities facing his successor, Adam Silver.
David Aldridge made a strong, clear case for Silver to find a way to return a team to Seattle. Ken Berger noted that the success of Silver's tenure could hinge on the league's continued quest for global marketing domination. Howard Beck interviewed NBA players, executives, fans, owners and agents to come up with a laundry list of issues for Silver to address, which included a number old favorites like flopping, tanking, instant replay, and the age limit.
Allow me to add a more lighthearted, but nevertheless pressing, agenda item: Please, Mr. Silver, fix the Slam Dunk Contest and save All-Star Weekend.
Executives like Stern and Silver spend months, years, sometimes even decades trying to build a consensus on hot button issues. Guess what? A strong consensus on the Slam Dunk Contest already exists: it's fun, but it would be so, so, so, so much better if the stars participated.
Everyone agrees with this. I agree with this. You agree with this. The most die-hard NBA fan you know agrees with this (even if he might try to pseudo-intellectually claim that "Jeremy Evans actually is a great dunker" before relenting). Casual NBA fans agree with this (Dwight Howard knew what he was doing when he donned the Superman cape in 2008, as did Blake Griffin, when he vaulted over the hood of a Kia in 2011).
Even Kevin Durant, the favorite to win the 2014 MVP award, agrees with this.
"It's time for LeBron James, Mr. [Russell] Westbrook, Mr. [Derrick] Rose and Dwyane Wade to get in the Dunk Contest," Durant tweeted in 2012.
NBA legend Magic Johnson, whose "Showtime" Lakers ran concurrently with the Dunk Contest's best years, agrees with this.
"Please, LeBron, get in the dunk contest," Johnson said last year on ESPN. "I'm going to put up a million dollars. A million dollars from Magic to LeBron. Please get in the dunk contest. I go every year. I want to see you out there. A million to the winner."
This guy has never participated in the Slam Dunk Contest. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Bill Simmons, perhaps the NBA media's leading voice, has agreed with this -- and pushed for reforms -- for at least a decade.
Let's daydream and imagine a hypothetical world in which Silver made fixing the Slam Dunk Contest his top priority when he found out in Oct. 2012 that Stern was planning to step down. Let's say he privately met with stars like James and Griffin, asking them what it would take -- financially or otherwise -- to secure their participation and begin the planning. Let's say he then met with executives from the league's leading global advertising partners and secured a massive prize money pot that ensured a major pay day for the Slam Dunk Contest winner and seven figures minimum to each of the participants.
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Let's say the culmination of that groundwork came on Thursday, when Silver joined TNT's "Inside The NBA" set to reveal a bona fide, no weak links, star-studded, A-list dream team field of Slam Dunk Contest competitors, the type of list that would leave even Charles Barkley at a loss for words. And, let's say that Silver dropped the mic by saying: "I want to be known as the man who saved the Slam Dunk Contest."
Imagine if that happened! He would be the most popular sports commissioner ever. Fans would hail the dawning of a new era and flood YouTube with teaser videos hyping each of the candidates. NBA players would surely share in the excitement. Twitter would definitely crash, but not before Silver was the subject of at least six trending topics simultaneously. A Change.org petition demanding Silver's immediate election into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame would be circulating within 24 hours. Barack Obama would phone his congratulations to Silver, or write Silver a hand-written note of gratitude, or invite Silver to the White House for a game of one-on-one. Hell, maybe all three. Just imagine the ramifications if this happened.
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Fixing the Dunk Contest might not carry the gravity of a new arena deal, or the return of the SuperSonics, or improving the D-League, but the digitally-savvy Silver must understand that we are smack dab in the middle of the dunk's golden age. Whether you are James, Griffin, a relatively anonymous NBA player, a Division III walk-on, a high school phenom, a 20-something jumping into a pool, or a middle schooler pranking his friend in the hallway, you now have the chance to reach a global audience if you execute a great dunk. If it's forceful, creative, funny or new, your dunk has a chance to be viewed by millions of people worldwide, in their offices and in their homes, on their computers, tablets and phones, on Vine, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, whatever. The world has never been flatter -- and the distance between supply and demand has never been shorter -- for posterizations, 360s and whatever else you can come up with. Isn't "right now, right here" the perfect time and place for a Slam Dunk Contest revival?
Here's my dream six-man field for the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest. The real field will be announced on Thursday.
2013 champ Terrence Ross
would defend his title against a star-studded field. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)
Terrence Ross, Raptors
The 22-year-old Ross is the defending champion, and in a dream world, defending champions would be mandatory participants in the Slam Dunk Contest (exceptions made for injuries, of course). There's no small amount of intrigue in five competitors gunning for the reigning king's throne, even if a return visit requires some extra creativity to come up with new material.
It appears that Ross is already practicing for this year's contest, which is great. Anyone who can throw down like this over Kenneth Faried is a must-have.
Green, 28, just might be the NBA's most revered leaper. Like Ross, he is a previous champion (2007), and it's a true shame that he told Suns.com back in October that he is "so sick" and "done with" the dunk contest after three appearances. Phoenix has had a truly amazing season, point guard Goran Dragic was among the leading All-Star snubs, and it would have been great for the franchise to have Green as a representative in New Orleans.
The Point Forward ranked the greatest Slam Dunk Contests of all time last year, and Green played a prominent role in the list's pick for the No. 4 spot, the 2008 contest. Although Howard won, Green earned underdog/cult hero status for his famous cupcake dunk, as well as a between-the-legs windmill while wearing only socks and no shoes.
He almost stole the show again during the 2013 contest, but he wasn't quite able to pull off a "double dunk," wherein he removed the net and tried to dunk the ball with his right hand into his left hand and then finish a second dunk with his left hand before returning to earth.
This season has produced one highlight dunk after another for Green, and one wonders whether the possibility of a major cash prize -- and/or some personalized arm-twisting from Silver -- would help a Dunk Contest veteran like him put aside his past experiences and give it another go.
Come back, Blake Griffin. The Dunk Contest needs you. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)
Did Michael Jordan quit after one Dunk Contest? (No, he did three). Did Dominique Wilkins? (No, five.) Did Julius Erving? (No, two in the NBA, plus his prior ABA work.) Did Spud Webb? (No, three.) Did Clyde Drexler? (No, five, and he never even won!) Did Jason Richardson? (No, three.) Did Shawn Kemp? (No, four.) Did Howard? (No, three.) Did Green? (No, three.) Did Desmond Mason? (No, three.) Did Nate Robinson? (No, four, although he probably outlasted his welcome.)
The only Slam Dunk Contest champions besides Griffin to go one-and-done were Brent Barry, Dee Brown, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, and Fred Jones. Of those five, only Carter's performance was so tantalizing that it demanded an encore. Griffin belongs next to Carter in that discussion. The Point Forward ranked his 2011 contest win at No. 6 in the top 10 of all time, as it included far more than just the "jump over the Kia" dunk that will always stand as its legacy. More. More. More.
Fixing the Dunk Contest requires buy-in from the biggest names year after year, not just on one-off occasions. Griffin is still just 24, he's putting people on posters on a regular basis during games, he's capable of leaping/power combinations that no one else in the world can match, and he's shown he has the guts to put himself out there on that stage before.
In a true dream world, Griffin would be this generation's Wilkins, stringing together a half-decade of appearances in a row, taking on all challengers, winning some, losing some, generating year-round excitement for the event, and creating real rivalries.
The No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft is one of four first-time All-Stars this year and he would add some serious juice to the Dunk Contest. Wall, 23, was invited to participate, but is still unsure whether he was going to accept, according to CSNWashington.com.
I take his invitation as a sign that the league's selection committee has good taste and the proper amount of ambition. Wall is fast, bouncy, explosive, powerful, essentially ambidextrous and has a showman's flair. There's a lot of Dunk Contest potential at play.
This mixtape is a few years old, but it offers a taste of what Wall might bring to the table if he did decide to accept the invite, or if Silver found a way to get him involved down the road.
reportedly declined an invitation to be in this year's Dunk Contest. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images Sport)
Paul George, Pacers
The degree to which George's profile has risen over the last few years is mind-blowing. As The Point Forward noted in January, he received more than 1.2 million All-Star votes, a figure that was at least 20 times more than the number he received last year. The Pacers forward now stands just a cut below the likes of James and Durant in terms of popularity, but he's not just a "big name." He's a big name who can absolutely slay the rim.
Like Wall, George was reportedly invited to compete in this year's contest, but he told the Indianapolis Star that he declined. He also called the 2012 contest a "joke" after he participated, but failed to win.
This is where a little salesmanship and vision from Silver is needed. "Mr. George: You once campaigned to be in the contest, you're an amazing dunker, you're a huge star with limitless potential, we want you back in the contest, and we want you to be excited to be back. What do we need to do? How do we turn this thing from a 'joke' into an unforgettable memory for you and your millions of fans?"
After all, if George is pulling off Vince Carter-esque Dunk Contest material during games, he needs to be front and center in New Orleans.
LeBron James, Heat
Last week, ESPN.com reported that James wanted to sit down with Silver to "just throw out some ideas where I hope the league can be better." The back-to-back MVP added: "Hopefully [Silver] has some ideas for me."
Although Durant is coming for James' MVP crown and the Pacers, Thunder, Spurs and others will push the Heat for this year's title, anything and everything in the basketball world still revolves around James. He is the game's Alpha and Omega. That's especially true for the Dunk Contest discussion, which James has personally stoked by saying he would "preliminarily" compete in the 2010 contest (before failing to follow through) and making a Nike commercial last summer in which he participates in a Dunk Contest. James has proud, accomplished icons like Durant and Magic -- among many others -- practically begging for him to throw his hat in the ring, and he's openly flirted with the idea on multiple occasions. How can Silver grease these skids and seal the deal?
There just aren't any excuses left for James, who at 29 has conquered the world, won two titles, captured two gold medals at the Olympics, and accumulated a stack of MVP trophies and numerous other individual awards. Someone this accomplished and established in his field can't be worried about the potential for embarrassment, can he? James might posit that he's an "in-game dunker" but that's nothing more than a convenient (and lazy) excuse. Ditto the "injury risk" angle, which is poppycock. James puts on a show in games, before games, after games and everywhere in between. The Slam Dunk Contest should be his perfect stage.
Besides surpassing Jordan's championship ring total and moving up the league's all-time scoring list, what other mountains are left for James to climb? Wouldn't non-participation in the Dunk Contest go down as one of the most aggravating aspects of his otherwise-sterling Hall of Fame career? This obviously isn't on the level of "The Decision," but it's still something that will confound and frustrate future generations of basketball fans. Thirty years from now, young minds could well be forced to grapple with an unanswerable question: "What do you mean the best post-Jordan player and the biggest post-Jordan star never even competed in a single Dunk Contest?"
And, another one: "Why didn't the league do anything about?"
To quickly recap, the dream 2014 Slam Dunk Contest field includes four past participants (Ross, Green, George, and Griffin), three past champions (Ross, Green and Griffin), four 2014 All-Stars (Wall, George, Griffin and James), and one white whale (James). Star power, proven dunkers, youth, off-the-charts athleticism, great personalities: check, check, check, check, and check. If assembled, this would be the best group, on paper, in at least 20 years.
The dream field also includes four players who should be considered fairly attainable (Ross, Green, Wall and George), three of whom have apparently been extended invitations. In other words, the broken reality isn't all that far from the dream. All that's missing is the elusive buy-in from superstars, and the vision to make it happen.
Regardless of who gets the call, we will all be watching this year's contest. The joy of the dunk and the history of the event has ensured the Dunk Contest's relevance. But until the best of the best are there, something big will be missing.
Now that he's the boss, Silver should start with this dream and brainstorm innovative ways to achieve it, rather than sticking to a reality that has left the basketball world so regularly unsatisfied and underwhelmed.
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