CHICAGO — “C’mon man. What’re we doing?”
Aaron Gordon, now a two-time dunk contest runner-up, said it himself, following a bizarre, entertaining-as-hell marathon double-overtime dunk contest that concluded with his spontaneous scaling of 7'5" Tacko Fall, only to find out he lost, yet again. Gordon bowed out with a 47 on his sixth and final dunk, ceding the duel to Derrick Jones Jr., after stringing together perfect, 50-grade scores on his first five attempts. The crowd seemed to think Gordon had won it. He had not. “That should be a wrap,’ Gordon said. “It’s over. Who’s running the show?”
The Orlando Magic forward sat bemused and roughly as confused as everyone else in the United Center after a generally agreeable All-Star Saturday ended with a dose of anticlimax. There were echoes of his epic-yet-frustrating 2016 loss in Toronto at the hands of Zach LaVine. He lost again in 2017 after botching a slightly-too-arduous dunk that involved a drone.
But Gordon’s arsenal of acrobatic, muscular dunks—around and through his own legs, over and around Chance the Rapper and a forgettable moment involving dancing girls who I’m told went viral on TikTok—still leave you reeling. They culminated with an impromptu jam over Fall, a fan favorite, and an inarguably difficult individual to jump over.
“The tallest dude in the gym,” Gordon said. The Celtics rookie was conscripted into action only after Shaquille O’Neal declined.”
"Being able to get over him, that's difficult, man,” Jones ceded. “If I would have thought of it earlier, I'd have did it.”
None of this to take away from Jones, whose stylish, high-velocity series of left-handed pirouettes deserved props, and in the end stood a worthy victor on his 23rd birthday. The Heat forward told reporters he’d dreamed of winning since he was a kid, and that he’d be back next year for more. “[Aaron] clipped Tacko's head when he did that dunk, so I knew they couldn't have given him a 50 for that one. I would have respected it if they gave him another 48, so we can go again.”
As it turned out, entertainer-turned-contest judge Common told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that the panel had planned for things to end in a tie, which would actually have led to a “judges choice” vote, with opinions put to the grindstone. The group of five included Heat legend Dwyane Wade, WNBA great Candace Parker, actor Chadwick Boseman and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, and was not overly judicious in handing out a slew of perfect scores throughout the night. (Safe to say, not all 50s are created equal). Then again, ascribing weighty meaning and crying foul over an event that’s inherently meaningless beyond the fun, well, doesn’t really mean a whole lot.
Bucks swingman Pat Connaughton finished third after scoring 95 on his first two dunks, one point short of Jones. His first was a costumed, definitely-too-on-the-nose homage to White Men Can’t Jump. His second drew a perfect score and required elevating long enough to tap the ball on the backboard first. Dwight Howard, apparently the dunk contest’s first-ever legacy inclusion, showed up in his Lakers uniform, which is still weird. He scored a 50 on an alley-oop that paid tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.
For what it was worth, Jones’s aggregate score—294 out of a possible 300 points on six dunks—was still less than Gordon’s 297. The silent saltiness of the crowd washing out into the night said it best.
“It’s a wrap, bro. It's a wrap,” Gordon said at the end of the night, haphazardly announcing his retirement from future dunk contests. “I feel like I should have two trophies, you know what I mean? It's over for that.
“My next goal is going to be trying to win the three-point contest.”
At this point, his luck probably won’t change.