As All-Star Weekend nears, so begins the process of filling the competitive fields for a number of supplementary Saturday events. Chief among them is the dunk contest -- that spiral of creativity, athleticism, and disappointment unlike any other. Last year Toronto's Terrence Ross bested Utah's Jeremy Evans in one of the most nondescript (though not wholly disappointing) contests in recent memory, wherein the highest profile player involved was former dunk contest winner and then-NBA irrelevant Gerald Green.
The NBA naturally has its sights set a bit higher this season, as it is ought to do in its preliminary dunk contest invitations. Two of the more established players being courted: Pacers forward Paul George and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. George is no stranger to the contest itself (he was eliminated in the first round of the contest in 2012, largely because no one could really see his best entry), though he seems doubtful for a return. According to Candace Buckner if the Indianapolis Star, George didn't seem terribly eager to participate in any of All-Star Saturday's three main events, primarily due to the commitment involved:
Now certified as an in-demand NBA celebrity, George ranks second in the Eastern Conference in All-Star votes and will undoubtedly start in the game held on Feb. 17. George explained that he would rather take a respite and try to limit his schedule as much as possible.
"Exactly, I don't want to add to it by doing extra stuff," George said, responding to a comment that rest rarely happens during hectic All-Star weekends.
It should be noted that George hasn't entirely ruled out the possibility, though. From Scott Agness of Pacers.com:
When asked whether he had declined the offers, George said, “No, I haven’t declined. I’m keeping my options open.”
...“It would all depend on who’s in it,” he stated. “I want to be in it when the competition is good.”
Should George decline due to the responsibilities that come with being an All-Star starter and emerging superstar, that decision would make all the sense in the world. It's never as simple as showing up for the various events alone; the biggest NBA players are pulled in a million different directions come All-Star Weekend, and George has deservingly joined that class with his play this season. That a potential dunk contest appearance may be forfeit is a bummer, but a completely understandable one.
Jordan, on the other hand, seems to be have taken an entirely different tact in his response to the NBA's invitation. There isn't a chance in the world that Jordan is actually selected to the Western Conference All-Star team, yet the Clippers big man seems to consider it a precondition to his dunk contest participation. From Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
...when NBA officials approached the Clippers' center before Friday's game about being in the dunk contest, Jordan told them what his true wish was.
"I just told them I wanted to see what happens," Jordan said. "I'm not trying to disrespect them. But I want to be in the All-Star game as a player and not just as a dunker."
It's a familiar refrain from -- well, dunkers. Two-thirds of Jordan's made field goals this season have been dunks, and overall he leads the league in dunks with 109 this season. I've no doubt that Jordan would like to be appreciated for all else that he brings to the table, but he's a few tiers removed from a loaded class of Western Conference All-Star candidates. When a player like DeMarcus Cousins will likely have a hell of a time getting in, one like Jordan doesn't have much of a shot in the slightest.
Still, Jordan wouldn't be the first to skip out on the dunk contest as a means of combatting a dunk-centered reputation, and it's not as if his declining an invitation is some dramatic blow. This is the dunk contest -- not some event of high import. Some players will be interested, others will not. Yet if the history of the contest tells us anything it's that the final product is best served by the former, and if Jordan isn't keen to participate then that's quite alright. The NBA will continue through its list until it finds potential participants more eager, be it with George and a higher-profile crop or a group of show-stopping up-and-comers.PBT Eye on Basketball