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Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
No one in recorded history has ever uttered the words: “The NBA’s dunk contest needs less sizzle.”
Au contraire, pundits and spectators alike are often left lamenting the lack of uniqueness and general derring-do after each stuff-fest—the 2016 ultra-mega-awesome showdown between Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine notwithstanding.
This impulse is natural. Dunk-contest participants can only be so creative year after year. One-upping the previous hallmark gets more difficult as the sample size mushrooms. Every above-the-rim concept is like an app: Someone, somewhere, has beaten you to the idea, even if it’s not yet in production.
Complicated still, professional basketball players have become brands unto themselves. Marquee names aren’t willing to attempt anything that may damage their standing or turn them into a Twitter-timeline laughingstock. This applies even to the youngest up-and-comers.
That Aaron Gordon, a dunk-contest veteran, was open to partaking in this year’s festivities, set for Feb. 17 at Staples Center, before suffering a hip injury, remains something of a minor shock. Players with his experience tend to sidestep recurring cameos at the risk of pigeonholing themselves to a stringent type.
Consider this a roundabout way of tempering expectations for Donovan Mitchell, Larry Nance Jr., Victor Oladipo and Dennis Smith Jr. Maybe they live up to the standard from 2016, but maybe they don’t.
If, however, they are determined to put on a show worthy of being ingrained into memory, they should look outside the NBA’s slam-dunk pantheon for inspiration. There, they’ll find an untapped well of opportunity fit for high-flying legends.
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Hurdling people isn’t new to the NBA’s dunk competition. But Guy Dupuy flew over eight people into a one-handed smackdown back in 2016.
Someone totally needs to go for nine, or 10, or a baker’s dozen.
What say you, 48-inch vertical-leaper Dennis Smith Jr.?
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Dunk-master general Jordan Kilganon has basically trademarked the scorpion jam. It can seem so simple in real time, but slow-motion replays reveal some serious disjointed flexibility.
Slamsters can spice up this form by bringing in props—people, chairs, ladders, a 5.4 million-piece LEGO Death Star set, etc.
Bonus points will be awarded to whoever completes this while wearing jeans. Jorts and a pair of Timberland’s are totally acceptable, too.
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All-Star Saturday Night historians will be quick to point out Michael Finley attempted a cartwheel dunk in 1997. My advice to these sticklers: Purge this from recall.
Far be it from me, you or any other sub-athletic human being to knock someone who can generate appreciable air. But Finley’s try looked more like a rusted Roly Poly doll wobbling to and fro than an actual cartwheel.
Anyone willing to attempt a genuine cartwheel while scooping up the ball in a single motion like Justin Darlington above instantly commits himself to basketball immortality.
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Housekeeping note: Get ready to see a lot of Jordan Kilganon highlights.
Another housekeeping note: I have no words for this one. The composure it takes to regain control of the ball mid-spin and then somehow find the rim is beyond comprehension.
It’ll take some serious gall—not to mention hangtime—for one of this year’s four participants to go for the Lost and Found, aka Hide and Seek stuff. Anyone who tries definitely risks looking silly.
If it helps one of them (cough, Donovan Mitchell, cough), we’re totally willing to accept a two-handed finish.
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Why no, members of the Slam Dunk Police Force, this isn’t cheating.
Zach LaVine didn’t attempt this 360-degree free-throw line jam during the dunk contest. He tore his ACL before getting the chance. And this gravity-defying maneuver isn’t similar enough to his quasi-free-throw-line between-the-legs dunk from the 2016 contest.
Taking off from the charity stripe is always a bold move—one met with equal parts anticipation, skepticism and, oftentimes, numbing yawns. But incorporating any sort of spin qualifies as a crowd-pleasing deviation from this classic jam.
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Enlisting someone capable of low-to-the-ground backflips is more than half the battle here. Sacramento Kings rookie Frank Mason III has been known to do reverse somersaults just for fun, but he’s dealing with a heel injury.
Corey Maggette is an under-the-radar candidate. He completed his own front-flip slam in 2001. But he’s 38. Asking for a standstill backflip in front of millions of television viewers is probably off the table.
Nate Robinson once kind-of, sort-of flipped over Paul Pierce while celebrating a game-winner. And he’s a youthful 33. Sticking him under the hoop in partnership with Dennis Smith Jr.’s zillion-inch vertical might do the trick.
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Taurian “Air Up There” Fontenette deserves a special place in all of our hearts for the above jam. Daniel Hyde’s 720-degree smash was straight fire as well.
The smart money is on no one having the wherewithal to go this route. Viewers will no doubt appreciate the effort, miss or make, but whiffing entirely opens up our high-flyers to the wrong kind of social-media virality.
The potential solution? Solicit Andrew Wiggins for a guest attempt. He’s tried the 720-degree stuff before. Maybe he can be convinced to do it again…this time on live national television.
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Feb. 17 isn’t that far removed from Feb. 14. One of the four contestants can get away with a Valentine’s Day-themed boomstick.
To ensure said dunk-contest participant—looking at you, Victor Oladipo—doesn’t exactly mirror Will Bunton, he can add a mid-air wink or perhaps play some mood-setting music.
Completing the “Smooch The Rim” while blaring “The Way You Look Tonight” as sung by Maggie Wheeler’s Friends character Janice Hosenstein would earn an automatic perfect score.
This obviously depends on the allotted props budget for each dunk, but maybe Maggie will record on the cheap knowing it’s for a good cause. She and Oladipo could even make it a duet.
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This probably breaks about a million-and-one building codes, but if Staples Center can get the necessary “Allowed to Set People on Fire” license or whatever, jumping over an incandescent being would make the memory of a lifetime.
Finding someone who’s up for being set ablaze might be a challenge. I’d volunteer as tribute, but, um, I have extremely sensitive skin. (I’m also a coward.)
Cedi Osman seems like someone who’d follow any one of his teammates into hell. Maybe Larry Nance Jr. can tap him for on-fire duty.
On second thought, hiring a professional stuntman is the safer call. After all, we wouldn’t want to wager the livelihood of the second-best player in Cleveland Cavaliers franchise history.
P.S. Kenny Dobbs and his supernova helper are heroic af.
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With all due respect to Blake Griffin, it would be great to see an NBA player clear the top of a car. Like, the actual top of a car. Not the hood. Not the trunk. The tippy-top of an automobile.
And none of this convertible cop-out stuff. Jordan Kilganon leap-frogged a hard-top whip with a person protruding from the sunroof.
Surely one of the best basketball players on Earth can do the same.
And hey! We’re not narcs. It doesn’t have to be a car. We’re game for a crossover SUV, small plane, bumboat, quadruple-stacked jet skis, Boban Marjanovic-sized drones, etc.
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This dunk has Larry Nance Jr.’s name written all over it. Zero science goes into this reasoning. He’s just a documented soccer fan—the type who dresses up his pets in L.A. Galaxy garb. He also tweeted once about playing soccer in high school. That tweet no longer exists, but it lives on forever in the second result of this Google search.
If Nance needs some pointers on how to recreate this work of art, he can always try commissioning Tyler Inman to be his dunk-contest sensei.
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Because, if Lancaster Bible College’s C.J. Dunston can bank in a three then between-the-legs dunk the rebound before the ball touches solid ground, why can’t an NBA player do the same?
Vote for Donovan Mitchell to imitate this Moreyball-on-steroids hammer. He’s shooting 65 percent on left-corner threes—second best among 180-plus players who have attempted at least 12 such shots, and by far the top mark within this year’s dunking quartet.
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Cedric Ceballos finished off a regular two-handed blindfolded jam during the 1992 dunk contest. Chase Budinger then paid homage to him in 2012, but with a 180-degree twist.
Someone else should push the bill even further, as Guy Dupuy does in the included video. Imagine the ensuing raucous if anyone throws down a blindfolded boom while jumping over a person and putting the ball between his legs.
Now, I’m not one to tell airborne scholars what to do. But Dennis Smith Jr. should absolutely be trying to soar over Dirk Nowitzki while using a Steve Nash Dallas Mavericks jersey as a veil.
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In the totally likely, not-at-all-implausible event a singular cartwheel isn’t daring enough but jumping over a backflipping-person prop is too risque, might we suggest this combination backflip-cartwheel sledgehammer, as portrayed by Jonathan Clark?
This looks and feels pretty tame compared to some of the other suggestions, but NBA players aren’t known for their gymnastics savvy.
Whereas they can simulate a cartwheel—see, again: Finley, Michael—a side-gyration-into-reverse-somersault-into-one-handed-alley-oop is something that can neither be feigned nor half-baked.
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Cross-sport-themed dunks are never a bad idea. This one borrows a soccer element in a way the contest has yet to see.
Remember Steve Nash’s header to Amar’e Stoudemire in the 2005 jam-off? Or the flip-kick from Nash to Andre Drummond in 2016?
Well, this would be like that—only way cooler.
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Name: Dan Favale
Cause of Death: Watching Tyler Inman throw down a one-handed self-lob after taking off from the gimme stripe.
Last Will and Testament: Your move, DSJ.
Unless otherwise cited, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference and accurate leading into games on Feb. 13.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R’s Andrew Bailey.