Word on the street is that NBA officials were high-fiving each other after this year's All-Star Saturday. Coming out of the dark ages of the Nate Robinson era, each of the four contestants brought something new to the table and this year's contest was a definite improvement. However, the props, dunk coaches, staged events and product placement were a huge turn-off for me.
Like millions of others, I tuned into to see Blake Griffin. I wanted to see him pull off some crazy, evolutionary Dominique Wilkins and Shawn Kemp crossed with Jason Richardson-type stuff. Not Blake Griffin dunking over the hood of a Kia (the official car of the NBA, by the way). Not a choir that caused us to almost miss Griffin's dunk entirely (funny how the choir soloist was singing "If I can see it..." just as we missing Griffin's approach). Not Kenny Smith, who somehow got it into his head that we were tuning in to see him instead of his "protege" (I like Kenny on TNT on Thursday nights, but he was too much to handle this weekend.)
Two years ago, the dunk contest hit a low-point for me with the whole staged "Superman vs. KryptoNate" garbage. Along with the whole storyline of Shaq and Kobe kissing-and-making up (capped by their Co-MVP awards, amazing how the text-in-your-vote from hundreds of thousands of people could come out dead even), the All-Star weekend felt more like a WWE pay-per-view than a basketball competition. This year was even worse. I don't need Daryl Dawkins struggling to read off a piece of paper, or Cheryl Miller asking an obviously rehearsed question. I definitely don't need a child actor running onto the court to fetch a stuffed animal hanging on the rim (by the way, wouldn't the kid be even more upset after Serge got the animal down on the first try, but cruelly put it back on the rim to complete his attempt?)
Back in the day, the dunk contest was nothing but a ball, a rim and the creativity of the most athletic players in the league. Watch some of the old classic Jordan vs. 'Nique footage and you'll see those guys stalking the court, trying to decide what dunk to do next. That spontaneity can't happen today, when seemingly every dunk demands logistics planning weeks in advance.
The dunk contest definitely hit a lull starting with Dee Brown in 1991, Ced Ceballos in 1992 (the blindfold dunk was dumb then and has not aged well) and Harold Miner in 1993. Other than Isiah Rider with the first between the legs dunk in 1994, there was very little you could call new or original in the entire decade of the 90's. Things were so bad that from 1994 to 1997, the contest consisted of only two rounds with one dunk in each round. Then the dunk contest was scrapped altogether in 1998 (and 1999, from the strike).
Things improved starting in 2000 (the Vince Carter year) and guys like Carter, Richardson, Desmond Mason and Andre Iguodala injected some originality back into the contest. Every other year, Magic Johnson would scream, "The Dunk Contest is now back!" like clockwork. The problem was, every year that Magic Johnson didn't scream that was an out-and-out disaster. Remember the Dunk Wheel in 2002? Fred Jones winning in 2004? Nate Robinson and Chris Andersen with the ridiculous number of missed tries?
[Note: if you want to see old dunk-contest footage, you simply have to go to Hoopism's Dunk Contest Video Visualization. They've got video clips of every dunk contest dunk sorted by year, round and score.]
The props and the gimmicks slowly started to creep in with the Nate Robinson-era. Remember when Nate jumped off the back of a teammate? We used to do that in high school because we couldn't dunk. Yet somehow he still made the finals and won the whole thing. The league initially resisted Dwight Howard's request to bring in a rim higher than 10 foot, then let him finally do it the following year. Of course, the WWE-in-them tried to play it off like the rim was at 12 feet when it was 11 feet tops, a lie that Dwight Howard continues to perpetuate today like my buddy Wego's claim that he once "got rim" before a game against Batavia High School in 1991.
This year was Blake Griffin's coming-out party, and there's no way the league was going to be denied. So what if he probably shouldn't have made it out of the first-round - Blake's second-dunk was an inferior version of DeMar DeRozan's first dunk, yet DeRozan got a 44 while Blake got the 46 points he needed to squeak past DeMar into the finals. With all the pizzazz in the final round, I couldn't help but wonder if everything was preordained. DeRozan and Serge Ibaka were nothing more than the first-guys introduced in an old WWF match, chum for the Hulk Hogan's and Roddy Piper's of this year's contest. If McGee hadn't made it to the Finals, would the four mock secret-service guys who escorted McGee's mom and the black box (beyond ridiculous) still get paid? What about the Crenshaw Choir if Blake got shut out? And of course, the NBA probably had a $100,000 check in hand from Kia for the product placement on Blake's final dunk, perhaps the weakest dunk of the night but the one lasting image from All-Star Weekend 2011. Not since the Kings-Lakers series in 2002 has David Stern had a greater incentive to ensure one party advanced to the final round.
The rationale for all the gimmicks is that we've already seen every dunk before; that the only way to wow the crowd is by more and more over-the-top stunts. However, if you could see past all of the pomp and circumstance, there were some very original dunks performed by some freakishly athletic basketball players. Stern likes to talk about the talent-level of the league being at an all-time high. It's just too bad that All-Star weekend does a mediocre job of actually showcasing it.
The Colton Index:
Teams of the Week:
|1. Miami Heat(stays at 2nd) - Wins at Indiana, at Toronto. One of the more interesting sub-plots of the second half of the season will be the race for the top seed in the East. The Celtics are percentage points ahead of the Heat, with Chicago only two games back. Obviously the top seed will get home-court advantage, but perhaps more importantly the 2nd and 3rd seeds will have to face each other in the second round. Any way you slice it, a Boston-Chicago, Chicago-Miami or Boston-Miami second round match-up could be epic.|
|2. Golden State Warriors (20th to 19th) - Wins vs Now Orleans, at Utah. The Warriors have won 7 of their last 9 and have knocked off some quality teams over that stretch (Utah twice, Milwaukee, Chicago, Denver, Oklahoma City and New Orleans). Both of their losses were to Phoenix.|
|3. Cleveland Cavaliers (stays at 30th) - Wins vs LA Lakers. The Cavs have a ways to go to dig themselves out of the basement, but a win against the Lakers this week is enough to get Cleveland a mention on the plus side of the column for a change.|
Teams of the Weak:
|1. Los Angeles Lakers(stays at 6th) - Losses at Charlotte, at Cleveland. Panic time in L.A. yet? Personally, I'd gladly give up Bynum if it meant getting Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers should be looking to trade the oft-injured Bynum now.|
|2. New Orleans Hornets (stays at 9th) - Losses at Golden State, at Portland. The Hornets are 2-9 since January 29th. I guess Emeka Okafor is more valuable than I give him credit for.|
|3. Minnesota Timberwolves (28th to 29th) - Losses vs Portland, vs LA Clippers. All of a sudden, the T-Wolves are only three games ahead of the Cavs in the race for most ping-pong balls. I hope Kevin Love enjoyed his weekend playing with quality players for a change.|
Updated with Games as of Thursday February 17th
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Must watch games this week (all times ET):
Mon 2/21: No games scheduled
Tues 2/22: LA Clippers at Oklahoma City (8:00 PM); Atlanta at LA Lakers (10:30 PM)
Weds 2/23: Oklahoma City at San Antonio (7:00 PM, ESPN); Utah at Dallas (8:30 PM)
Thurs 2/24: Miami at Chicago (8:00 PM, TNT); Boston at Denver (10:30 PM, TNT) - trade deadline. Finally, MeloDrama will be over one way or another.
Fri 2/25: Oklahoma City at Orlando (8:00 PM, ESPN); LA Clippers at LA Lakers (10:30); Denver at Portland (10:30, ESPN)
Sat 2/26: Boston at LA Clippers (10:30 PM)
Sun 2/27: LA Lakers at Oklahoma City (2:30 PM, ABC); Memphis at San Antonio (7:00); New York at Miami (8:00 PM, ESPN); Atlanta at Portland (10:30 PM, ESPN)
Continuing our series from last week, here's #5 on our list of the Top 10 Dunkers in the NBA.
#5. Derrick Rose
Team: He's from Chicago!
Pos: Point Guard
Height/Weight: 6'3" 190 lbs
Dunk Signature: Two-handed tomahawk jams, sometimes over unsuspecting point guards from Slovenia; left- or right-handed "buggy whips"; making Stacey King wet himself.
Previous Weeks: #10. Russell Westbrook
#9. DeMar DeRozan
#8. Dwyane Wade
#7. Rudy Gay
#6. Josh Smith
Dunks of the Week:
Here are the top 5 Dunks for the week ending 2/19, as voted on by the Wegobomber Dunk Committee.
5. LaMarcus Aldridge thunderous putback jam against the Charlotte Hornets.
4. Knick-to-be Carmelo Anthony drives baseline and dunks over Andrew Bogut of the Milwaukee Bucks.
3. Blake Griffin with yet another 50+ foot alley oop from Baron Davis, this time against the Milwaukee Bucks.
2. Baron Davis to Blake Griffin again, this time over the shoulder for the monster two-handed slam against the Portland Trail Blazers.
1. Christian Eyenga skies baseline and throws down right on Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bonus: Glen Davis was searching for a new nickname to replace Big Baby. How about "The Anti-Griffin"?
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