The year was 2006 and Andre Iguodala threw up a bouncing behind the back reverse dunk during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest. The dunk was amazing and Iguodala would soon be on the verge of superstardom as Allen Iverson was surely to either be traded soon or retire, as his last days as a Philadelphia 76er waned. However, that night Charles Barkley zeroed in on one particular instance during Iguodala’s dunk: Damon Jones’ bright red coat. Damon Jones? Who is Damon Jones? A career bench player, Jones was never known for anything other than some sharpshooting playing behind starting Point Guards. That is, until Charles Barkley called him out and desensitized NBA Slam Dunk Weekend audiences to the dunks themselves and began a shift in attention away from the dunks and towards the spectacle. Throughout the rest of the night, Barkley would constantly call for the camera to find Damon Jones and his red suit, saying “Please Y’all” repeatedly. In 2006, despite perhaps having the best set of dunks, Iggy would not win the contest. Rather, it was the midget, the 5-foot nothing Nate Robinson who would gradually win over audiences and judges alike by giving them something they hadn’t seen since perhaps Spud Webb in 1986. Granted, Webb and Nate Rob are fantastic dunkers and arguably some of the best athletes in the NBA’s history, but were their dunks more creative and better executed than the others?
In 2007, the Contest had perhaps its last great traditional showdown. Nate Rob returned to defend his title and newcomer Gerald Green came in with a monstrous array of dunks, using minimal props, which were allowed for the first time. Dwight Howard did place a sticker at the top of the backboard and Gerald Green did dunk over a box, but more or less, it was a great performance. Green eventually won and in the process, dunked over the top of Nate Robinson. In 2008, Dwight Howard busted out the Superman red cape and Damon Jones returned with a corduroy blazer and a mow-hawk. Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant loved it as well as Kenny “The Jet” Smith who lost his voice screaming his glee aloud, just like Barkley over the infamous red blazer of Damon Jones. Dwight’s Superman dunk, or, rather, non-dunk, since he never actually dunked the ball but rather threw it into the basket while falling far short of the rim, earned him a second straight 50-point dunk, the max score. Dwight’s tip-to-himself-off-the-backboard dunk was amazing and a game changer, but nobody remembers that dunk. They only remember the cape and the non-dunk.
Nate Robinson returned to glory in 2009 as he jumped over the top of Superman Dwight Howard wearing a green outfit, symbolizing his Krpto-Nate persona and again winning the Contest. The part everyone remembers from 2009? It was when Dwight Howard brought out a 12-foot rim, went into a phone booth, and changed into the Superman outfit. Dwight dunked at 12-feet and then made the crew try to raise the rim even higher, but to no avail. Kryto-Nate and Superman D-Howard again raised the bar for the Dunk Contest spectacle in outrageous form. At the end of the night, Lebron himself put his name into the Contest for 2010. However, it was a broken promise and 2010’s Contest would be won again by Nate Robinson and be called one of the worst Contests in memory. There was no grand spectacle that anyone remembers and Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James did not enter the Contest, thus beginning his official eclipse of Jordan. Sad times for the emergent spectacle.
The 2011 Contest brought back the shock and awe spectacle that David Stern and the NBA seemingly longed for. JaVale McGee arguably made the most out of the props. First he dunked two balls on two different, separate rims. Then, to raise the bar, his own mother brought him a third ball and he dunked three balls at the same time on the same leap. “Air Congo” Serge Ibaka, a high flying big man like McGee and Orlando Magic Dwight Howard before him, dunked from the free throw line, but Dwight did that in 2010 as a big man, too. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan did one of the most incredibly difficult dunks of all time with his “funk dunk,” but that, too, was not enough to even sniff the winner’s box. Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin dunked over a KIA car while a gospel choir sang, “I believe I can fly” in the background. The worst part was not Griffin’s over-the-top setup, but the dunk really was not all that great. He did dunk over the car, but it was over the hood, roughly equivalent to the Gerald Green 2007 over-the-box dunk. Immediately afterwards, Charles Barkley called the dunk out and said “it wasn’t the greatest dunk.” Later, it was revealed that some places had prematurely announced that Blake was the winner of the Contest before it even happened. While this cannot be proven, and is likely false, it raises the question: How will the NBA ever top that? Unless the Contest is moved out doors where more props can be used, it might be all downhill from here. As Barkley would say, “Please y’all…”… bring back Damon Jones and make Lebron James enter the Contest if it is going to survive without the use of gradually more infuriating props.