The NBA All-Star weekend is one of the better, if not the best, All-Star weekends among the major pro-sports leagues in North America. One of the features of of every All-Star weekends though is fan voting. In a way it makes sense because All-Stars are not only All-Stars because of their talent, its also because of their fan following. There are a number of NBA players who have displayed great talent but never were over with the fans. And there are NBA players who are so over with the fans even though they are not really the best of the best, the top of the league.
The All-Star starters have been a perennial source of discussion. Should the Tim Duncans and Pau Gasols be listed on the ballot as centers? Should there be a minimum number of games played so that popular but injured players like Yao Ming don’t get voted in over someone who not only is putting up good numbers, but also active. Should the fans vote for all 12 players? Should there be only 12 players? Every year so many ideas on how possibly to make it more fair to the players while not actually removing fan involvement. But are the fans always right?
My biggest disappointment this All-Star Weekend 2011 is not the selection of starters, it is the Slam Dunk contest. I believe fan voting has reduced a skills contest into a popularity contest. Let me flatly say my opinion on this, Blake Griffin didn’t deserve to win this year. He is definitely the fan favorite given his jaw dropping dunks in-game. But great in-game dunkers doesn’t always translate to great Slam Dunk Contests dunkers. The context of a game makes simple dunks look 100x better. Case in point, Dwyane Wade. Even he himself admitted that he’s not much of a show dunker. But how he gets to the rim and finishes on somebody makes his dunks exciting. But when you take away the 3 guys he has to weave through to get to the rim and the 7-footer he’s going to dunk over, all you get is a simple one or two handed dunk. Might not even get a 40 in the Slam Dunk contest. Another great example is Shannon Brown.
Now, its not for lack of trying. Blake Griffin had great dunks in mind, but my beef is that he didn’t convert on this great dunks and instead settled for something simpler and easier. Take his first dunk for example. He tried to attempt a 360 and pump the ball down below his waist and then dunk it. That would have been a 50 easy had he made it. After several attempts, he settled for a 360 with the ball no lower than his shoulders dunk. Still looked great, but I’ve seen Vince Carter make those dunks in-game. And it definitely didn’t deserve a 49.
Onto his next dunk. Again, had he made the original attempt which was off the side of the backboard then 360, 50 would have been too low a score. That would have been better than Dwight Howards off-the-side-of-the-backboard-then-dunk-while-head-is-behind-the-backboard. Again after several failures and even an attempt to reverse it, he just leaned into the dunk. Okay, so he only got a 46, but thats 2 points more than Demar DeRozan’s similar dunk but off the support beam of the basket and between the legs. How can Demar get two points less for a harder dunk? Clearly fan sentiment has influenced the judges.
Onto the finals. I don’t get what so special about the dunk and put your whole arm in the rim, especially that a shorter guy like Vince Carter doing it in the past. So what if he hung longer? Hanging longer on the rim doesn’t make the dunk better, it just means he has a stronger arm. There have been penalties in the past for players attempting dunks we’ve seen in the past and not make any improvement on the dunk itself. In fact, how can Jordan get 50 on a free-throw line dunk when his foot is halfway across the free-throw line, and Ibaka only got a 45 when his toes barely touched the free-throw line? Isn’t taking off further and improvement on the dunk even though its by a few inches?
What takes the cake is the overly simplistic dunk he did in the end. Sure there were gospel singers and a car, but its not like he lept over the car. He didn’t. He lept over the hood. Vince Carter lept over a 7-footer standing straight-up in-game. Do you know how high a car’s hood is? 3.5 feet more or less off the ground. It would have been harder if Baron Davis got a folding chair and sat where ther car’s hood is. That would have been a higher obstacle. Now, had Blake Griffin lept over the car itself, over the roof, then they should just end the Slam Dunk contest right there and never hold it ever again. Because it will never get any better than that. Instead, we were fooled into the spectacle with Kenny Smith’s trash talking and gospel singers singing and a car that parked a few feet too far to the right. Plus the pass from Baron Davis was also simple. He was standing inside the car which would have elevated him a foot or two. I’ve seen better passes from Davis to Griffin in-game from over half-court. That was nothing. And the dunk itself wasn’t spectacular. But thats what the gospel singers and car is for, to distract people from the simple dunk.
Ultimately, it was a popularity contest. McGee could have jumped from the 3-point line twice and Griffin just went in for two layups and he still would have won the fan vote. Most fans are biased, just look around the internet. And this diminishes the Slam Dunk contest as a skill contest. As much as the judges may be swayed by fans, they still usually select judges who are known slam dunk artists. At the very least it would give more credibility to the contest than fans who are swayed by pagentry and have their own bias. And on a final note, why is Lebron still afraid to join the Slam Dunk contest? Given its fan voting nowadays, there is no way he would lose. All he has to do is make it to the finals. Or perhaps he knows there’s a lot of Kobe fanboys out there.