Chicago, Illinois. Usually many things come to mind when you think of the Windy City, Al Capone; Michael Jordan and the Bulls; Lake Michigan; John Hughes and the Brat Pack; and the Willis (formerly Sears) tower. However for this past weekend, the best of the NBA gathered in the city to celebrate All-Star Weekend.
On Saturday night, all eyes were upon the NBA Skills Challenge. More importantly, its premier event, the Dunk Contest.
In many basketball fans’ eyes, the dunk contest has been a dry event for the last decade. Aside from the 2016 Dunk Contest hosted in Toronto, the last decade of dunk contests have been lackluster to say the least.
This year was different. It started on January 23rd, when the Lakers’ centre and 2008 Dunk Contest winner, Dwight Howard confirmed his entrance into the contest. The event was shaping up to be interesting with the addition of Miami Heat’s forward, Derrick Jones Jr.. He was then quickly followed by Milwaukee Bucks’ highflyer, Pat Connaughton. The bomb dropped on January 30th, when Orlando Magic’s forward Aaron Gordon confirmed his entry into the contest.
Aaron Gordon is a dunker, but luck has not been on his side during the dunk contest. He participated in both 2015 and 2016.Of the two, 2016 was the most noteworthy of them, as he took 2nd place after competing in a dunk off with Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, who also participated in the 3 point shootout this weekend. In this contest, they went toe to toe. Gordon attempted some very creative dunks, and LaVine did everything from the free throw line. The 2016 contest was the second-best one in many people's minds, right up there with the 1988 contest featuring Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins. Gordon ended up losing the contest due to a controversial scoring by the judges, and this last Saturday night was no different.
The first round began with Dwight Howard, who did a simple 360. This was followed by Jones Jr.’s first dunk, which celebrated his 23rd birthday, complete with a birthday cake and cheerleaders. Pat Connaughton then payed homage to the 1992 film “White Men Can’t Jump” with his first slam. Gordon was the only one of the 4 high flyers to score a perfect 50 in the opening round.
The second round started with Gordon and Jones in the lead. And it remained the same, following a round where all participants were awarded perfect scores on their slams. Dwight Howard recreated his Superman dunk from 2008, along with a homage to the late, great Kobe Bryant. Then came Connaughton, who tapped the ball off the backboard while jumping over Bucks teammate and All-Star captain Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jones saw this and proceeded with a “tornado” 360° dunk, securing himself a spot in the final round. Gordon capped off the round of fifties with a 180° leapfrog over Chance the Rapper. All dunks received huge ovations, including Connaughton’s which could not be seen until it was shown in slow motion. Jones and Gordon would advance to the final round.
The final round was set up the same as the first round, where dunkers get their combined score after 2 rounds. Jones started the final round sharp, with a between-the-legs dunk over 2 people. Gordon decided to get Chance the Rapper back out, fully clearing the artist for a spin around slam. Both dunks were awarded perfect scores.
Jones’s second dunk was absolutely unbelievable. He did an off-the-backboard between-the-legs dunk over a person! If this contest was against a human being, that would have been his victory. However, Aaron Gordon is not human. He followed up Jones’s impressive athletic performance by catching a pass from teammate Markelle Futlz off the side of the backboard into a 360° slam. Chicago absolutely erupted, and they knew they were witnessing a great dunk contest. Once again, both dunks were awarded fifties, and both advanced to a dunk-off.
Jones decided to do his own dunk off the side of the backboard. He catched a lob off the side of the board and smoothly transitioned it into a between-the-legs dunk. Once again, a 50. Chance the Rapper, who was probably tired of stepping out of his seat for the third time, was once again a prop for Gordon’s slam. Gordon then proceeded to clear him and threw down his own between-the-legs dunk. Tens across the board, they were once again tied.
In a throwback to the 1988 dunk contest, Jones attempted a windmill dunk from the free throw line. Unfortunately, he had one foot in, the dunk was only awarded a 48. Gordon knew he had to pull something crazy to win. The crowd started screaming as the Celtics’ big man, Tacko Fall, stood up. Tacko is a fan favourite player, standing at 7 foot 5 (2.26m). The Celtics rookie was 6th in All-Star Voting amongst fans and was enjoying watching the festivities from the sidelines. As Gordon positioned Tacko under the rim, it was obvious what was about to happen. Aaron Gordon was about to win the dunk contest by jumping over Tacko Fall.
Even a commentator, Kenny Smith, said; “You jump over Tacko you win.” Despite this, Gordon didn’t win. The judges awarded him a 47, and that’s it. Derrick Jones Jr. was your NBA Slam Dunk Contest winner. The win was extremely controversial, with judges Candace Parker and Common telling ESPN that it should have been a tie, and that one of the judges made a mistake.
This was familiar to Gordon, as he lost the 2016 contest to Zach LaVine for a similar reason. Many fans believed Gordon should have been awarded a 50 in both instances. Both times he lost to a competitor who attempted a variation of a three point line dunk. Though Gordon lost this contest, he set the record for the most consecutive 50 point dunks, with 5 of them.
No matter what we as fans think, this contest will go down as one of the greatest dunk contests of all time. The battle between Gordon and Jones Jr. was so great that it has even surpassed the Jordan Wilkins duel in Chicago 32 years ago.
As for Gordon, this was his third and final go around in the dunk contest. Even though he has never won a dunk contest, he will go down as one of the all-time greatest dunkers in the NBA.
Savage, Dan. “Twitter Reacts to Aaron Gordon’s 2020 Slam Dunk Contest.”, NBA, Feb 16, 2020
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Bleacher Report. “2020 NBA Dunk Contest Full Highlights.”, Bleacher Report, Feb 15, 2020.
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Loung, Steven. “NBA All-Stars Saturday Night 2020: Results, highlights, reaction.” Sportsnet, Feb 15, 2020
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Webster, Danny. “NBA Slam Dunk COntest 2016: Winner, Highlights, Scores and Twitter Reactions.” Bleacherreport.
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