The 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk (Contest) was a confusing affair marked by poorly explained rules and a seemingly low number of actual dunks. But that's not to say that everything was a step in the wrong direction. John Wall's night-capping hurdle and reverse was one of the best NBA contest dunks in years, and that in itself is something to celebrate.
Thankfully, it also seemed to prove once and for all that gimmicks and props are no longer an easy way to curry favor with fans and judges. Apart from Terrence Ross's mostly harmless use of Drake and an "NBA 2K14" tie-in from Harrison Barnes that barely registered, there was really only one gimmick-heavy entry in this year's competition. It just happened to be so ridiculous that it felt like six props at once.
For the third round (of the second round, which was the individual portion, in which ... okay, let's stop there, again, this was very confusing), Ben McLemore of the Sacramento Kings decided to make a show of it all. So, with help from his team's partial owner Shaquille O'Neal, McLemore was welcomed onto the court as a true king. Or something:
Yes, McLemore — or, really, let's say Shaq, since it's his kind of joke — hired a guy to pose as a courtly herald to announce his entrance to the court. Here's a transcription of his decree:
Hear ye, hear ye! On the fifteenth day of February, in the year two thousand and fourteen, it is with incredible joy and distinct honor that I proclaim, as witness to this event, that, henceforth, the realm of Shaqramento will be now as the land of Shaqlemore. Lord O'Neal, please usher in this new era!
Before we start with the content of the statement, let's focus on some of the reactions from the crowd. Indiana Pacers All-Star Roy Hibbert started to laugh — apparently at, not with, the participants — before the herald even began to speak. Every TNT with a microphone responded in embarrassment pretty much immediately, with Kenny Smith standing out as particularly perceptive for noting that it was definitely Shaq's idea. No one, outside of the participants, thought that this was a good idea.
And, really, how was this allowed to happen? Just imagine all the steps that had to take place for this whole thing to come together. Someone had to decide that the name "Kings" provided enough of a foundation for a joke about court life. Someone had to write down the herald's speech. Someone had to buy paper and make it look like parchment. Someone had to hire an actor to play the herald. Someone had to convince Ben McLemore to wear a king's robe. Someone had to buy a throne big enough to fit Shaq. Someone had to put all these ideas together, assess them as a whole, and still decide it was a good idea.
That someone was probably Shaquille O'Neal. Although this idea might not have worked as planned, I think we can admire his conviction. It takes a great deal of integrity to commit to something this silly. If only we all had so much self-confidence.
Believe in yourself. Follow your dreams. We can all be Dunkers of the Night if we want to be.
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- Ben McLemore