The dunk contest is an odd event. Ostensibly for the fans' enjoyment, it can also serve as a springboard for players to new levels of stardom. Without it, Nate Robinson(notes) would just be an occasionally effective bench player, not a media personality. And while Dwight Howard(notes) would still be a star if he'd never won in 2008, he wouldn't have quite the same level of casual-fan recognition or the "Superman" nickname that has come to define his persona.
After two years of dunk contest participation, Howard took himself out of the 2010 competition, presumably because he couldn't think of any awesome props to spruce up his jams. Now, he's declared himself done for good from all future dunk contests. From Chris Tomasson of FanHouse:
"I don't want to do it,'' Howard, 25, said after the Magic practiced at the Pepsi Center on Monday in preparation for Tuesday's game against Denver. "I want to let other people have an opportunity to shine. I (have done) the dunk contest too many times. I'm over with it.'' [...]
"I do too much running and jumping during the season,'' Howard said of the extra wear and tear of competing in the contest. "By the time the dunk contest comes around, my legs are as beat as anything.''
Did you hear that, Nate Robinson? For some players, two dunk contests is enough. I'm not telling you what to do -- it's just something to consider.
Howard's path from dunk contest fun to retirement is a familiar one for superstars. Players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant(notes) and Vince Carter(notes) stopped participating in dunk contests to focus on being serious. It didn't work for all of them -- VC will always be mostly fondly remembered for his 2000 victory in Oakland -- but the best players around trade in dunk contest hardware for championship rings.
Still, no one will blame Howard for his retirement. After Jordan set the precedent, fans don't expect players to be in the dunk contest field forever. It's enough for superstars to pull off a few memorable dunks and move on to the next challenge. That's why, for all the hate he's inspired this season, LeBron James(notes) could win back some fans by participating in this year's contest in Los Angeles.
Howard, to his credit, only gained popularity by dunking. Let's take a trip down memory lane and enjoy the highlights of his trophy-winning performance in '08.