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NEW ORLEANS — The lesson, friends: It isn’t easy to author an encore to near-perfection.
One year after Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon captivated us all with one of the great mano a mano competitions in the history of All-Star Weekend, Gordon and three other players took the court at Smoothie King Center with their sights set on clearing the unbelievably high bar set by the two high-flyers in Toronto. Unfortunately, they came up short.
Glenn Robinson III of the Indiana Pacers outdueled Derrick Jones Jr. of the Phoenix Suns in the final round, receiving a perfect score of 50 from the judges for this admittedly killer two-handed reverse slam after clearing teammate Paul George, Pacers mascot Boomer and a Pacers team dancer …
… to be crowned the champion of the 2017 Verizon Slam Dunk contest.
“I originally planned for it just to be PG,” Robinson III said after the game. “I knew I had to bring out something special. We added the mascot and the cheerleader. I really just wanted to get up high and dunk that thing hard, man. My adrenaline was going. It felt like I was looking at the rim. All I knew was the crowd was going crazy.”
A post shared by Ball Don't Lie (@yahooballdontlie) on Feb 18, 2017 at 7:59pm PST
After throwing down his title-clinching flush, Robinson III brought a finger to his lips, which seemed an awkward move in the context of an event where you’d like the crowd to get loud, and where, thanks to many missed dunks and false starts, the crowd hadn’t been nearly as hyped as the league and its partners might have liked. The reason for the shushing?
“I pointed like this because, man, everybody seemed to sleep on me, didn’t really think I was going to win this thing,” he explained. “We looked earlier, and someone said it was a 10 percent chance that I was going to win. I was like, that’s all right. That’s fine.”
Yeah, it was all right. It was fine. It just wasn’t much more than that, is all.
Robinson III, the son of former All-Star forward Glenn Robinson, bested Jones Jr., a 19-year-old high-flyer who has made just seven appearances for Phoenix this season but has been a celebrated competition dunker since his prep days, after Jones Jr. failed to complete a dunk on his first attempt of the final round in three tries:
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 19, 2017
Coming up empty on that first attempt meant that, despite taking a bounce pass, putting the ball through his legs and throwing it down with a flourish …
… Jones Jr. was behind the 8-ball. After beginning his final by leaping over George, taking the ball off the head, and throwing it down with his right hand for a 44 …
Robinson III’s show-sealing, three-person-clearing reverse gave him more than enough to end the evening hoisting the trophy.
— NBA (@NBA) February 19, 2017
Robinson III and Jones Jr. advanced to the finals by logging the top scores of the opening round, topping the two more established vets in the competition, the Magic’s Gordon and Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan.
Jordan kicked off the competition by bringing out noted music and social media enthusiast DJ Khaled to set up at a makeshift DJ booth, turntables and all, at the edge of the lane for the big man to leap over:
Khaled, predictably and perfectly, Snapchatted the proceedings:
Lmaoooo the DeAndre dunk from Khaled's snap pic.twitter.com/Z3GAEPj0LE
— ak (@LiveLoveAK) February 19, 2017
But Jordan’s effort seemed to underwhelm the panel of judges, as the quintet of NBA legends — Gary Payton, Dominique Wilkins, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning and Chris Webber — gave Jordan a 41 out of a possible 50, setting the tone for a frankly disappointing competition.
To their credit, Robinson III and Jones Jr. injected some life into the event with their opening salvos. The former had one dude climb on another’s shoulders, on some Vincent Adultman, then jumped over both of them, grabbed the ball off the top dude’s neck, soared and threw it down over the top with his head at the rim for the evening’s first perfect 50:
Jones Jr. followed suit by bringing out four Suns teammates and clearing them all in one mammoth leap before finishing the play with a left-handed tomahawk:
While the Smoothie King Center crowd dug the rookie’s work, the judges offered a colder take, giving Jones Jr. nines across the board for a 45 that elicited jeers from the stands:
The Smoothie King Center is booing the judges for that 45 like they’re a row of Eric Gordons.
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) February 19, 2017
Those boos, though, sounded far sweeter than the bummed-out indifference that would follow the attempts of Gordon, one of last year’s heroes and this year’s favorite, who tried to up the ante and wound up going bust twice.
For his first attempt, Gordon went to the props-and-product-placement well, busting out a controller and calling forth an Intel Drone to fly a ball out to the court and hover over the lane. The idea: the drone drops the ball, Gordon catches it off the bounce, goes through his legs and punches one with his right hand. In theory, dope! In practice? Woof:
Gordon missed all three attempts, as the wrong kind of hush fell over the crowd. Gifted a fourth by the judges, he finally pulled it off, but the damage was done. He earned a 38, sapped the energy from the gym, and put himself squarely in the crosshairs of meme-makers:
Round 2 began with the lowest-scoring dunker going first, presenting Gordon with an opportunity to quickly redeem himself and put a charge back into the audience. Instead, he once again stumbled, trying to pull off something admittedly incredibly ambitious — leap, do a 360, go under both legs, throw down with the right — but missing all three of his attempts, earning a low of 34 and ensuring that he’d bow out after one round.
Jordan tried to marry big-man power with athleticism and finesse on his second attempt, twirling against the grain and going through his legs from left to right before cocking it back and putting it down. As was often the case on Saturday, though, he couldn’t quite stick the landing, awkwardly and barely finishing the dunk:
Jordan’s evening ended early after Jones Jr.’s second attempt, arguably the best effort of the evening — a pass off the side of the backboard by Suns teammate Devin Booker, which Jones Jr. corralled with his right hand, put through his legs, and hammered down with his left hand to earn a perfect 50:
After that throwdown, Jones Jr. evoked the great Vince Carter and his incomparable 2000 Dunk Contest performance, pulling out the “It’s over” throat-slash gesture. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t, as Robinson would come away with the crown.
And unfortunately for the dunk-loving populace watching in New Orleans and at home, what we witnessed on Saturday was more likely to send us racing for clips of Vinsanity, Zach’s 2015 coming-out party in Brooklyn or LaVine vs. Gordon than for the remote control to rewind and rewatch this year’s model. We are all Dikembe Mutombo, hoping for something worth recording and savoring, but instead capturing something better left deleted to preserve storage space.
Dikembe wasn't feeling the dunks at this year's dunk contest pic.twitter.com/gMxy7xEmog
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) February 19, 2017
Oh, well. Look on the bright side: next year’s competitors won’t have nearly as high a bar to clear. Here’s hoping they don’t get rim-checked once they clear it.
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