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Toronto Raptors rookie Terrence Ross has been crowned the champion of the 2013 Sprite Slam Dunk, besting reigning champion Jeremy Evans and several other contestants who received heavy promotion and stoked fan interest.
Yet, while Ross took home the trophy, the dunk contest has always been more about singular moments of greatness than the night's body of work. The real test of a dunk contest performance is what people will remember five years from now. And while this particular contest was disappointing enough that it might not produce any such moments, the fact remains that the winner does not always make the greatest impression.
Ranking individual dunks is an inherently subjective task, and I don't mean these rankings to be definitive. My hope is that they help to explain what might have been disappointing or lacking in this contest, and also what made it intermittently exciting.
So, after the jump, check out a countdown of the top seven jams, with videos and photos, as well as some miscellaneous thoughts on the contest as a whole.
7. Terrence Ross goes through the legs and over a very small child
Ross' second dunk of the championship round earned him the title, but the context might made it seem more impressive than it really was. A through-the-legs dunk is never bad, and Ross pulled off his from very far away. However, the dunk has now become a standard part of any high flyer's arsenal — Dion Waiters did one late in Friday night's Rising Stars Challenge and didn't blow many minds.
[Related: Terrence Ross is now a slam dunk champion]
Ross did jump over a young boy to add intrigue, but he could not have been more than 5 feet tall and ducked. Ross claims that the kid's father is "the owner of Twitter," which I suppose adds some social media-friendly intrigue. The problem is that no one knew that ahead of time, and that Twitter wasn't integrated into the dunk in any way. (Never mind that Twitter is owned by many different people, including several venture capital firms.)
Neverthless, it was a good dunk, if not instantly legendary.
6. Ross gets a pass off the side of the backboard from Rockets rookie Terrence Jones, finishes a spinning jam
Passes off the backboard are no longer innovative, but they still add an extra layer to what might otherwise be a familiar dunk. The pass from Ross' childhood friend Jones was fine, and his spinning finish (probably somewhere between a 180 and 270) was both graceful and powerful. What makes the dunk really impressive, though, is how Ross positioned himself to finish far away from the basket. With this dunk, the power is in the details.
The dunk was also a callback to former Raptor Vince Carter's work in the greatest dunk contest performance ever, as Ross decided to pay tribute by wearing a classic Carter/Toronto jersey. I'm not sure Carter-hating Raps fans were particularly thrilled to see that.
5. Gerald Green takes a pass off the side of the backboard, completes a double-pump reverse dunk
Five years ago, Green brought us the birthday cake dunk, a feat of singular inspiration and my single favorite dunk contest moment ever. It was bizarre, hilarious, and totally unexpected, a dunk that required great ability and the kind of playfulness that makes All-Star Saturday Night fun. Green couldn't match that performance this time around, but his first dunk (also the first dunk of the contest) suggested he might be a contender. Taking a pass off the backboard from Pacers teammate Lance Stephenson, Green grabbed the ball and threw down a ferocious two-handed reverse. As with all Green's best dunks, he made it look easy. Few players in NBA history have ever looked so natural in the air.
[Related: Kyrie Irving crowned three-point king]
4. Eric Bledsoe tosses, catches, and throws down a two-handed reverse windmill
In terms of degree of difficulty, this dunk isn't much — it's safe to say that everyone in the contest could have completed it as described above. But Bledsoe did so with an incredibly smooth, fluid motion that culminated in a strong finish. It showed that aesthetics can often trump degree of difficulty.
3. Kenneth Faried throws the ball off the glass
This dunk has been done better before — heck, Jason Richardson's version from 2004 is arguably the best dunk ever. Yet, while Faried did his from closer to the basket and slower, it's still an amazingly tough dunk to complete. On top of that, Faried isn't known for his grace — he's a player who succeeds largely on energy and strength. This dunk was an unexpected treat.
2. James White takes flight from a step inside the free-throw line, finishes with two hands
"Flight" White was the most anticipated dunker of the night, a legendary high flyer who has had trouble A) holding onto an NBA roster spot and B) drawing the attention of the league office. Saturday night was his chance to shine.
[Related: Skills Challenge goes to Damian Lillard]
He mostly didn't, although his first dunk provided a lot of excitement. With flight attendants creating a "runway," White ran to the free-throw line, took off, and somehow missed long. His next try was a little safer, as he leaped from a step inside the line. But the dunk was far from easy: White finished cleanly with two hands.
1. Jeremy Evans does a left-handed tomahawk over an easel, reveals a painting of the dunk, signs painting
Props have gotten a bad rap in recent years, mostly because players have added props to their dunks with little thought as to how to integrate them in a way that makes sense. Props can be done well, though, and 2012 champion Jeremy Evans provided a good example of how to do it the right way.
In his first dunk of the championship round, Evans set up an easel covered with a black sheet, jumped over it, and finished a left-handed tomahawk. But the real innovation came right after, when Evans unveiled a painting of the same dunk he'd just completed (complete with an easel covered in a black sheet). It was clever and different, a meta-dunk the likes of which we'd never seen before. In a contest without a lot of shocking moments, this one at least involved something new.
Truth be told, this dunk contest was nothing special (and perhaps even awful) to watch. White and Green, the two most exciting dunkers heading in, were huge disappointments, failing to complete their second dunks in the allotted 90 seconds and missing out on the championship round. Ross won in part because he didn't take especially long to finish his dunks — he completed them, got scores (that occasionally seemed too high), and kept moving on.
Ross wasn't unimpressive, but there's something a little depressing about a contestant being officially crowned as the NBA's best dunker simply because he didn't screw up. The dunk contest is supposed to be a triumph of imagination and talent. Dunkers are prized for their artistry, not their professionalism. Ideally, a dunk contest should expand our conception of what humans can do.
White and Green weren't able to prove that, but they at least tried it. White's second dunk was incredibly difficult, a long-range windmill that would have wowed everyone in Houston. While Green's second attempt wasn't quite so explosive, it involved some showmanship and creativity, with Green cutting down the net so that he'd be able to dunk the ball twice in one leap.
Again, they failed, and that means they didn't really accomplish anything. In my eyes, though, it's worth aiming for those heights. Missed attempts ruin the dunk contest, but I'll take the ambitious loser over the steady winner.
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