All-Dunk Contest Team: How Adam Silver can save the All-Star’s showcase event
Paul George, Pacers
The degree to which George’s profile has risen over the last few years is mind-blowing. As The Point Forward noted in January, he received more than 1.2 million All-Star votes, a figure that was at least 20 times more than the number he received last year. The Pacers forward now stands just a cut below the likes of James and Durant in terms of popularity, but he’s not just a “big name.” He’s a big name who can absolutely slay the rim.
Like Wall, George was reportedly invited to compete in this year’s contest, but he told the Indianapolis Star that he declined. He also called the 2012 contest a “joke” after he participated, but failed to win.
This is where a little salesmanship and vision from Silver is needed. “Mr. George: You once campaigned to be in the contest, you’re an amazing dunker, you’re a huge star with limitless potential, we want you back in the contest, and we want you to be excited to be back. What do we need to do? How do we turn this thing from a ‘joke’ into an unforgettable memory for you and your millions of fans?”
After all, if George is pulling off Vince Carter-esque Dunk Contest material during games, he needs to be front and center in New Orleans.
LeBron James, Heat
Last week, ESPN.com reported that James wanted to sit down with Silver to “just throw out some ideas where I hope the league can be better.” The back-to-back MVP added: “Hopefully [Silver] has some ideas for me.”
Although Durant is coming for James’ MVP crown and the Pacers, Thunder, Spurs and others will push the Heat for this year’s title, anything and everything in the basketball world still revolves around James. He is the game’s Alpha and Omega. That’s especially true for the Dunk Contest discussion, which James has personally stoked by saying he would “preliminarily” compete in the 2010 contest (before failing to follow through) and making a Nike commercial last summer in which he participates in a Dunk Contest. James has proud, accomplished icons like Durant and Magic — among many others — practically begging for him to throw his hat in the ring, and he’s openly flirted with the idea on multiple occasions. How can Silver grease these skids and seal the deal?
There just aren’t any excuses left for James, who at 29 has conquered the world, won two titles, captured two gold medals at the Olympics, and accumulated a stack of MVP trophies and numerous other individual awards. Someone this accomplished and established in his field can’t be worried about the potential for embarrassment, can he? James might posit that he’s an “in-game dunker” but that’s nothing more than a convenient (and lazy) excuse. Ditto the “injury risk” angle, which is poppycock. James puts on a show in games, before games, after games and everywhere in between. The Slam Dunk Contest should be his perfect stage.
Besides surpassing Jordan’s championship ring total and moving up the league’s all-time scoring list, what other mountains are left for James to climb? Wouldn’t non-participation in the Dunk Contest go down as one of the most aggravating aspects of his otherwise-sterling Hall of Fame career? This obviously isn’t on the level of “The Decision,” but it’s still something that will confound and frustrate future generations of basketball fans. Thirty years from now, young minds could well be forced to grapple with an unanswerable question: “What do you mean the best post-Jordan player and the biggest post-Jordan star never even competed in a single Dunk Contest?”
And, another one: “Why didn’t the league do anything about?”
To quickly recap, the dream 2014 Slam Dunk Contest field includes four past participants (Ross, Green, George, and Griffin), three past champions (Ross, Green and Griffin), four 2014 All-Stars (Wall, George, Griffin and James), and one white whale (James). Star power, proven dunkers, youth, off-the-charts athleticism, great personalities: check, check, check, check, and check. If assembled, this would be the best group, on paper, in at least 20 years.
The dream field also includes four players who should be considered fairly attainable (Ross, Green, Wall and George), three of whom have apparently been extended invitations. In other words, the broken reality isn’t all that far from the dream. All that’s missing is the elusive buy-in from superstars, and the vision to make it happen.
Regardless of who gets the call, we will all be watching this year’s contest. The joy of the dunk and the history of the event has ensured the Dunk Contest’s relevance. But until the best of the best are there, something big will be missing.
Now that he’s the boss, Silver should start with this dream and brainstorm innovative ways to achieve it, rather than sticking to a reality that has left the basketball world so regularly unsatisfied and underwhelmed.