Posted February 16, 2014

Format fails 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest after star-studded field goes to waste

2014 All-Star Weekend, Ben Golliver, Ben McLemore, Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, John Wall, Paul George, Slam Dunk Contest, Terrence Ross
East Dunk Contest team

The East won the Dunk Contest in a blowout, ending the event abruptly. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS — Worst. Fears. Confirmed.

As soon as the Slam Dunk Contest’s new format and rules were announced two weeks ago, it was immediately clear that there was a decent chance the event could end in disaster. A bad fate wasn’t guaranteed but, as The Point Forward noted at the time, it was a strong possibility.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened at the Smoothie King Center on Saturday night. The 2014 Dunk Contest will go down as confusing, boring, underwhelming, frustrating and — worst of all — a logistical mess that undercut a very strong group of dunkers. So often over the years, weak fields have failed to live up to the excitement and hype of the Dunk Contest ideal; here, the Dunk Contest’s format totally failed its participants by lessening the impact of their achievements and bringing an abrupt end to the action just as things were getting interesting.

The new rules — which included a two-round format that began with a “freestyle” team-based opening round and a head-to-head, East vs. West closing “battle” round — seemed to be making a series of calculated trade-offs.

RELATED: 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest grades

Instead of trusting the dunkers to shine, the contest’s structure worked to minimize the impact made by a series of missed dunks. If you repeatedly missed in the “freestyle” round, your teammates would simply follow up a few seconds later with tries of their own. If you repeatedly missed in the “battle” round, you would almost certainly be quickly eliminated by your head-to-head competitor. Here, the new rules attempted to trade tradition for improved flow.

The contest also insisted on fully incorporating the conference vs. conference format used in other All-Star Saturday events, rather than keeping the focus on the individual. This included crowning all three members of the winning conference as “champions” and ending the contest when the winning conference won three “battles,” as opposed to a final showdown round featuring the best dunkers, regardless of conference. That process was then supplemented with a “Dunker of the Night” award to be determined by a fan vote. Here, the new rules traded tradition and the Dunk Contest’s well-established mano-a-mano vibe for a conference face-off format with no obvious benefits and a recognition for the best dunker that felt tacked on as opposed to the main attraction.

The new scoring format also deemphasized the role of the judges considerably. Rather than scoring dunks on a 1-to-10 scale and adding them up, a process that has the potential to be inconsistent and controversial, the judges faced a simpler decision this year, needing only to vote for the East or the West. Here, the trade-off was the tradition and excitement of the old scoring rules and system, and the mystique of the coveted “50″ dunk, for a streamlined process that should reward the most deserving competitors.

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And finally, the format ensured that no individual dunker would be required to do more than, say, six or seven dunks at the absolute most: roughly three or four dunks in the “freestyle” round and then an absolute maximum of three dunks in the “battle” round. Realistically , most of the dunkers could be expected to do two dunks in the “battle” round at most; as it turned out, no dunker did more than one “battle” dunk on Saturday. Back in the 1980s, by comparison, dunkers that made the final round would perform eight dunks along the way. Here, the intended trade-off was quality over quantity, with the hope that less would be more because all the participants would bring their best material out in the “battle” round, knowing they would be eliminated if they didn’t.

Most of these trade-offs, with the exception of the ill-advised conference vs. conference idea, were well-intentioned, at least when considered individually. When combined, though, some serious questions were apparent immediately. What happens if one conference is way stronger than the other? Will the contest’s shortened length prove to be satisfying? What happens if the two best dunkers are from the same conference? Why even hold a Dunk Contest if there’s not a single, undisputed, overall champion? And why devalue the “champion” tag by giving it to three people and handing the winner a clunky “Dunker of the Night” title?

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Again, these questions weren’t guaranteed to become major problems, but they were glaring enough issues that the contest’s rules never should have seen the light of day as is. As it turns out, all of those questions turned into huge problems on Saturday, and the result was a mostly lifeless crowd that seemed dumbfounded when it found out that the contest — just as it was finally gaining some momentum — was now over.

Wizards guard John Wall wound up taking home “Dunker of the Night” honors as he led the East to a 3-0 rout of the West. His final dunk involved jumping over a mascot, double-clutching and throwing down a two-handed reverse dunk, a sequence that earned a “50″ from The Point Forward. But that slam, the night’s best, was not followed by a face-off with Raptors guard Terrence Ross, the defending champion, or Pacers forward Paul George, both of whom impressed with through-the-legs dunks in the “battle” round. That slam also wasn’t followed by any additional dunks from Wall, who had been electric during the “freestyle” round too.

No, Wall’s only “battle” round dunk was followed immediately by the trophy presentation because the West’s squad got blown out by the East because it wasn’t up to snuff, and the format designers hadn’t properly gauged the chances that this would happen.

RELATED: Non-Champions: Greatest Dunk Contest participants who never won

You can’t blame Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Dominique Wilkins, who served as judges: Ross, George and Wall were worthy head-to-head winners, although Ross was pushed hard by Blazers guard Damian Lillard and Wall handled a stiff challenge from Kings guard Ben McLemore.

You can’t blame the fans: they made the right choice by voting Wall as the night’s top performer.

You can’t blame the dunkers: five of the six competitors (everyone except Warriors forward Harrison Barnes) put on a great show. When Lillard was eliminated, after a pretty spinning lefty dunk, it was a shame that his night, which had been a pleasant surprise, was over early. When McLemore was eliminated immediately after taking flight over Shaquille O’Neal, who was sitting on a throne, it was a shame because you knew he had more in store. When it became clear that Wall’s dunk would end his night, and George’s night, and Ross’s night, it was an outrageous shame. Ross didn’t have a true opportunity to defend his title. George never got a chance to go deeper into his bag of tricks to avenge his 2012 Slam Dunk Contest loss. And after such an original and breathtaking slam, Wall was denied the opportunity of bringing down the house at the very moment he had finally excited the crowd. Just a shame.

How is it possible that a Dunk Contest’s format could leave fans feeling like they didn’t get to see enough from Wall, and George and Ross and Lillard and McLemore? This wasn’t trimming the fat so much as throwing the entire piece of meat into the garbage can halfway through the appetizers course.

It bothers me that Vanilla Ice was brought in to play a set — or whatever you want to call it — in the middle of all of this. It bothers me that a way-too-gigantic Sprite logo hung over the backdrop to remind us just how over-commercialized the event has become. It bothers me that an NBA legend like Dr. J had to hold up a tablet to cast his vote rather than a simple “10″ on a piece of paper. But what really, really bothers me is that the contest’s priorities were so out of whack.

Cutting down on wasted time from missed dunks is a good thing, and the “freestyle” round did serve as a nice warm-up. Cutting down on judge subjectivity and inconsistency is a good thing, and there wasn’t a single truly disputable call all night. Cutting down on the total number of dunks to find an efficient path through the contest is a good thing, and the contest certainly wasn’t too long (duh).

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This year’s contest might have accomplished those goals, but it failed to get the most out of a very talented group of athletes, it failed to put those athletes in a position where their efforts would have the potential to be enduring, it failed to generate real tension because of the conference format, and it failed to set up what could have been an historic final showdown between two All-Stars in Wall and George, and Ross, the reigning champ.

Instead of a heavyweight boxing match for a championship belt, we witnessed an all-comers track meet where half of the competitors went home with blue participation ribbons and the crowd left the building wanting more. For the 200th time — and at the risk of being really redundant — this was a totally foreseeable possibility.

Overall, this year’s Slam Dunk Contest format did the little things OK but totally whiffed on the big picture. That the whiff was so predictable made it that much more maddening. That the conference vs. conference format helped cause the whiff because of the disparity in talent between the teams was further proof that “East vs. West” shouldn’t play such a prominent role in future contests.

When the event organizers go back to the drawing board for 2015, they must realize that the current format has the potential to ruin any field. It ruined this year’s group — which included three All-Stars for the first time since 1988 — and it’s so bad that it has the potential to ruin a dream field composed of guys like Blake Griffin and LeBron James, as long as the “battle” match-ups don’t pan out evenly. Much like actors, Slam Dunk participants are at the mercy of their stages and scripts, and both need serious fixing in time for next year’s contest in New York City.

The Slam Dunk Contest organizers must realize that the heart and soul of this contest is a direct competition between the very best dunkers: Dominique Wilkins vs. Michael Jordan, Spud Webb vs. Dominique Wilkins, Dee Brown vs. Shawn Kemp, Vince Carter vs. Steve Francis vs. Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard vs. Gerald Green, and the list goes on. Any format that doesn’t lead directly to that path runs the risk of repeating this type of disaster.

Please, NBA, do not let this happen again. Bury this year’s format in the graveyard next to “The Wheel” as soon as possible.

46 comments
Nate the Pate
Nate the Pate

Every few years, they trot out some stupid new format for the dunk contest.  Like a few years back, they set a shotclock for 60 seconds or something.  That's utterly stupid.  Just use the old rules of you get 3 dunks in 3 attempts and the lowest score is dropped.

Nate the Pate
Nate the Pate

The NBA is obsessed with East vs. West.  What is this, the 1800's? Eliminate conferences for good.  Rank the top 16 teams in the NBA and match them up 1 v 16, 2 v 15, etc.  We've got good teams in the West that are gonna miss the playoffs and then you have under .500 teams in the east ranked 6th.  What the what?

swededawg52
swededawg52

I didn't even know the all star game was on until afterwords.  Maybe it is me but the NBA  just does not have the stature it had in bygone years.

mrfrogburger
mrfrogburger

Get rid of it. It's boring and useless 

ambassgray
ambassgray

Remember when the dunk contest was fun?  Here is a thought...why not review some tapes of the Jordan vs. Wilkins days, and go by the same rules as were used back then.  It was very simple, and showcased the talent of the athlete.  We do not want East vs. West etc..just admit your mistakes, and go back to the way it was. Hell, let Jordan, Nique, and Dr J go at it on a nerf hoop...that would be more fun to watch than what was displayed this weekend.  


FilippeLee
FilippeLee

they should make the contest with just white players... that would be fun to watch!!

AustinBob78
AustinBob78

Make a Dunk just one point and get back to Real Basketball


K.r.Qunynghamm
K.r.Qunynghamm

Yeah, I'm surprised anyone watches it anymore. It's beginning came during the ABA days when the leagues officials were trying to create interest in the ABA All-Star game. You had serious dunkers back then, and it didn't need guys wearing capes, leaping over other players, over cars, or former players on thrones. It was just a show of throwing down the ball. What they've come up with now is a well, a disaster.

MichaelArcane1
MichaelArcane1

Trying to remember the last time I cared about or watched the dunk contest.  Coming up blank.

wetmouse
wetmouse

Wow! People still watch this?

muser
muser

Dunks are worth two points, just like every other bucket inside the 3 point stripe. People are getting tired of the "hey look at me" nothingness...

JubJub
JubJub

Wait...the what?    

memberofsociety
memberofsociety

I think they should have a half court 2 on 2 tournament...a la White Man Can't Jump...that would be sick and I'm sure you would see a lot of dunks.

sm28xxxsm28
sm28xxxsm28

Make dunks worth 1 pt. or raise the level to 11 ft.

75rknight
75rknight

It didn't help that only Wall made his first attempt in the battle round.  It ruins the excitement when you know what's coming.

NickPirce
NickPirce

Now this is a Slam Dunk Contest! Comedy + Entertainment

a_evangelista
a_evangelista

"Battle round" comes from The Voice. Nick Cannon comes from America's Got Talent. See what happens. Just have a good old-fashioned dunk contest, or get rid of it.


ReptilexcqRep
ReptilexcqRep

This dunk contest is a joke.  I didn't even know they changed the format.  Whoever invented this bullshyt must be fired and i bet you if the public found out who invented this bullshyt will get a lot of eggs throw at them.  This is sooo stupid that it failed to live up to the excitement of what a Dunk Contest is supposed to be.  Wall make a great dunk and he's the Champion lol.  Wow....pretty lame.

serveaux
serveaux

"Rather than scoring dunks on a 1-to-10 scale and adding them up, a process that has the potential to be inconsistent and controversial, the judges faced a simpler decision this year"

A controversial slam dunk contest? OH MY GOD, IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD. Good thing they changed that, or people might have had something to talk about afterwards.


jackgorfin
jackgorfin

The NBA cant even convince James to participate for the good of the game.

jackgorfin
jackgorfin

who cares, nobody watches this krap anyway, even the players dont want to participate

JR1445
JR1445

Total disaster. Naming 3 champions (half the field!) is an insult to all the guys who came in second during good years. The team format seems designed specifically to lure Lebron into participating with DWade. but it can only work if you allow the contestants to ditch the teams after the freestyle round. The East vs West thing could be decided in the freestyle round (i.e., who wins the money for charity or whatever it was); then continue in the traditional dunk contest format until one winner is selected.

BarryButtBoy
BarryButtBoy

all that black crap is boring if you are white and most NBA fans are white.. you all miss your target with low life rap crap and entertaines cause i find rappers and hip hop guys to be nothing but thugs

WillieDub-cChatmanIII
WillieDub-cChatmanIII

The fact that the big names in basketball never compete competition is absolutely a shame. Michael Jordan Dominique Dawkins, and Spud Webb to name a few too proud in the dunk contest. for all those who claim to be a face of the NBA they need to stand up and be to face of the NBA.

apcommenter
apcommenter

agreed.... slam dunk contest blew a big one... I thought after the 3 east dunked there would be some one on one..waste of time to watch...

n1ggyn1ce
n1ggyn1ce

so now Nick Cannon is pegging himself as the urban youth's Ryan Seacrest? Please get rid of him and the AI style judging.  If I wanna watch Nick Cannon I'll tune in to AGT or whatever reality show he's hosting.  Also the everyone gets a trophy/good job good effort ideal was lame! It's all about individuality and being recognized as the best dunker! NBA dunk contest execs are made up of 50 yr old white men and corporate bigwigs like Sprite SMDHFH!!!

HockeyMcLover
HockeyMcLover

Don't forget that the overall even took almost 3.5 hours. Don't forget that NOTHING happened in the first 35 minutes of the broadcast. Don't forget the absolute cluster mess of 'Cliff Paul', and all the other Busch League sponsor activations. Don't forget that they accidentally broadcast the winner's name twice, before hushing the crowd to formally announce it.

The NBA should be ashamed for the debacle they aired... No wonder lebron didn't appear. Between the decision and this, he'd of then been front and centre on both of the NBAs two worst pieces of programming

Lol. Rant over

John Rotten
John Rotten

@swededawg52 It's just you and/or your generation.  The numbers it's pulling are fantastic.  It's going for a young crowd and it's getting it.  I'm a middle aged guy and I dont know any of the performers they are trotting out there.  So for me a lot of the glitz is lost.   However, the numbers and revenue All-Star weekend is pulling is undeniable.

newshamg
newshamg

@K.r.Qunynghamm  It's a stale concept. But I have to take issue with the ABA comment - are you even old enough to remember the ABA? Because the dunk contests back then were abysmal. Go back and really look at the Dr. J dunks - they are crap compared to what guys today can do. 

John Rotten
John Rotten

@muser The rating the NBA is pulling domestically and internationally say otherwise.

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@ReptilexcqRep   You didn't know they changed the format?  So you didn't watch, but are all upset for some reason. 

scir91onYouTube
scir91onYouTube

@jackgorfin  it's not on national TV like the NBA finals. not everyone has (or wants to pay for) cable tv which costs so much every month.

ckelley5
ckelley5

@BarryButtBoy  I think that could be the dumbest comment ever posted to the internet.  What does "entertaines" mean?  I've never heard that word before.....go back to Arkansas

ianforbes
ianforbes

@BarryButtBoy LOL. I think the games you're looking for are called the racist inbred redneck filthy dufus shuffleboard games. Enjoy!

humdrumdrumhumming
humdrumdrumhumming

@WillieDub-cChatmanIII  

please...

the guys in the 80's didn't have to wear a cape, blow out a candle, while drake and/or shaq was part of your gimmicky dunk involving a uniform of a former franchise great...

LeBron couldn't just do a couple nasty windmills and jump off from the free throw line, he'd be forced to lowering himself with props, hip gyrations like wall and george or overall stupidity.. (and, oh by the way, the only reason Spud Webb is a "big name in basketball" is because of the slam dunk contest...who is Dominique Dawkins???)

in game dunks are, and always will be, the best dunks of all time, on people trying to stop you... jordan's best dunk ever was baseline on patrick ewing, not the dunk contest, vince carter's best dunk ever was jumping over a 7-footer, not the dunk contest...


dunking on a professional player trying to stop you in the middle of a game will always be the ultimate...


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adsqqQybvTE


lebron holds a dunk contest 82 regular season games a year...


the All-Star dunk contest is dead, D-E-D, dead...

humdrumdrumhumming
humdrumdrumhumming

@Rob14 @humdrumdrumhumming @WillieDub-cChatmanIII  

fyi 


a) Dawkins broke his only backboards (two) in 1979, breakaway rims didn't come in until 1982..


and it's actually Shaq whose responsible for the current rim, stancheon, base setup… because he brought down an entire backboard, and at least two entire basket supports…



b)  if you knew that Lovetron was the tenth planet in our galaxy (back when Pluto was the ninth), you'd know that Darrell Dawkins said that's where he was from, because he was an alien -- and that's why his dunks were so nasty...


Darrell Dawkins, aka Chocolate Thunder aka..


aww, hell… 


from Wikipedia…


"Dawkins claimed to be an alien from the planet Lovetron where he spent the off-season practicing "interplanetary funkmanship" and where his girlfriend Juicy Lucy lived."





google Planet Lovetron -- the truth shall set you free