Merriment In Dunk-land
Congrats to Blake Griffin! He did what we thought he would! Check out our print of the newly-crowned Dunk Contest champ, and read some quick thoughts I exchanged with Eric Freeman.
Bethlehem Shoals: I've convened this meeting under the cover of darkness because that dunk contest left me all emotionally bedraggled. Like it was far deeper than the usual "yay" or "nay". How are you holding up?
Eric Freeman: I am pretty zen about it. Griffin won, as expected, but I always assumed that he wouldn't have my favorite dunks and would carry through on name recognition. Did you know that Nate Robinson said a few weeks ago that the dunk contest is rigged? Once Griffin acquitted himself decently you knew it was over.
BS: Didn't Nate win it like 70 times himself? Here's the thing: there was very little narrative arc to it. It was more like a tableau, or an allegory with four primeval feelings each submitting their claim for your attention. That might be what was so disorienting -- and powerful -- about it. To me, at least. It was more like four different perspectives on the same event, each with its own teleology. And yet it contained all four.
EF: That sounds right to me. Even Griffin's ascent seemed preordained rather than executed within the moment. But how many dunk contests really have narrative strength in the moment? Vince in 2000, I suppose, and maybe the Nique/MJ battles. Those are rare events -- I'm perfectly happy with the contest if we see some good dunks and everyone has a good time. There were no real stinkers this year, so I'm happy.
BS: We were also spared the usual tension of dunk contest, a kind of narrative anxiety where dunkers (and the audience) fret over how they will sequence their dunks for maximum effect with the judges. That's usually what passes for the inter-activity of narrative, and again, that's more a technicality. Today was like a release from that, since every dunk was good. And we learned that, as you said, the two dunkers dunking it out with dunk-fire in their dunky eyes is, at best a rare occurrence. Otherwise, you're competing against the scoreboard, and the forces that shape it, which themselves are determined n real time. Maybe each dunk as a vignette, whose score ends up being fairly meaningless (see Ibaka), is the only way to watch it. It's only as strong as the different stories it tells, not some sort of overall coherence or unity.
EF: I certainly prefer this sort of contest to the forced narrative of the Nate Robinson/Dwight Howard competition, where seeing two "great" dunkers of different heights supposedly made it interesting. Just pick four guys with impressive abilities and a willingness to go crazy (see: JaVale) and hope for the best. It's almost a shame Griffin had to be in his team's city and the fans got to vote -- otherwise we might've had a really exciting upset. Would losing a dunk contest really make anyone think less of him as a dunker?
BS: Especially when this year, there was no sense of trying to save themselves for marriage. They came out and did their thing. It sort of underlines the silliness of judging a contest when, as with today, the dunkers are all almost coming from different planets. Yeah, Zen as hell. A showcase where some dunked more than others, but everyone made their point. That might be the enormity of it ... I don't really feel like DeRozan or Ibaka were somehow kept from making an impression on us, and helping BRING THE DUNK CONTEST BACK. There's no reconciling the four of them, and it probably doesn't matter. I find it kind of ridiculous that we judged that at all. Couldn't it just be like a Christmas display in the middle of a shopping mall? God, there I go again, threatening the integrity of the competitive spirit again. Will I never learn?
EF: Apparently not. It seems like what you're saying is that there should also be some kind of battle for third place so everyone gets to dunk as much as everyone else. Then, no matter who wins the official trophy, we'll have seen what each contestant has to offer. And then we'll know the real champion. In our hearts, where it counts.