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?

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.

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At 2/20/2011 2:39 AM, Blogger Tom Doggett said...

I struggled to see the point of that whole spectacle. I'm sure the kids loved it, though. I remember being fifteen, and watching VC do his thang on the rim, and then rushing outside to imitate him on my friend's 9-footer. I could dunk on a regulation rim, but I couldn't come close to pulling off his 360 windmill on a 9 foot hoop. That's when the dunk contest's majesty clicked for me.

This felt like a halftime show, though. I know it's unfair to compare VC's 2000 show with this. But why can't they just get the best dunkers, and forget about bogus props for a minute? Watching Javale McGee throw a ball extravagantly high off the backboard to himself would be so much more fun than watching him take six tries to dunk three basketballs at once.

At 2/20/2011 4:36 PM, Blogger The Alliance of the Strange said...

I was entertained, but similar to Tom, it was more in a halftime show kinda way. The whole show was funny in that "drunk uncle" kind of way that NBA broadcasts tend to devolve into: Barkley actually drunk, Dwight Howard clearly bored, the inside jokes between Chris Webber, Kenny Smith and the gang, Pam McGee smooching on Dr. J, Javale clearly working hard to usurp Blake's coronation, Shaq on the online feed's Shaq-cam completely ignoring the dunk contest and instead spitting game to some lovely young thing and DeMar just straight dunking when everyone else had props.

The dunks themselves were solid, but it's interesting that Tom brings up VC because I was just looking that up after Blake's elbow dunk. VC had a terrific knack for articulating the dunk. He had impeccable form that year, from his fingertips to the soles of his shoes, that made those dunks seem absolutely grandiose. Looking at his work via Youtube, he takes a lot of cheats. He never comes close to a full 360, he jumped from well inside the free-throw line, etc. Maybe players have just athletically outgrown those dunks, but it seems to be at some unnameable expense. I mean, I appreciated the novelty and the spectacle, and liked it a hell of a lot more than the Nate Robinson years. But I'm wondering if players jumped from just a little bit closer, with maybe just one ball and one rim and no props, that they would actually be able to make for some more purely exciting basketball dunk shots.

At 2/20/2011 4:42 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

@Alliance: "Articulation" is more important than ever now, I think. That's why my favorite McGee dunk was his third. And the best Blake dunk his first. And I can see why Ibaka may not have made enough of an impression. And DeRozan was totally robbed.

At 2/21/2011 12:09 AM, Blogger thiago said...

well shoals i really liked Ibaka's first dunk, for me it was worth at least an 48, Blake's first dunk was amazing so was McGee's first one.
Great dunk contest overrall, way better than seeing nate win it just by being small

At 2/21/2011 2:34 AM, Blogger David Murphy said...

It's funny how we all see it differently. Mostly (and apart from the grandiosity of the car dunk), it just felt like four well-matched guys going at it and all jamming with authority. It didn't have the awkwardness of some other recent contests. And, even the car dunk had a certain old-school quality - this is streetball stuff on a much larger stage and I couldn't help but think of Hook Mitchell, raggedy clothes and old tennies but flying over a car and throwing it down and he didn't go over the hood either, he'd go over the top.

At 2/21/2011 3:13 AM, Blogger Tom Doggett said...

I'll admit it, I may be projecting prior disappointments onto this one. I've been pretty down on the dunk contests, J-Rich excepted, since VC. I was also watching tonight on the tnt.tv feed, which featured a lot of imperfect camera angles strung out together.

I do, however, suffer when the show does something obviously planned like the choir/nba sponsor car stunt. Wheeling a second hoop out there is cool. As is jumping over a car. But with the fifteen-minute final dunk attempt, they aren't even pretending it's spontaneous.

There's nothing wrong with theater, I guess, especially if pretending means the WWF. But there are still places to go within the framework of the traditional dunk. Serge Ibaka did something that, as far as I can tell, hasn't been done before on a stage such as this. If his dunk were to become a new standard, we might be able to coax Lebron to take of from sixteen feet away. And that would be so totally cool that my head would explode.

If we brought it back to eight guys, and let everyone have two tries per round for a counting score, it would be so so much better. We would have seen someone like JR Smith again, alongside newcomer Serge. Maybe get the d-league dunk champion as the eighth guy. Or break it down by conference, and have the top guys in each conference meet for the title. By making it theater, they're robbing people who actually care about dunks out in the cold.

I'm blaming nobody but the NBA corporation, though. Yes, there were some gems, but the bulls*** we all had to wade through to get to them is why I'm a hater. Nothing is sacred! Least of all a commercially viable sports mega-event!

At 2/21/2011 9:14 AM, Blogger Aaron said...

Agree with David Murphy that there was a classic streetball vibe to some of the more theatrical dunks. I kept thinking, when I saw the Ibaka teddy bear dunk, of the stories about Rucker players dunking and pulling quarters off the rim. This was, like the car dunk, an old trick updated and cleaned up.


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