The Dunk Contest’s 900
USA Today Sports
In recent years, the NBA Dunk Contest has been more about what we as fans want it to be, rather than what it actually is. Some want it to hold true purpose in hopes of pushing the league’s elite stars to sign up for the spectacle year after year. Some want to completely abolish props, limit the scope of the competition to just the ball and the rim. It seems that following every mid-February Saturday, a large group of fans leave the once storied event underwhelmed and disappointed.
I’m one of these fans.
My grievance is not with the attitude towards the contest or the league’s desperate attempts at reinventing the rules to keep it fresh, but with how a single moment is looked back at now a full year later. Or rather, how it isn’t looked back at whatsoever.
Before my days were filled with LeBron James highlights, maddening Knick defeats and writing about this beautiful game when I should be doing my homework, I was a skateboarding fan. I don’t remember much from these days – other than I was terrible at the sport – but one remnant of my plank-riding days sticks out in my memory. The first 900.
For those unfamiliar, “The 900” is a trick in which a skateboarder spins 900 degrees in the air — or two and a half spins. Tony Hawk — the most prominent name in the sport during his time, popularizing it a la Michael Jordan with professional basketball — was the first to land the 900 in front of cameras without falling off his board. This legendary occasion lives on long after it’s time and will forever in professional skateboarding, a perfect representation of the sport through one trick: attempt the impossible, defy gravity, give a big middle finger to rules and convention.
The scene was X-Games 1999 in San Francisco, California. Hawk was faced with a timed showcase on a half-pipe to show off his best trick to the judges. For his final runs, Tony Hawk went for the first 900. Time eventually elapsed, with Hawk failing to complete the never before done trick. “We make up the rules as we go along. Let’s give him another try.” boomed the announcer. And so post-regulation, on his eleventh try with the outcome technically meaningless, Hawk completed it.
Hawk’s fellow competitors mobbed the halfpipe, lifting him up to the delight of crazed fans in pandemonium as if he were a god who had reaping the people of every one of their worries and troubles. Hawk came away with first place despite pulling off his tremendous feat with the clock expired. The completion of the 900 changed skateboarding forever, trampolining it to new boundaries and cementing Hawk’s already immortal name in skateboarding history.
Fast forward to Gerald Green in February of 2013. The double-dunk is a shred of basketball folklore, originating from tales of the most famous streetballer of all time, Earl “The Goat” Manigault. The name speaks for itself: a dunk consisting of finishing with one hand and grabbing the ball mid-air with the opposite one to throw down a second time. Needless to say, it’s never been done in a dunk contest nor captured on camera for our viewing pleasure. Gerald Green tried to change that.
After blowing the double-dunk nine times on his second go around in the 2013 Dunk Contest, Green had one last chance to complete the dunk before the contest had to move on. His tenth try was another miss, but like Hawk it would be his last. With his score already set at a woeful 32, Green gave it one last try despite his session being deemed over, this time successfully.
However, there was no roaring applause from the crowd. No astonishment from the announcers, absolutely no fuss whatsoever. The slam got a meager reaction from the fans in attendance, a ho-hum response from the announcers and since has faded into nothing but a token of random basketball trivia.
Why this dunk hasn’t lived beyond that Dunk Contest is a mystery. The slam wasn’t perfect in it’s execution, (neither was Hawk’s first 900) but it defied both the rules of the contest and what we thought we knew about athleticism. It was an epic to cherish alongside the greatest of Dunk Contest images: Vince Carter’s performance in 2000, the duels between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, Jason Richardson’s contest-winning final dunk in 2003, Dr. J taking off from the free throw line – because of it’s newness and sheer impressiveness. At least, that’s what I want it to be.
Perhaps this dunk is a living testament. Not to Green’s ability as a high-flyer or to the greatness of sports when reaching beyond the confides of a countdown. Instead, it’s a testament to the mirage that is the Dunk Contest. It will never be what we all want it to be, even with the cascade of fans pleading year after year. The problem doesn’t lie with rule changes or competitors, it lies with us. The Dunk Contest is what it is – an evolving display of above the rim mastery that will sometimes poorly judge amazing dunks, or change it’s format, or invite participants that come horribly unprepared but will also deliver some of the greatest basketball moments we’ll ever witness, appreciated or not – now and forever. The sooner fans can accept that, the sooner they’ll learn to enjoy it more.