Zach LaVine Wins Sprite Slam Dunk Contest and Revitalizes Its Image
With all due respect to the first three events that make-up NBA All-Star Saturday, there's a reason why the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest is slated to end the evening.
It's the event that generates the most demand from the public because of its history.
There was a time when the Slam Dunk Contest mattered.
Players took it seriously and actually cared about putting on a show with the hopes of doing something that hasn't been done before.
Go into the archives and you'll understand why this event was so coveted.
You had his "air-ness," Michael Jordan, in 1985 dunking from the free-throw line, the birth of the jump-man logo.
You had The Human Highlight Film, Dominique Wilkins, punishing the rim with an aerial assault in the late 1980s.
Kobe Bryant channeled his inner MJ in 1997, Vince Carter raised the limitations in 2000, Jason Richardson brought flashes of Dominique and MJ in 2002 and 2003 and Dwight Howard and a few others have made impressive contributions to the contest over the years.
In this current decade, the Dunk Contest has lost its steam, just ask Gerald Wallace from 2010's crop and Jeremy Evans of 2012.
There have been some unforgivable years, and through the tough times we figured that the excitement of the past and the jubilation that the dunk contest once provided, would somehow reinvent itself and reveal itself in the near future.
And it has.
Because Minnesota guard Zack LaVine made it his business to do so, and even though Orlando guard Victor Oladipo did not win, he left a lasting impression, which is more than I can say about the other two participants, Brooklyn's own Mason Plumlee and the "Greek Freak," Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.
And that's what the 2015 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest boiled down to, a two-man race between LaVine and Oladipo, judged by New York basketball legends, Bernard King, Nate "Tiny" Archibald, Chris Mullin, Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Julius "Dr. J" Erving.
The best thing about the performances between Zach and Victor was the fact that they didn't save their best dunks for last.
They weren't conservative.
They didn't tease the crowd or shy away from the spotlight.
Oladipo followed Giannis, in the dunk order (Plumlee, Giannis, Oladipo, LaVine) and before he revealed whatever he had planned, he gave us a taste of his personality.
As he stepped onto the court, Oladipo sported a suit-shirt, accompanied by a top-hat and sang his own rendition of Frank Sinatra's- "New York, New York".
Singing is the other talent that Oladipo possesses other than obviously basketball, and once he finished his audition tape for American Idol, Oladipo went to work.
It took him three attempts, but Oladipo was able to complete a reverse 540, two-hand slam, starting from the right corner of the three point line, which immediately warranted a standing ovation.
Orlando Magic guard, Victor Oladipo, holding a Mr. 540 sign commemorating his 540 degree dunk in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest during 2015 NBA All-Star weekend
Now, the two-man was on, as Plumlee and Giannis quickly became non-issues!
LaVine entered the court to the main theme of the 1996 movie debut of Michael Jordan's Space Jam.
He dismissed his jersey and underneath, the Tune-Squad jersey that Jordan wore to beat the "Monstars" to retrieve the talent back for the NBA's greatest at the time, in the movie stood.
Just moments before LaVine's dunk, entitled "The Space Jam Dunk", Kenny Smith, of TNT's Game-Time crew expressed, through his mike: "You got Jordan on your back, this has to be special."
And that's exactly what it was, special.
Beginning from the right corner of the three-point line, LaVine lobbed the ball into the air, gathered himself, caught the ball at the apex of its bounce in the air with his left hand, pushed it between his legs to his right hand and reversed it, dunking the ball on the other side of the basket.
And the crowd rejoiced in unison.
I've seen different variations of the between the legs dunk throughout the years of this event in Jason Richardson, Gerald Green and even Desmond Mason, but not like this.
From the side camera in slow motion, LaVine looked like he was walking in the air as Jordan once did, which made the jersey the perfect garment for this particular dunk.
With his first dunk, LaVine commenced the 1st round, gaining a score of 50.
In the second round, more of the same would continue.
What Plumlee and Giannis lacked in style and creativity was delivered by Oladipo and LaVine's exploits.
Oladipo's second dunk would've received a higher score if it was executed cleaner with more velocity, in a 360 slam via a pass off of the right side of the backboard from teammate, Elfrid Payton.
And LaVine once again, got the crowd on their feet, this time catching the ball off of a lob and passing the ball behind his back to his right, all in one motion for another dunk.
Oladipo and LaVine would make it to the final round as the top two scorers (LaVine 106, Oladipo 89), where LaVine would do just enough to accumulate a final score of 94 to Oladipo's 72, becoming the second youngest player to win the contest since Kobe Bryant in 1997.
"I'm still on cloud nine," said LaVine during his press-conference. "I feel like I'm dreaming; seeing all the dunk contests and people hoisting the trophy. I just saw myself do it and lived it. So it's a dream come true. I'm glad my family is here to witness it and go through it."
In winning this event, LaVine has been able to enjoy a moment in a season where there hasn't been much to celebrate for his Timberwolves.
The T-wolves are 13-43 currently, headed towards the lottery for their third straight year, and with LaVine's most recent accolade and Wiggins MVP honor via the World vs USA game, LaVine believes that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the Twin-Cities squad.
"It shows were on the rise," said LaVine. "We all want to be great. Just be on the lookout for that. We have the right type of mindset. We're all good kids. We really just want to be the best we can."
It will take some time before the T-Wolves can challenge the top teams in the Western Conference due to its young roster, but for one night, the Timberwolves and the cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul saw a glimpse of their future do exactly what they would like to see at the Target Center.