Storyline: All-Star Contests

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James on never participating in the Dunk Contest – “There were multiple years when I seriously considered entering the Dunk Contest. One year, I don’t remember what year, it was maybe ’05 or ’06, I injured my ankle two games before the Dunk Contest. And then I had one time … I think I got injured before the All-Star break once again and I didn’t want to test jumping on my leg and jumping on my ankle and then have to play in the game the following day. I think about it all the time actually. I know, at this point I’m probably never going to do it, but I’ve thought about it year after year after year. You see the guys that we have in our Dunk Contest this year and the age, no. I’m gonna stay away from it now.”

With 19,067 people mostly on their feet in Staples Center, Baron Davis stuck his head out of the sunroof while wearing Los Angeles Clippers warm-up gear and a red headband. His Clippers teammate Blake Griffin needed a memorable dunk as JaVale McGee was eying the trophy in 2011. While the Kia Ultima wasn’t Griffin’s car of choice, he made it work. And in one of the most memorable and debated NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Championships, Griffin sealed the victory by jumping over the silver sedan, somehow having the timing to catch a misplaced one-handed lob pass by Davis and dunking the basketball hard with two hands. “I was worried that I wasn’t going to get the dunk down,” Griffin said. “The idea was to windmill it. It was a little high. So, then I was just like, ‘Dunk it.’ So right after I dunked it, I came down and I was pissed because I didn’t think it was going to be good enough. But it worked out. But like everything, there was controversy.”

DeRozan offered a strong remake of former slam dunk champion J.R. Rider’s “East Bay funk dunk” by taking the ball through his legs in the air before jamming it. Somehow, he only received a score of 44. The Compton, California, kid was perfect on his second dunk, receiving a 50 after he threw the ball in the air, scooped it with his right hand, turned his back to the basket and finished with an acrobatic dunk. “I put a lot of thoughts into my dunks and executed them as planned,” DeRozan said. “Most definitely, I thought I did everything in my power to be in a position to win the event.”

McGee’s final dunk was a fierce slam off the backboard in which he came from the left side, was well above the rim, caught the ball up high with his right hand and dunked it in. Despite the creativity, McGee said he didn’t spend a lot of time preparing for the contest. “I didn’t put a lot of time or effort in, to tell the truth,” McGee said. “I [created] all my dunks at the practice. The two-rim dunk I didn’t create until the practice day.” While McGee’s final dunk was acrobatic, it didn’t have the flair that Griffin saved for last.

Larry Nance Jr. has envisioned what would happen if he follows up his father’s victory in the NBA’s inaugural Slam Dunk Contest in 1984 with a triumph of his own during All-Star Saturday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. “It’s fun to talk about, sit around the house with my fiancee,” Nance said. “Like, ‘How cool would it be, at home we have mine next to his, we’d be able to hold them up and take a picture?’ I’m just excited to get the opportunity to try.”

CJ McCollum will not be playing in the All-Star game on Sunday, which is understandable, because of the logjam of great players in the West. He was a near-miss on that front. But less understandable is the snubbing he got from the NBA in the 3-Point Contest. He has been in it the past two years, and he is shooting 42.1 percent from the arc this year — better than six of the eight players who will be shooting on Saturday night. So I asked McCollum why he was not part of the Saturday night contest. “That’s a great question,” he said. “I think there are a lot of people who shoot the ball extremely well. Can’t be in it every year, right? Unless you win it every year.”

CJ McCollum is expecting to get such an All-Star experience of his own, eventually. “As a competitor, you always want to receive the best rewards,” he said. “But you understand that it is a team sport, and you understand the better your team plays, the more you are rewarded. There are a lot of players who could have been voted into the All-Star game, a lot of players in the East and Western Conference, moreso the West. “But it’s the NBA, it’s tough and I feel like at some point, I will make the All-Star team.”

The only guys who don’t seem impressed are the players themselves. Not Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft from LSU who had to sit out a year with a foot injury but expected to hit the ground running once he could play. “I mean I’m here for a reason and obviously Philly chose me for a reason, and I’ve spoken to Brett (Brown) a lot when I was hurt and he wanted me to run the team and be the point guard,” the Australian said. “So I know he trusts me and has faith in me, and for myself I know I definitely trust and believe in myself.”

Same with Kyle Kuzma, even though he came into the league from Utah with far less fanfare after being taken with the No. 27 pick, which belonged to Brooklyn and was traded to the Lakers. He’s gone on to average nearly 16 points and join Hall of Famers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor as the only Lakers rookies with three straight games of 25 or more. “It’s pretty cool any time you’re mentioned with guys that are Hall of Famers or very important to this game’s history,” Kuzma said. “I kind of knew I was going to play well,” he added. “If you don’t have that confidence then you shouldn’t be playing really.”

Oladipo dealt with trade rumors in his first three seasons in Orlando, had a unique learning experience alongside Russell Westbrook last season with the Thunder, and now has his mind on All-Star Weekend with the Pacers. He’s also starring in his return to Indiana, where he played collegiately for the Hoosiers. “Being able to play in the game, it’s going to be surreal,” Oladipo said. “Having my family and friends there for the entire weekend, it’s going to be a good time for me. I’ve watched it twice as a Rising Star, not going at all and viewing the whole weekend — it’s important to be there. It’s a weekend NBA players all look forward to, and to be part of it is an honor. Representing this team as an All-Star is important to me, and it will be a special weekend doing the dunk contest and my first All-Star Game.”
2 weeks ago via ESPN

Tracy McGrady (guard/forward, Toronto Raptors): I just felt like I wasn’t a creative dunker like that. I was like, “Why would I want to get into it knowing that [Vince is] gonna win?” I see his dunks every day and how creative he is. [1] Vince Carter: Until the last minute, I think after [practice one day] we were fooling around — he was doing some stuff, throwing the ball off the wall, just all kinds of stuff — and he finally was like, “All right, I’m gonna do it.” It was tough. Even prior to [All-Star Saturday], maybe Thursday, he was like, “Man, I don’t think I wanna do it.” He was gonna back out!
2 weeks ago via ESPN

Francis: That was my first dunk contest. [I’d been in ones] in the ‘hoods and in the streets, yeah, but nothing professional. Every dunk that I did in the dunk contest in Oakland — I practiced zero dunks. Zero. You can ask the coach, the GM, anybody. I didn’t even practice any of them. Dave Haggith (manager of media relations, Toronto Raptors): That was the thing that amazed me the most. On the night of the dunk contest, I hadn’t seen any of those dunks from either [Vince or Tracy] before.
2 weeks ago via ESPN

Vince Carter: I didn’t hear anything. The yell — it was so loud, it was like I was in a box screaming with nobody else there. I just went numb for a second. … That dunk I did in San Antonio. Barely made it. So that’s why I scratched [it]. That dunk was a scratch. But then all of a sudden, I was like, “The hell with it. Let’s go.” As I took that first dribble, and if you watch it on the second dribble I smacked the ball real hard and that’s when I felt like I powered up, you know, like Mario Bros. And I just felt like I gained two, three inches [when I jumped]. When I took off and turned around, the rim was right here [at eye level]. It took minutes for the crowd to calm down, long enough for Stackhouse and Davis to complete their first-round dunks in relative anonymity. “[Stackhouse] was just shaking his shoulders, like, ‘Really?'” Miller says.
2 weeks ago via ESPN

Vince Carter: They didn’t quite tell us about the partner thing, so we didn’t practice that at all. I didn’t know. So I was like, “What the heck could I do?” I had saw in a magazine — this is about the time the Strength Shoe was out — and there was a picture of this guy in the air and he had his hands between his legs, jumping up in the air. So I said, “OK, I’m gonna try it.” So I said to Tracy: “Just stand here and bounce it and get the hell out the way.” He said, “What are you gonna do?” I said, “Just bounce it and back up. About this high.”

Alex Kennedy: The NBA announced the Rising Stars Challenge participants. Once again, rather than doing a Rookie vs. Sophomore format, they’ll do a World vs. U.S.A. format. Here are the rosters for both teams:

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February 24, 2018 | 10:01 pm EST Update