Justice Is Served

January 19, 2010 11:13 AM

LeBron's decision: Slam door on dunk contest


It was a thought too luscious to consider. It was something you had longed for -- dreamed about, really -- hoping it was more than words floating in the air like the aroma of fresh peach cobbler.

You wanted to believe more than disbelieve, and LeBron James had left much for basketball fans to discuss: In or out, who could say for sure?

He had dropped hints that he might be "in." Yes, LeBron had weighed putting his name into the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, an All-Star Game sideshow that used to be cooler than the game itself.

But its cool factor has taken a beating in recent seasons. The contest is akin now to pay phones in an IPhone era. For gone are the days when Dominique Wilkins, Larry Nance, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Air Jordan himself -- the highest of the high flyers -- signed up for the slam-fest.

The contest needed a big name to revive interest in it, and no name in the NBA is bigger these days than LeBron's. Of course, having Kobe back would have heightened interest in the contest as well, but Kobe had done his turn. He won the contest in '97 when it was played in Cleveland, LeBron's town.

Now, people had looked at King James to go for the crown that had NBA royalty attached to it. He had left that possibility out there, not ruling out anything even as he refused to commit to anything: until the other day. 

LeBron said no. He decided not to throw his name into the contest, which left it with Nate Robinson, Gerald Wilkins, Shannon Brown and someone else to be named.

Basketball is a game of stars. People pay handsomely to go stargazing, because stars are the ones who leave the lasting memories, who make the $2,000-a-night seats worth buying. Jordan and Kobe and Dominique and Nance and Carter, back in his glory years, filled seats.

What does the 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson fill? Not much.

This is not to demean the pint-sized Robinson, who has two Slam Dunk titles on his NBA dossier, but do any of his wins resonate with hoops fans the way Julius Erving's win at the ABA Slam Dunk Contest in 1976 does? Is Nate Robinson, the defending champ who had to defend his crown, a "star" that anybody wants to watch? Does he fill seats?

No doubt he's a high flyer, an imaginative dunker with crazy hops. He deserves applause for what he can do. So do Shannon Brown and Gerald Wilkins, decent players in their own right. But they aren't LeBron James, as imaginative, as creative a high-wire act as the game has ever seen.

LeBron has enough ready-for-prime-time dunks to fill two weeks of SportsCenter, which is the reason people waited and wished and hoped and prayed he would enter the contest this year.

Now, it's wait till next year. Maybe then, King James will enter and breathe life into the morbid Slam Dunk Contest, making the event the must-watch spectacle it used to be. His entry might draw Kobe back or Dwight Howard back or bring 'Melo Anthony or Kevin Durant or O.J. Mayo or Michael Beasley into the event.

Without them, the Slam Dunk Contest is like going stargazing at noon: There's nothing worth seeing. 

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