Tuesday, June 21, 2022
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When the NBA Slam Dunk Contest is great, there’s nothing else like it in sports


Obi Toppin

Obi Toppin
Photo: Getty Images

Saturday night was not that. But it was fine. Obi Toppin won, deserved to win, and deserved better than having to answer for the shoddy performance of his competition.

The dunk contest is still better than the three-point contest, which Reggie Miller spent so much time droning on about as a better cap to the night. We see three-pointers all the time, and even if the dunk contest was a dud because Jalen Green took the air out of the building with his several failed attempts, Cole Anthony whiffed completely, then Juan Toscano-Anderson bombed out in the final.

There was no drama, but that didn’t mean Toppin’s dunks were lousy. Taken out of the context of the lack of drama, the Knicks big man’s highlight reel fits in well with other performances over the years. It’s not an iconic performance like Jason Richardson’s show that Toscano-Anderson tried to pay tribute to, but a solid night of dunking, which was all it took this year.

Not every year is going to be Aaron Gordon vs. Zach LaVine, but the NBA usually is better at accentuating the positive than what TNT brought on Saturday night, which sounded an awful lot like John Smoltz’s moaning in a baseball booth about how things used to be better. Even a dud of a contest still has some awesome dunks, and that will always be more fun than watching a bunch of guys shoot open jumpers, an event that’s hard to get zazzed up with neon green Mountain Dew balls worth extra points.

Also, Gordon got robbed in 2016, in part because of something that also plays against Toppin: bigger dunkers have a built-in disadvantage of aesthetics because what makes a dunk look extra cool is the appearance of defying gravity: the Jumpman silhouette sticks in your mind because of how cool Michael Jordan looked doing it.

Now, maybe the Knicks could start giving Toppin some more minutes to do more of his dunking in games, which is also tops in the league.

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