In 2008, Dwight Howard battled for the All-Star Dunk trophy. The 6’10” center won the contest, which left a bitter taste in Nate Robinson’s mouth. A year later, Nate won one with a bit of help from DH12.
“You gotta at least touch the rim”
Dwight Howard won the '08 All-Star Dunk contest, but it wasn’t without controversy. For one, some claimed centers shouldn’t be allowed to participate because of their vertical advantage. Howard went up against Jamario Moon, Rudy Gay, and Gerald Green in that contest, all standing at no more than 6’8”. The former Orlando Magic star brought out the Superman dunk in his second attempt, and it went down as one of the most memorable in the history of the All-Star dunk contest.
The following year, Robinson participated in the dunk contest and jumped over Dwight Howard en route to winning his second award in the competition. But in a video before the actual event, both players discussed if, indeed, the Magic center’s dunk the year before was legit. As seen in the video, Dwight didn’t touch the ring. Instead, he threw the ball in front of the rim, and it went in. For Robinson, it shouldn’t be called a dunk.
Howard responded that he threw it in the rim, which was the same thing. JR Smith, who was also a participant that year, echoed Nate’s views that a player needs to touch the rim at some point. So getting in contact with the rim spells the difference between a dunk and a 2-point attempt.
Nate Robinson’s dunk record
Nate would go on to win another Slam Dunk trophy, making him the winningest player in the event. Standing at only 5’9”, he was also among the shortest to do it. Spud Webb, standing at 5’7”, holds the record as the shortest player to win the All-Star dunk contest.
What made Robinson win the award three times was one, he could jump. He recorded a 43.5-inch vertical jump which was impressive in itself. And two, he liked to entertain people. Nate had a penchant to showboat at times but as they say, if you have it, then flaunt it. The 11-year veteran never failed to show flair whenever he got the chance, especially in an open court. Instead, he became an inspiration to those vertically challenged, that a player standing below 6 feet could win several dunk contest trophies.
Is it time to put a height limit on dunk contests?
The dunk contest has lost its popularity in recent years due to a lot of reasons. The big names aren’t participating due to fear of getting injured, the contestants’ attempts get repetitive and boring, and the participation of unqualified big men.
The centers in the league aren’t high-leapers because they don’t have to try so hard when they could reach the ring so easily. Dwight Howard might have won one trophy, but it was because of the fans’ vote. JaVale McGee joined the event in 2011 but didn’t win, although his dunks were impressive. Larry Nance Sr., also 6’10” like D12, won one in 1984. But his attempts had creativity and flair and not just gimmicks like what Howard attempted by wearing a Superman suit.
Amare Stoudemire joined the 2003 and 2005 editions but, unfortunately, never won. Standing at 6’10”, the former Phoenix Suns big man could only muster a runner-up finish. Perhaps, if centers would showcase actual gravity-defying stunts and less of the gimmicks, fans would start appreciating seeing big men once again.
The challenge is thinking of new acrobatic attempts and making it on the first try. There are only a few styles that centers could try without risking injuries and making a fool of themselves on national TV. Does that mean the NBA should limit players’ height during All-Star dunk contests? Maybe, it’s worth exploring. Anything to give the event a fresh take should be welcomed at this point.
The most memorable and probably the best showdown in history pitted two forwards in Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon. How about a contest among those 6’5” and below? Will we finally see the air magicians pull out something incredible in their bag of tricks? What about an Anthony Edwards vs Ja Morant in a dunk contest? Both are fiery, young, freakish athletics, below 6’5”, and eager to win. If the NBA pulls this off, it could reignite the fans’ interest in the Dunk contest. So here’s to hoping the basketball gods make this a reality before it becomes too late to salvage the event.