LOS ANGELES -- The dunk contest was a dud contest and something has to be done.
It's not just a matter of who was in it. The presence of Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony certainly would have helped during the annual NBA all-star slam-dunk contest on Saturday night. But let's face it, the format is broken.
With all due respect to champion Fred Jones of the Indiana Pacers, not only is he not the best dunker in the NBA, he wasn't even the best dunker on Saturday. Had there been a different, proper structure, Jones probably would have finished third in the four-man field, behind Jason Richardson of the Golden State Warriors and Chris Andersen of the Denver Nuggets.
Yes, the dunk contest is supposed to be fun, and at a certain level everyone takes it too seriously. But here's the thing people who don't really understand sports fail to appreciate: It's the competition that makes it fun.
Therefore, if you're going to have a dunk contest and you're going to present it in the form of a real competition, that competition must have integrity. Otherwise, just have a dunking exhibition, which is pretty much what the all-star rookies-versus-sophomores game was on Friday.
The dunk event this year was limited to players with three or fewer years of experience, primarily because the NBA got tired of begging established stars like Carter, Bryant and McGrady to participate. But maybe those guys would be more interested if some significant changes were made.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions for revamping the dunk contest. Some are simple, some are sweeping:
- No one cares about any of the events except the three-point shootout and the slam-dunk contest on all-star Saturday, so make those two events longer. Instead of six people shooting three-pointers, have eight or 10. Instead of four dunkers, have six or eight or 10.
A CARDINAL SIN
- Instruct the judges on the basics on judging. They made a cardinal sin on Saturday by giving an early Jones dunk a perfect score, failing to leave room -- an old figure-skating term -- for any subsequent dunks that could be better.
- What's more, if you're going to have ex-players as judges, at least have some who were dunkers themselves. The judges on Saturday were former Los Angeles Lakers greats Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Jamaal Wilkes and Norm Nixon, not one of whom was a notable dunker in his day.
- Give the judges access to TV screens, so they at least can see the same immediate replays that everyone at home can. Sometimes you need to watch a replay to understand how hard or easy a dunk was.
- Here's one model for a dramatic alteration to the format: Give each player 10 consecutive dunk attempts. That would give them all a chance to get warmed up, instead of the current concept of sitting around and then making one try at a time.
The players would not be scored on their individual dunks, but rather, they would get an overall score at the end of their 10 attempts. That would give the judges a chance to watch replays and get a better cumulative sense of what the player can and can't do.
The scoring system could break down into three categories: Creativity (did he come up with anything new?), athleticism (did he get high above the rim and/or slam with rim-rattling force?) and execution (how many of his attempts did he actually convert?).
This is just one option, of course. There are a myriad of possibilities. Every hoops fan has an opinion.
But if the NBA is going to continue to market this contest as a marquee event, the status quo is unacceptable. And that's a real slam dunk.