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2014 Dunk Contest: Ranking the dunks

Feb 16, 2014, 12:26 AM EDT

2014 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest Getty Images

Let’s get this out of the way: that was an awful, awful dunk contest. Despite one of the most star-studded fields in years and some phenomenal athletes, the 2014 dunk contest was a complete dud. Most of the blame probably lies with the new contest format which, at the risk of recycling adjectives, was unforgivably awful.

For the majority of the “freestyle” round, it would have been possible to hear a fly crash into a bed of cotton in the Smoothie King Center, and it’s not clear why anyone thought it was a good idea.

While the idea behind the “battle” round was an intriguing one, the fact is that the format caused the viewers to see far less dunks under pressure. Last year, having the 4 participants get two dunks each and the finalists get an extra two dunks apiece meant the viewing audience at home got to see 12 dunks. If you don’t count the freestyle dunks, and you really shouldn’t, we got to see six dunks this season, thanks to the East’s “sweep.” Apparently a round-robin of some kind, which would have allowed the fans to see more dunks, would have taken away from the drama of the inter-conference dunk rivalry that does not exist and nobody cares about. More dunks, in general, makes for a better dunk contest.

Okay, enough complaining. At the end of the day, we got to see dunks, and dunks are fun. Now I shall rank all six dunks that we got to see in the “battle round,” as well as the three most notable dunks of the “freestyle” round.

9) Harrison Barnes, Battle Round: Throwing down a windmill while being motion-captured for NBA 2K

When Harrison Barnes hooked himself up to something before his dunk, we knew some type of gimmick was coming, and we knew it wasn’t going to be nearly as fun for the fans as Barnes and the fine gentlemen at 2K studios probably thought it would be when they came up with it. After two misses, Barnes threw down a relatively plain windmill slam, and fans were then treated to an immediate rendering of Barnes performing the exact feat in NBA 2K graphics. I’m sure the technology behind doing that in real-time is amazing, but it was the nadir of the dunk contest.

8) Ben McLemore, Battle Round: Ben McLemore jumps over a Shaq, who was sitting in a big chair

I mean, sure, the crown, the cape, the throne, and the “Shaqramento” and “Shaqlemore” puns were bad, but at this point, we know better than to expect anything resembling subtlety from Shaq. The reason this ranks so low isn’t a reaction to the specific gimmick — it’s a reaction against the idea that “dunker jumps over thing” is enough to make an impressive dunk in and of itself anymore, especially when the person is sitting down. Plus, McLemore took two attempts to pull the dunk off. After rumors that McLemore was going to attempt a 720, this was a disappointment.

7) Terrance Ross, Battle Round: East Bay Funk Dunk, assisted by Drake

We’ve seen the between-the-legs dunk a lot at this point, and while it will always probably my favorite category of dunk, pretending that having Drake hold out a ball puts a radical new spin on an old dunk contest standby simply didn’t work for me.

6) Damian Lillard, Battle Round: Reverse 360 dunk with a lefty finish

I liked this dunk — it was smooth, it was clean, and there was a nice degree of difficulty on it — I think it should have beaten Ross’ dunk, obviously, which would at least have allowed us to see two more dunks. The dunk wasn’t anything radical, and it wasn’t thrown down with enough force or amplitude to make it amazing, so it takes this space on the list. This is the problem with the format — if Lillard had had four “official” dunks, this would have been a great dunk. With only one, it didn’t quite cut it.

5) Ben McLemore, Freestyle Round: Reaching way the hell back and slamming down a self-oop

Here’s another frustrating thing: when you can jump like Ben McLemore, you don’t need a man making a fool of himself on national television, not to mention a herald, to make your dunks impressive. A simple self-oop off the floor that forced McLemore to hang in the air as he re-adjusted himself to the toss was enough to make for a darn impressive dunk.

4) Damian Lillard, Freestyle Round: Off-the-floor self-oop East Bay Funk Dunk

Like I said, I’m a huge sucker for the between-the-legs dunk, and watching the smallest guy in the field throw one down off of a nice self-oop toss was beautiful to see. Lillard definitely should’ve saved this one for the battle round.

3) The East, Freestyle Round: 3-man alley-oop ending in a shot-clock toss to Paul George throwdown

Teammwork is fun. Dunks thrown off the shot clock are fun. Alley-oops grabbed way above the rim and thrown down with authority are super-fun. During the freestyle round, the Eastern squad combined to put all of these things into one dunk, and the result was delightful.

2) Paul George, Battle Round: Reverse-spin 360 East Bay Funk Dunk

Again, I’m a huge sucker for the between-the-legs, and I love opposite-direction spins. Plus, this was a dunk done without any props, or even an alley-oop toss, that we had never seen in a dunk contest before, which is amazing. If George had thrown it down just a little bit harder, or hit the dunk on his first try, this could have easily gotten the #1 spot.

1) John Wall, Battle Round: Over-the-mascot reverse tomahawk

You were expecting something else? This was the dunk that woke up the Smoothie King Center, just in time for the dunk contest to be over. There was some showmanship with the mascot, but it wasn’t distracting. The dunk was beautiful, clean, and he put it through on his first attempt. The hops required to pull off the dunk were apparent, and the power Wall generated with the Nique-like reverse tomahawk was shocking. Great dunk from a great dunker, and a painful reminder of what this dunk contest could have been if the contestants got more chances to show their stuff.

  1. maddnola - Feb 16, 2014 at 12:32 AM

    All were subpar

  2. DonRSD - Feb 16, 2014 at 1:58 AM

    Scratch the new format.
    I was bored.

  3. aboogy123456 - Feb 16, 2014 at 2:01 AM

    there was literally only one dunk per contestant. I was so excited to see the return of an exciting dunk contest, but it is completely ruined. Also, nobody cares about east vs west, I just want to see people actually dunk it.

  4. phillysports1 - Feb 16, 2014 at 3:16 AM

    Worst dunk contest of all time.

  5. imthewiz77 - Feb 16, 2014 at 3:23 AM

    The dunk contest has been a joke since Igoudala got hosed in 2006. One of the best dunks ever: Nate Robinson and his 20 tries…

    • 1heatedtoombrayduh - Feb 16, 2014 at 2:53 PM

      I have been saying the same thing!!

  6. imthewiz77 - Feb 16, 2014 at 3:24 AM

    The dunk contest has been a joke since Igoudala got hosed in 2006. One of the best dunks ever:

  7. jbeagles23 - Feb 16, 2014 at 8:20 AM

    The dunk contest has been a joke since 2000.

  8. golfrangeman - Feb 16, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    I thought the I initial team round could work out, the players just have to be more creative as a team. The final champion turns out to be a popularity contest. It worked out this year because wall did have the best dunk but could you imagine if players like LBJ, Kobe, or MJ were competing in this format the fans would vote them as champions regardless. Plus they really did only do one dunk per round.

  9. chiadam - Feb 16, 2014 at 10:38 AM

    I turned it on for two minutes, saw three guys on the court at once for some reason, and immediately turned it off. Just put the dunk contest out of its misery. It’s a joke. And I used to think that the lowest point in the history of the dunk contest was Birdman Anderson botching 387 dunks in a row. I was wrong.

  10. bhunter1995 - Feb 16, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    That’s turrible just turrible… really though this dunk contest was a joke.

  11. obmig - Feb 16, 2014 at 12:39 PM

    When is the final round?

  12. urodaddy07 - Feb 16, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    Need a head to head round. Need more dunks man

  13. fanofthegame79 - Feb 16, 2014 at 12:43 PM

    Does anyone know the ratings for the dunk contest? There has to be some reason why it’s still on. I’ll be honest with you, I enjoyed it. I thought this dunk contest was better than the last few years. I’m not a huge fan of the prop dunks (cars, thrones, etc.) and there didn’t seem to be too many of those this year (the Wall dunk withstanding, which was an incredible dunk). I would opt to ditch this lame team idea, but I think many of these dunks would have won in years past.

  14. cristren - Feb 16, 2014 at 6:53 PM

    This dunking contest must be a guy thing, because, I don’t get it. I can only watch that, for 2 minutes before I become bored to tears. They’re all doing the same thing, some 7 foot guy jumps over a prop, and dunks the ball in the basket, big deal, and these commentators, are acting so silly, like this is the greatest thing since slice bread, really. OMG, I can’t wait till regular basketball starts again.

  15. mytthor - Feb 16, 2014 at 11:25 PM

    The whole freestyle thing was kinda fun, I thought. But the idea that it somehow counted in the outcome was silly. They should have done the freestyle round, then based the seeding and match ups off of that, then have the one-on-one dunking like normal.

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