Format quirks can't quiet big jams


NEW ORLEANS -- Technically, John Wall is the NBA's new dunk champion.

The Washington Wizards point guard took home arguably All-Star Saturday's most coveted prize when he executed the most astonishing dunk of the event. Words don't do Wall proper justice in explaining how he flawlessly leaped over the Washington mascot, retrieved the ball from G-Man's outstretched hands, then pumped the ball between his legs in midair and slammed in a reverse jam.

Perhaps most impressive was that Wall needed only one attempt to complete the dunk.

That alone made him the clear winner in a contest that otherwise played to mixed reviews because of a new format that left many fans -- and even players throughout the league -- confused by what was actually going on at times. This year's version featured a team concept, in which dunkers were grouped by the conference in which they played.

Wall's team of East dunkers also included Indiana's Paul George and Toronto's Terrence Ross, and they prevailed in a matchup against a West team that consisted of Portland's Damian Lillard, Golden State's Harrison Barnes and Sacramento's Ben McLemore.

With a first round of team dunking that borrowed for the concept of synchronized swimming and a judging process that allowed for feedback in the style of "American Idol" or "X-Factor," it's clear that the NBA is beyond desperate in its attempt to repair what is broken with the night's marquee event.

Essentially, the format got in the way of some phenomenal dunks.

And after so many changes, tweaks and gimmicks throughout recent years intended to revive the dunk contest, not even Dr. J can prescribe a true remedy to get the event back on its feet and become the spectacle it was during its heyday. Still, Julius Erving was pleased with some of what he saw Friday.

"It's been a challenge, a really big challenge, to get the audience involved, to get quality judges, to get the TV audience continuously interested," Erving told moments after he helped judge Friday's contest at the Smoothie King Center. "You might never get back to the day when you've got the two best players in the league or the two best dunkers in the league facing off, like in the heyday."

In other words, a huge part of the Dr. J has already accepted that the dunk contest will never again be what it was in the late 1970s when he spearheaded the original revival of the All-Star event by gliding from the free-throw line to win it in 1976. Even though George is one of the best in-game dunkers in the league right now, likely never to return are the times when Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan made the dunk contest must-watch TV in the late 1980s and one of the most anticipated nights of the season.

But among the encouraging signs for the godfather of the modern dunking era was the fact that more of the league's more recognizable players are now vested in the survival of the contest again. With Wall, George and Lillard participating Saturday night, it marked the first time since 1988 that three players selected to the All-Star game competed in the dunk contest.

The creativity is slowly creeping back into the event as well.

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