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The NBA dunk contest is crapshoot that lacks star power

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NBA All-Star Saturday was a hit once again, but one of the main events may have missed the mark. The slam dunk contest at one time was the highlight of the entire weekend. Now it’s hit or miss, year-to-year, whether we’ll be talking about it for weeks or if it’ll be forgotten by Monday afternoon. This year’s contest featured reigning champion Mac McClung defending his title successfully going back-to-back. Jaylen Brown also joined the fray which we hope will entice more notable star players to take part in the future.

McClung became the first back-to-back winner since Zach LaVine did it in 2015 & 2016. He defeated Brown in the final round, but this year’s event didn’t have the same pop as last year.

Maybe it’s because we’d already seen McClung pull out his aerial arsenal, so more was expected, but it just didn’t have the same allure. Although, the fact that McClung is primarily a G-Leaguer makes his feat unique. Either that or it’s an indictment of many full-time association ballers who frequently hangout above the rim.

McClung’s dunks were fine, but the crowd didn’t seem as impressed in Indy. His first dunk may have been the most eye-popping throwdown, but the judges weren’t moved enough to give him a 50, like Reggie Miller and Kenny Smith pushed for on the live broadcast. In real time watching McClung pull off that dunk was amazing.

Each participant did well, but the lack of stars in this competition is what has hurt it over the years. Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jacob Toppin gave it their best, but it wasn’t enough to get out of the first round. Brown and McClung were probably the best matchup we could’ve hoped for in the final round.

In reality, this year’s contest was The Mac McClung Show, and everyone wanted to see how he would top his last performance. Brown added star power to the contest — but in the end wasn’t enough. Hopefully, more upper-tier NBA guys will reinvest in joining the dunk contest in the future. As good as some of these young players are, the NBA is a star-driven league. The more star power the better. All the star power has transitioned over to the three-point contest.

Stars aligning

Damian Lillard = Winner

Tyrese Haliburton

Karl-Anthony Towns

Lauri Markkanen

Trae Young

Malik Beasley

Jalen Brunson

Donovan Mitchell

Just about every participant in Saturday night’s three-point shootout is a star to some degree. Malik Beasley might be the only one not considered a “star player.” but a solid NBA talent, having a career year from behind the arc. So, he certainly deserved to be there.

However, the other seven players are all either the No. 1 or 2 option on their team and bona fide stars. Mitchell, KAT, and Lillard are all former winners. It was Dame Time once again as Lillard went back-to-back becoming the first to do so in this contest since Jason Kapono in ’07 & 08. There’s a name you didn’t expect to hear today. One current NBA name who wasn’t too thrilled at being “snubbed” and left out of this star-filled contest was Clippers guard, Norman Powell.

“I really don’t know what the criteria is to get nominated… Being a top-3 three-point shooter the last 3-4 years… I don’t know. It’s just crazy to me… It is what it is. I’ll enjoy my extra days.”

This is what the dunk contest needs. No one is talking about being snubbed in the dunk contest. None of the big stars want to do it anymore. It certainly goes through spurts — we’ll have a couple years where some young hungry, up-and-coming stars will shock us and do something that sends the crowd in attendance through the roof. Then it goes back to years like this one.

Somehow the NBA must find a way to put the “star” back in the dunk portion of All-Star Saturday night. McClung was asked after the game if he’d be back to try for a three-peat next year and it sounded like it’s up in the air. That would be the biggest storyline for next year’s All-Star weekend. Can McClung pull off the first-ever slam dunk contest three-peat? Nate Robinson is a three-time winner but won his first in ’06 then went back-to-back in ’09 & ’10.

Let’s also do something to persuade more stars like Brown to join the field. The biggest names seem to have ducked and dodged the dunk contest over the past decade-plus. The days of showdowns between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins are something we’ll likely never see again. Or the likes of Dwight Howard and Nate Robinson squaring off, which we still see clips of to this day. Even in the year (2000), Vince Carter blew our minds; that contest also featured Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady.

If we could somehow get back to those days more consistently, the dunk contest could reclaim some of the glory it’s lost over the years. But for next year, we already have the Mac McClung three-peat storyline. Hopefully, he comes back to defend his title one last time.

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