Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fixing the dunk contest

On Saturday, John Wall won a mostly forgettable dunk contest, during a mostly forgettable All-Star Weekend. Now, I won't rag on the NBA if they lose out this weekend against the Olympics. It's not the league's fault that they have that competition this year (though they could have adjusted the dates). But I don't blame the NBA for getting lost in that mix. But it is the league's fault for failing with the dunk contest.

They made an attempt this year, to fix the program (along with three-point contest), but I feel like it just made the dunk contest more confusing. The new rules featured two teams, East and West, competing against each other in the first round and then players from each team went head-to-head in the second round.

While, I enjoyed the team portion, I felt like the whole thing was more convoluted and the winner (Wall) got lost in the competition.

So here were the problems:

1.) More players, few stars

The number one problem for the dunk contest is the unwillingness of the NBA elite to take part. LeBron has snubbed the competition for years. Stars like Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard have competed and then more or less retired. So that's a consistent problem most years when there are just four dunkers.

This year, the NBA added two more players, to create two teams of three. Which exacerbates the problem of getting talented players. This year, we had some names... John Wall, Paul George and even Damien Lillard is making a name for himself. But not huge names for casual NBA fans or non-fans. Everyone knows LeBron, not everyone knows George and less probably know Lillard. There were talented dunkers like Terrence Ross and Ben McLemore, who both have hops, but no star power. McLemore also ended up stealing some of the show with one good dunk and a crazy pre-dunk skit with Shaq for his final dunk. But he's never going to bring the same buzz that'd you get from a LeBron and Blake Griffin showdown. (Or LeBron vs. another star).

Solution: There might not be a solution. LeBron's window is closing, he's never participating in the dunk contest. But you got a new generation of dunkers coming your way (Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker). The NBA has to find a way to get these guys into the contest and get them to keep coming back. You probably can't force Wiggins or Parker to take part, but maybe you can pressure them a little in their rookie year and get them to stay around.

I'd also be okay with the league calling out stars for wussing out. But we know the NBA will never do anything that could damage their precious marketable stars.

2.) Convoluted team format

I will admit, I ended up enjoying the team "freestyle" portion of the contest more than I imagined, and I think there is room to grow with that portion. It's a good way for the teams to warm up and excite the crowd. The East had a handful of great dunks in that portion, and the West did well after missing a few early team attempts.

What works for that team portion, is that there is a ton of options with three guys on the floor, passing, lobbing and dunking. You have the opportunity to do some crazy shit. But the "freestyle" aspect kind of made each dunk less important.

The East threw down three great dunks in a row, but because there was less drama for each dunk, there was less reaction when they East finished.

The team portion in general was fun, but it also took away from the rest of the competition because rather than one player being the best, it was team versus team. I think that was confusing and anti-climatic.

Solution: I'd keep the team format and I'd even consider keeping the freestyle aspect, even if it detracts from drama/excitement. But I would make the team contest it's own separate contest. Whoever wins the team competition has no barring on the individual portion.

I'd also allow teams to send their own squad, rather than just taking the same people for both competitions and making it East vs. West. We all know the Clippers could field its own team easily for the contest. Why not let each a few teams choose a squad or let individual players make their own squads with players from their own team and other teams. It could even encourage stars to get involved. LeBron might be more willing to join the contest if he knew Dwyane Wade would be tossing him lobs, rather than some scrub from the Raptors.

3.) Scoring and winner

Fix the scoring and how the winner is chosen. Don't just let the fans choose who they think had the best dunks. It should be a tournament of some sort. I know the judges can sometimes be bad and grade too hard or too easy. But that shouldn't stop the league from doing what works.

Solution: Revert back to the old format. Choose the top two dunkers and have them battle it out in the final round. Don't give me the first round and stop after that.

4.) Social media and fans

Stop with this nonsense. Do not give the fans more power than they deserve. It almost always ends bad, just look at how shittily they can choose the All-Star game starters. Kobe gets selected this year. In the past, guys who have no business being in the contest still, like Yao Ming and Allen Iverson get selected.

Fans should not be choosing the winner of the dunk contest on Twitter or Facebook. Most of them aren't qualified enough to choose what they should have for dinner.

I'm sick of how television and sports feel the need to include pointless social media on everything they do, so the fans feel involved. Just because some marketing expert says it will help ratings. It's crap. People will voice their opinions on social media regardless of you telling them to tweet.

Solution: Social media is a wonderful resource for business, television and the world in general. But it doesn't have to get shoved into every decision. People on social media, including myself, are idiots. If you want to factor what the fans think into voting, that's fine. I don't mind gauging the public to see what they thought about the dunks. But they should not have final say.

You have Dominique Wilkins and Dr. J there... let them choose, rather than giving their vote to 14-year-old Jimmy in Idaho.

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