Saturday was almost filled with great basketball: St John's won at the Garden on a remarkable how-did-he-not-step-out-of-bounds lay in by senior guard Dwight Hardy; Nebraska topped No. 3 Texas despite the Longhorns' best attempt at a late-game comeback; and Bulls junior guard Zach Filzen knocked down five triples in the first half en route to a career-high 30-point performance.
But the NBA botched one of the most exciting dunk contests in recent memory: the 2011 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. Did I mention that Sprite, a refreshing product of Coca-Cola, sponsored the event?
At no point was Blake Griffin not going to win the contest. It was as scripted as Jersey Shore and as flawed as Yao Ming being voted to the Western Conference's starting lineup.
Just ask DeMar DeRozan, who had two of the best dunks of the contest, yet didn't make it out of the first round.
DeRozan's first dunk was absurd: he took a pass from off the arm of the backboard, put it through his legs, and slammed it down with style and authority. Naysayers will complain that it took him a few tries to land the slam, which hurt his score, but I remember it taking JaVale McGee (whose mom kissed Dr. J on the mouth) a number of attempts to dunk two balls through two separate hoops, yet he still got a (deserved) perfect score.
If DeRozan's dunk wasn't a 50, it deserved nothing less than a 48. But DeMar, who is relatively unknown in the league and plays for the struggling Canadian franchise, (The Toronto Raptors. Yeah, they're still around.) was robbed and given an unwarranted score of 44.
Next up on the list of snubbed dunks: Serge Ibaka's free throw line slam.
Julius Erving did it in 1976, and Michael Jordan in 1988, but Ibaka's 2011 throw down was arguably the most impressive. On his first dunk attempt, Ibaka, a 7-footer, soared from behind the free throw line, leaping for a dunk that started farther away from the basket than any other of its kind.
Erving and Jordan got perfect scores in '76 and '88, respectively. The un-iconic Ibaka, however, got a 45 in 2011. Heh?
Just remember that Griffin was never going to lose this contest. If the judges gave out three 50s, the "rookie" would have needed a perfect jam to stay at bay, which the NBA wasn't willing to risk. Plus, there were sponsorships at stake.
Without providing a play-by-play of the entire contest, let me sum up the rest of the events briefly.
Griffin missed an attempt at a ridiculous 360 windmill dunk, settled for a lesser-version of a similar idea, and was rewarded with a score of 50. DeRozan came back with his "Showstopper" dunk – a one-handed self-alley that he landed on his first try – that earned him a perfect score. His 44-point first dunk, however, crippled him, and he didn't make it out of the first round.
Conveniently, Griffin did. His second dunk, which he settled for after not being able to land a near-impossible baseline-360 dunk off the side of the backboard (yes, he settled for two dunks that weren't as good as his first attempts), earned him 46 points, just enough to squeak into the final round and give KIA, the official car of the NBA, a repulsive plug.
The contest was blatantly planned. The car that Griffin "jumped over" was ready to go, the choir ready to sing, and Kenny Smith ready to ramble (along with the rest of the commentators, who, by the way, were saying the oddest/funniest/most questionable comments throughout. At one point Smith mentioned "girls at the club," who were only interested in the former stars when they were still in the league.).
In the final round, McGee threw down a beyond-difficult reverse jam where he Matrix-avoided bumping his head on the backboard. Unfortunately, McGee seemingly gave up on his final dunk attempt, not daring to challenge the powers that be. I would have loved to see the Wizards center pull out a better dunk, so when fans wrongfully voted for Griffin (which was never not going to happen, in case I hadn't mentioned that before), more people would have made a stink about it.
There were a bunch a fantastic slams Saturday night, but, unfortunately, the right player didn't get the recognition he deserved. Instead, KIA got the attention that should have been focused around DeRozan.