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2013 NBA All-Star: How to improve the dunk contest

By Zach Harper | NBA writer
Draw this dunk a bath, because it's filthy. (Getty)

How did you feel about the dunk contest? How do you feel about the typical dunk contest?

There are a few things I need in the NBA dunk contest to feel satisfied with the experience. I need to see things I've never seen before. Good or bad, I need to see something original. I also need to see some accuracy. Nobody wants to see Chris Andersen and his 15 attempts of boredom, but I also don't need perfection.

If the dunk is good enough, I don't mind seeing a little preview of what's to come before the transaction at the rim is completed. A player not completing the dunk on his first, second or even third attempt doesn't bother me. I just want the dunk to be good. There is a huge problem with expectations when it comes to the dunk contest, and it rarely seems to take into account the laws of physics.

Take James White's first dunk attempt of the 2013 contest:

People were underwhelmed by this dunk. Yes, James White was hyped up to a Vince Carter-esque level coming into this contest. That's what happens when you have a decade-plus of a YouTube legend superseding your first NBA dunk contest appearance. However, this dunk is criminally underrated by the contest viewership.

There were a few complaints. For starters, he didn't clear the free-throw line. This is true. He was slightly inside the free-throw line. If I told you I was going to jump 14 feet, 8 inches, and dunk a basketball, would you be impressed? What if I jumped that distance but you saw a line on the ground at 15 feet? Is it suddenly less impressive?

Look at where his foot is on takeoff. Is it at or behind the free-throw line? Neither. Is it still a ridiculously far distance from which to take off and dunk with two hands and relative ease? Absolutely.

The fact that White was roughly four inches inside the line, cocked it back behind his head and flushed it through the rim without having to stretch out like dunk contests of the past shows how incredible that dunk is. He brought the ball far behind his head and managed to bring it through the rim with good force. Check out Vince Carter and Josh Smith doing two-handed free throw line dunks:

Carter's dunk is a full step inside the free-throw line, and he's stretching out the best he can to complete the dunk. It doesn't mean it isn't a good dunk. It just looks like he strains quite a bit to finish.

Smith's dunk was better but still lacked a little luster. He's closer to the free-throw line than Carter, gives a little pump in front of his body and dunks it while still making it looked a bit strained. With White's dunk, the fact that he's so close to the free-throw line while still bringing the ball back behind his head and near his neck line shows just how easily he dunked with two hands.

I'm fine with White not advancing to the finals, especially after he couldn't complete his second round of dunks. The fact that he made the dunk above and missed long on two separate free-throw-line attempts (seriously, he over-jumped on two free throw line dunk attempts, with one of them coming on a windmill) showed me something I've never seen before -- a guy missing long on something like that.

Since expectations have become so high and unruly with the NBA dunk contest, I think we need another tweak or two to the current form of the competition. My first tweak would be to have six players in the first round (three from each conference is fine) with the top dunkers moving onto the finals, regardless of which conference they represent. We should have the two best dunkers in the finals, not just one from each conference so you have a guy in there by default.

The second tweak I would do is stop once you get the two finalists. Knowing you won't survive another 15 minutes could be huge for the psychological aspect of the contest. If you think there's a possibility of making up for a poor performance, then you might not try as hard. This could cause them to make sure they show their best dunks in the first round to try to get to the next stage of the contest.

But if they're using their best dunks, won't they be out of ideas for the finals when they finally come? This is the beauty of delaying the dunk contest's final round.

If you move the two finalists to competing on Sunday, you generate a ton of buzz and anticipation with the conclusion for the competition. But you don't just have them compete on Sunday; you have them finish the competition during halftime of the All-Star Game. I know a musical act is supposedly great because it's entertainment for everybody and you're trying to make a grandiose display to celebrate your sport; however, replacing it with the finale to the dunk contest allows you to celebrate the most athletic display of the sport.

By putting the dunk finale at halftime of the game, you give the finalists roughly 20 hours to come up with fresh ideas and a routine to top their competitor. You wouldn't see guys running out of ideas. When Royce Young asked the contestants what they had in store if they made it to the finals, there wasn't a big plan to wow the sport. Give them almost a full day to figure it out, and you'd probably get something pretty spectacular.

The James White free-throw dunk is a perfect example of the contest's improbable understanding among all fans. The fact that there was such a wide range of emotions from a dunk we hadn't really seen tells you everything you need to know about expectations with the contest. People want to see the impossible.

Move the finals of the contest to halftime in front of all the All-Stars on Sunday and an incredibly large stage, and then you'll allow the creativity within the contest to blossom into an event that people revere again. You'll allow the dunkers to re-measure their competition and try to one-up each other even further.

After all, part of the beauty and the drama of the event is building up suspense to expect the unreal. Delaying the gratification of the finale could greatly accomplish that.

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