Down in the Staples Center media rooms, around mid-afternoon today, a rumor started to going around. I believe it was Jonathan Abrams of the New York Times who first passed it along. Blake Griffin, we were told, was getting ready to dunk over a car. The moment I heard it, I was skeptical. Not of the rumor, which seemed plausible enough - especially since Kia is a major league sponsor - but of how good the dunk, if Blake could pull it off, would actually be. I mean, consider the spatial geometry involved. A typical sedan is what, four feet tall at the middle and six feet in width? Not even the game's bounciest jumpers can clear such an object unaided, which meant there'd be some kind of lame-o shortcut. Like, Blake would jump off the bumper or something.
We almost didn't get to see it. Blake barely beat out DeMar DeRozan for one of two available berths in the final round. The other spot went to JaVale McGee, who wowed all by bringing out an extra hoop and dunking two balls at once. (Pic after the jump.) Blake ultimately advanced with a one-handed dunk off a pass from Baron Davis off the side of the backboard. It was nice, but DeRozan had executed nearly the same dunk but with a higher degree of difficulty - the pass was off the back of the backboard - earlier in the contest and received a lower score. Whatever. This was clearly set up to be Blake's night from the outset, so the judges waved him through to the finals.
From there, it was obvious who the winner would be. JaVale's first problem was that fan voting would determine the outcome. As numerous people commented on Twitter, Blake could've done a couple finger-rolls and still won the vote. JaVale's second problem was that Blake was using a prop supplied by a prominent source of league marketing revenue. OF COURSE he was going to win! Even if dunking "over the car" meant "over the nose of the hood."
Which isn't to say that he didn't perform well. Blake's "elbow dunk," whereby he tossed the ball off the backboard, threw it down one-handed, plunged his arm into the hoop up to the elbow and hung there like that for a few seconds, was truly impressive. But there was a lot of sentiment up in the press box that DeRozan and Serge Ibaka got shafted. Ibaka's first dunk, straight on from the free-throw line, was especially breathtaking.
Tonight's contest will be remembered for two things. First is how it rehabilitated an event that's undergone a years-long decline, bottoming out with the Shannon Brown travesty of 2010. All four of this year's dunkers did fabulous work. They designed innovative dunks that captured the attention of viewers, and they executed them well, with only a few Nate Robinson-like fail streaks. The Staples crowd, which had kind of snoozed its way through the night's preliminary events, caught fire when the dunkers started bringing the heat. (John Krolik ranks all of the night's dunks here.)
Second, 2011 will be remembered as the year of narrative complexity. There were more props than ever, it seemed. A choir was involved at one point. Ibaka constructed a whole one-act play, about a kid missing his toy and needing to Serge to rescue it for him, around one of his dunks. Some people were complaining about the excess of theatrics, but I don't mind it. As long as the show keeps moving at a reasonably brisk pace, I say crank up the goofiness.
Basically, the dunk contest will always find a way to disappoint a good chunk of people. Tonight's version is pretty much the best we can reasonably hope for. It was unpredictable (except in outcome), lively and well performed by everyone involved. If tomorrow's All-Star Game lives up to the same standards, I'll leave satisfied.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.