“That’s the funny thing is, I didn’t do that one,” the newly-minted Dunk king said. “I got some tricks in the bag still.”
And after he absolutely wowed the All-Star Saturday crowd with an array of gravity-defying slams yet again, it’s abundantly clear the Minnesota Timberwolves sky-walker wasn’t bluffing. But there was just one problem: We’d yet hear from Aaron Gordon.
In an instant-classic Verizon Slam Dunk Contest that needed two rounds of sudden-death to decide a winner, LaVine defeated Gordon after notching four perfect tries during the elongated final round – the last of which was a soaring between-the-legs slam from just inside the free throw line. Immediately after being crowned champion for a second consecutive year, the excitable 20-year-old grabbed the mic at half court and congratulated his extremely worthy competition for helping him make history.
“I think we should damn near share the trophy,” LaVine gushed to a still-buzzing Air Canada Centre crowd, “because he did some stuff I’ve never seen before.”
And rest assured, too, that no one – not Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Dwight Howard, or Vince Carter – put on a show quite like Gordon and LaVine’s.
Two other players, Will Barton and Andre Drummond, participated in this event. From the time Gordon walked out in a tuxedo and completed an effortless 360-degree eastbay during the opening round, though, it was clear this contest would be decided by he and the reigning champion.
True to form, LaVine saved what many will deem the night’s best jam for his first: a behind-the-back reverse that set the stage for an absolutely epic All-Star Saturday finale.
But Gordon immediately countered, upping the ante on his first try by taking the ball off the head of the Orlando Magic mascot and putting the ball between his legs.
What sets this contest apart from others, obviously, is certainly the dunks themselves; it’s tough to imagine even the starriest contest luminaries of the past replicating the libraries put forth by both youngsters in Toronto. But Gordon and LaVine represent a striking contrast in styles, too, and they put that laughably explosive two-footed power and beautiful one-footed grace, respectively, on increasingly wild display as the stakes heightened.
To wit, LaVine’s free throw line slam off a pitch-perfect alley-oop from lob-pass master Andre Miller.
The Air Canada Centre was expecting a classic as the final round dawned.
A cacophonous buzz from giddy fans, journalists, and players alike surfaced as Gordon prepared for his third slam. By the time he’d completed it, the 20,000 people lucky enough to be in attendance were left mouths agape, gasping for air.
Could LaVine really be beaten? Gordon’s third dunk answered that question with strong affirmation, and the shocked and awed crowd reacted appropriately – especially after the defending champion’s equally amazing but definitely similar slam yielded a perfect 50, too.
With the title on the line for his fourth and seemingly final attempt, Gordon opened eyes with a jam unlike any other this event had ever seen before.
“It’s over,” right? Against most Dunk Contest Participants, absolutely. But LaVine isn’t most Dunk Contest participants, of course, and decided to make a little history of his own.
Four consecutive 50s meant a dunk-off to follow. And while an enthralled Air Canada Centre and millions watching across the globe were obviously jumping for joy, we couldn’t help but think Gordon and LaVine, forced to dunk on the proverbial fly and without planning, would disappoint.
We were wrong.
Make that six straight 50s and another dunk-off.
Would Gordon and LaVine continue dunking straight through Saturday night and into Sunday morning? No one would have complained. And if not for some questionable decisions by the judges, the basketball world might have been privy to an incredible third round of sudden death.
Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, and company, though, weren’t as impressed with Gordon’s mind-bending double-pump slam as most, awarding him a score of 47.
Not that LaVine slacked off knowing he could win a second straight contest with anything less than his best, of course. Between the legs from just inside the free throw line? Unbelievable. Literally.
Those influenced by nostalgia and supposed innocence of the Jordan-Wilkins battles will surely disagree, and perhaps some still entranced by Carter’s magnificence in 2000 will, too. But for us, there’s never been a Dunk Contest better than the one that made legends out of Gordon and LaVine on February 13, 2016. And the reluctant champion – who prefers to share the trophy with his runner-up, remember – agrees.
Asked afterward if this was indeed the greatest Slam Dunk Contest ever, LaVine said simply, “In my opinion, yes.”