Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves overcame Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic to repeat as the NBA Slam Dunk champion after both impressed with gravity-defying displays of athleticism and imagination
In one of the most riveting slam dunk contests in recent years, LaVine and Gordon went toe-to-toe in the first two rounds of the final round then needed a pair of tie-breakers, where the former sealed it with his fourth consecutive perfect 50 score.
Zach LaVine called it the best dunk contest ever, a showdown with Aaron Gordon that rivaled what Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins did. Maybe they will come back next year and do it again. "In Charlotte, yeah, if they want me to come back, I probably will," Gordon said.
For now, it's time to turn the attention at All-Star weekend back where it started: Kobe Bryant and the rest of the NBA's best. LaVine finally won after extra dunks were needed, joining Jordan, Jason Richardson and Nate Robinson as the only back-to-back winners of the dunk title.
He knows people might still talk about Jordan or Julius Erving, great dunkers of the past. But even they didn't pull off what LaVine and Gordon did Saturday, so LaVine was asked if it was the best. "Like half the dunks we did were like professional dunker dunks, and it takes them four or five times to try it and make it, and we did it on the first try," LaVine said. "It was crazy. In my opinion, yes."
All-Star weekend has belonged to LaVine and the Minnesota Timberwolves, as rookie Karl-Anthony Towns showed big guys have skills, too. The night and the first two nights of this first All-Star weekend held outside the U.S. ended with a celebration for LaVine, who won the MVP award in Friday night in the Rising Stars Challenge for rookies and second-year players.
He outlasted Gordon in a duel that needed two overtimes and ended only when there was literally no ball to use. Curry batted it down to other end of the court after he and the other NBA stars who were as captivated as the fans and celebrities sitting courtside charged onto the court after LaVine leaped from just inside the free-throw line, put the ball between his legs in midair and slammed it down.
He and Gordon traded perfect scores of 50 for the previous few rounds after advancing to the final, but the Orlando Magic rookie mustered only a 47 in his last attempt. But he may have had the most memorable dunks of the night with some help from the Magic's mascot aptly named Stuff the Magic Dragon.
On Stuff's first assist, Gordon took the ball with one hand from the mascot, who was spinning around on a hoverboard, and did a 360-degree dunk. He got another assist from Stuff on the next one, leaping high to take the ball, putting it under his legs nearly in a sitting position in midair and slamming it down with his left hand.
"Me and him are now like best friends, me and Stuff," Gordon said.
The only boos went to the judges, with the crowd thinking Shaquille O'Neal was a little stingy with a couple of 9s instead of perfect 10s.
"We were kind of mind-boggled a couple times because we got 49s and they were 50s," LaVine said.
Earlier in the 3-point contest, Curry wasn't even the best on his own team after setting a final-round record last year. This time, Thompson was so good, he had clinched it even before the final ball on his final rack. He started to walk away after making first four then turned and made that one, anyway. "He definitely shot well," Curry said. "I still think I can hold my own in the competition, but the way that he finished off that second round was amazing. So trust me, the pressure of knowing what number he had to hit and making five out of five was fun to watch."
Towns beat Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas to win the Skills Challenge, further validating the evolution of the big man from a plodding post player to a playmaking force.
"I'm glad I was able to help the bigs come out with this trophy," said Towns, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft. "This is bigger than me. This is for all the bigs out there, with the game changing the way it is, to show that bigs can stand up with guards and skill-wise."