Aaron Gordon will take a third crack at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, hoping to get redemption, to win a trophy and to cement his place in dunk history.
Aaron Gordon played coy after an Orlando Magic practice after the news broke that he was entering the All-Star’s Slam Dunk Contest for the third time. The news was not official and so Gordon could not confirm nor deny anything.
He sheepishly said he was not on social media after told that Shams Charania of The Athletic had reported his entry. Aaron Gordon added he would be honored to be back in the competition if the NBA wanted.
That dance is over. Gordon is back in the Slam Dunk Contest.
Gordon has put on some hair-raising dunks and, of course, he has the reputation built up from the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest. And everyone is eager to see him repeat that performance. Gordon is still a supreme athlete and the greatest criticism for the Magic is their inability to get Gordon open space to dunk even more.
Gordon though is looking for redemption. Not merely for the controversial loss in the 2016 contest but his disappointing effort in the 2017 Dunk Contest. He had some crazy ideas for the dunk contest that he struggled to execute. Gordon finished in last place of the four contestants that year.
He said afterward he failed to execute his dunks and that a nagging injury leading into the contest cut into some of his practice time.
That was his concern entering this year’s contest. He has dealt with nagging ankle, calf and Achilles issues. With the team squarely in the playoff race and Gordon through his own struggles, that was certainly a reason for Gordon to skip this contest.
But there was also something left on the table.
Gordon was the “People’s Champ” in 2016, but he did not take home the trophy against Zach LaVine. His teammate and former Slam Dunk champion Terrence Ross might bow down to Aaron Gordon, but he did not have the trophy in his case.
Gordon always flirted with returning to the dunk contest. He was trying to expand his game and do more for his team during the game.
That is why Gordon announced in an interview with TNT this will be his final Slam Dunk Contest. He still has dreams of playing in Sunday’s game:
But for sure, as one of the best dunkers in the NBA today, not having that trophy still stings. Even though Aaron Gordon tried to be political, he clearly still harbors some resentment at Shaquille O’Neal’s 9 that forced a dunk off in the 2016 contest.
Gordon is promising something no one has ever seen before. That will be tough considering the bar he set for himself in the contest. He will not be able to do any normal dunks. Everyone will be expecting something spectacular.
The competition will not be easy. Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. is one of the best in-game dunkers in the league. Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton broke all the records for vertical leaps at the NBA Draft Combine. And Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard is a former Dunk Contest champion — with the Orlando Magic in 2018.
Gordon might enter the contest the favorite once again. Everyone will be eager to see him put on a show. But he has no guarantee of the victory he seeks.
This is his quest for redemption. This is his place for history.
The last dunk contest that took place in Chicago was in 1988 — a legendary showdown between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins. Gordon made sure to give special mention to Vince Carter’s miraculous 2000 Slam Dunk Contest performance. And then there was the showdown between Gordon and LaVine in 2016.
These are likely the three best NBA Dunk Contests in history. The back-and-forth constant displays of athleticism that have been stuck in everyone’s memory.
Gordon is in this thing to win it for sure. He may not be able to replicate the magic in the air that night in Toronto. That may not be what he is looking for ultimately. He is looking to map his own path and leave his own legacy in the dunk contest.
When everyone mentions the greatest dunkers in the league, Aaron Gordon should hope his name is among them. A Dunk Contest title will surely put him in that conversation alongside greats like Julius Erving, David Thompson, Vince Carter, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and, yes, Zach LaVine.
Gordon wants this to be his last dunk contest though. He hopes he can win the title and ride off to the sunset.
The next time he arrives at All-Star Weekend, he wants to be playing in the Sunday game. At 24 years old, that is still a distinct possibility.
This year has certainly been a step back in that process. He is averaging just 13.6 points per game and shooting a career-worst 42.1 percent from the floor. Orlando has struggled to get him shots in areas he can succeed as the team’s offense has slowed to a crawl.
Gordon has dealt with his share of injuries this year. He has shown flashes of the dynamic play he can create when he gets space to attack the rim. His future with the Magic is at least partially uncertain as they try to map their way forward.
Gordon is still hunting for consistency in the course of the game. This has been a difficult year for him and a frustrating team for the Magic.
The dunk contest will be a welcome distraction for him. Perhaps a chance to gain some confidence once again. Or perhaps just a chance to have fun once again in a season that has been draining with the playoff pressure everyone has felt.
Gordon can cement his place in NBA history with a win in Chicago. More importantly, he gets a second chance to right a wrong and take home some hardware.