Aaron Gordon was again the talk of the Dunk Contest with the most impressive dunks. But he remains only the people’s champ, robbed again by the judges.
The judges’ inability to move the scale out and make a 50 a real amazing dunk rather than letting everything hover in the 48-50 range (the lowest scored dunk in Saturday’s contest was Dwight Howard‘s opening 41) inevitably meant everything the best dunks did would be a 50.
So Aaron Gordon needed a fresh idea.
This third time in the dunk contest came with much less planning. There were no props and no gimmicks. Gordon clearly had a sketch and was willing to jump over anything to get there, mixing in supreme athleticism.
This felt like the spontaneous coming together of athleticism and creativity that made Vince Carter‘s 2000 Dunk Contest so iconic and the dunk contests of the 1980s and early 1990s so revered.
Needing a sixth dunk — the players were only supposed to plan on four, but Gordon likely remembers how that went in 2016 — Gordon sought out something taller to leap.
He called for Shaquille O’Neal, holding essentially a selfie camera for TNT’s broadcast, but could not get the big man to jump out. Then he spotted the tallest man in the room — 7-foot-6, former UCF Knights big man Tacko Fall.
He pulled Fall out of the crowd and set him up near the basket. Fall was not part of the show. But desperate times call for desperate measures. He needed to trust he could climb this biggest mountain.
In one attempt, Gordon cleared Fall, grabbing the ball from behind Fall’s neck and jamming it home with two hands, hanging on the rim for good measure.
Gordon had secured five 50s before then. Each dunk seemed just as mind-boggling as the last. He twisted and turned in mid-air with ease, making the impossible seem ordinary.
A 50 would secure him the Dunk Contest win he seemingly had earned in 2016. The judges’ scores came up with three nines — Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, Scottie Pippen and (controversially) Derrick Jones’ former teammate Dwyane Wade.
Just like that, the contest was over. Gordon’s perfection did not matter. The whole NBA world gathered again, they looked on in shock as Gordon fell short again.
He was again the People’s Champ. The player with perhaps the most memorable dunk of the night — take your pick between the dunk over Tacko Fall or his twisting dunk after Markelle Fultz threw the ball off the side of the backboard or his dunk twisting over Chance the Rapper, whom he pulled out of the crowd.
Jones was a worthy champion. It was not his dunks were poor. He pulled off some incredible dunks, pulling windmills and between-the-leg dunks while jumping over players and other celebrities. His final dunk was an impressive free-throw-line windmill.
But Gordon was again the clear talk. The guy that got all his colleagues up and shouting after every dunk. The one who created intense reaction with every move. Gordon came ready with more dunks this time and the judges simply decided (again) it was time for things to end.
Gordon had the misfortune of going last. And for some reason, they decided one of his most impressive dunks — something that got the entire bench to mob him after — was the one that would end his hopes of winning the Dunk Contest.
Judges Candace Parker and Common both confirmed they were trying to create another tie. They both gave Gordon his 10s in that final dunk-off round. The vote would then go to a judges’ choice between the two. No more dunks were going to be had this day.
Controversy abounded then since the tie did not take place as planned.
Gordon was not too enthused in his press conference either. He was certainly a bit bitter he was not going home with the trophy.
He said it plainly, the contest was four dunks and it should be the best score out of four dunks that won. Gordon had five 50s and the best overall score after four rounds. The judges said they would have picked the winner after the second dunk-off round. It is hard to imagine they would not have picked Gordon.
Perfection was not good enough. And so Gordon walked away from the Dunk Contest. He will likely make good on his promise that this would be his final one.
His parting words to the Slam Dunk Contest were simple, he should have two trophies. Terrence Ross offered to give Aaron Gordon his, but it certainly is not the same.
For the second time, Gordon won the people. He was the guy that everyone will talk about coming out of the contest. It will likely be his highlights that play over and over again in Dunk Contest promotions in the future.
But he does not have the hardware to prove his victory. Again, the competitor in him will tell him he lost. Even if everyone in the United Center on Saturday believed he won. They certainly acted like it after Gordon scaled Fall.
Gordon stood the tallest of any player in the Dunk Contest yet again. This was his moment — his single dropped and his signature shoe debuted. The crowd was behind him and buzzing over his every movement.
Gordon put on another show. One for the ages yet again.
He will go down as one of the best dunkers of all time.
The win is ultimately what matters. And that is still what Gordon is missing. Robbed and taken from him yet again.
There will be no return to get it back this time. Gordon has played out his Dunk Contest dreams. He wants to play in the Sunday game the next time he heads to All-Star Weekend. That will take considerably more work. And that is where Gordon wants to put his focus.
He has made his name in the Dunk Contest enough. For whatever reason, the judges never saw it fit to give him the honor of the champion. There is no sense in convincing them otherwise.
He will have to remain the people’s champion. The guy everyone knows was the real winner again.