Tonight, basketball fans will be looking to New York City, where the NBA is hosting its annual All-Star Weekend. The traditional midpoint of the league’s season, the schedule of events includes everything from celebrity appearances to skills competitions to a “Rookie/Sophomore” game, all leading up to Sunday’s All-Star Game. But even for the most casual of NBA fans, one of the biggest draws of the weekend is the annual slam dunk contest.
While the throwdown sets some of the hottest players against each other in a “flash over fundamentals” battle, we’re doubting this weekend’s contest will push nerd buttons quite the same way the 2008-2009 rivalry run between Dwight Howard and Nate Robinson did, drawing as it did on Superman iconography for one of the most dastardly finishes in dunk history.
In the 2008 edition of the contest, Howard — then the red-hot center for the Orlando Magic — took home the big prize after he donned a Superman cape before tomahawking a wicked jam in from the free throw line. The move was somewhat controversial, particularly for former Magic star and Steel actor Shaquille O’Neal, who thought Howard was stealing his long-standing Superman schtick. Still, it’s hard to argue with the resulting dunk that saw Howard pretty much fly the ball into the hoop.
The move was so well received that Howard was invited back for the 2009 contest, where he again became the Man of Steel (complete with full-on phone booth transformation) to a somewhat cooler response.
Things got even crazier later in the contest when Howard’s rival Nate Robinson donned a green T-shirt to become “KryptoNate” and deliver a winning leap-frogger jam.
Robinson took home the prize that year, which is something of a head scratcher because (as I wrote at the time) his dunk really wasn’t that sick.
More tellingly, Robinson’s victory proved a turning point for both Howard and the dunk contest. Since then, the now Houston Rockets player’s all-star stock has dwindled mightily. And as recently as 2011, the dunk contest faced accusations of rigging when Blake Griffen won the big prize.
This year in Brooklyn, the contestants will be the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Timberwolves’ Zach LaVine, the Magic’s Victor Oladipo and home court Nets player Mason Plumlee. Maybe if one of them dresses up as Iron Man, the balance will be restored.
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