2022 NBA Slam Dunk Contest: Obi Toppin Deserves to Be Must-See TV on All-Star Saturday

Before the NBA All-Star Game takes center stage, four of the league’s highest flyers will take part in the Slam Dunk Contest. New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin, Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green, Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony, and Golden State Warriors forward Juan Toscano-Anderson will compete Saturday night in Cleveland for a trophy and bragging rights.

If you’re wondering who these players are, we don’t blame you. Toppin is the only participant with any contest experience, as the Knicks star is joined by a rookie (Green), a second-year guard on a last-place team (Anthony), and a reserve on a title contender (Toscano-Anderson).

When these four players take the court inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, they’ll each have an opportunity to make a name for themselves. But out of all of them, it’s Toppin who deserves the majority of your attention.

The NBA Slam Dunk Contest has lost some of its luster

In the early days, this All-Star Weekend contest would actually contain All-Stars. Quite a concept, right?

The very first dunk contest in 1984 featured several future Hall of Famers — Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, Ralph Sampson, and Clyde Drexler. Michael Jordan made his debut a year later in his first of three appearances. Following a lull in the ’90s, the contest was revived by Vince Carter and later kept alive by stars Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin.

But you’d be hard-pressed to find a basketball fan who can tell you who competed in the dunk contest over the last several years and what type of dunks they pulled off.

Following Zach LaVine’s back-to-back victories in 2015 and ’16, the last five years have been largely forgettable. Since 2017, the winners of the event have been Glenn Robinson III, Donovan Mitchell (his rookie season), Hamidou Diallo, Derrick Jones Jr., and Anfernee Simons. Not exactly a group like we saw in ’84.

The lack of interest from the players, let alone fans, is even more concerning. The NBA would love to have LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Ja Morant participating year after year. But fewer players are willing to compete, evident by having only three participants in 2021. For context, six players competed as recently as 2014.

Obi Toppin has the potential to create a memorable Slam Dunk Contest

Even though he competed in a forgettable 2021 contest, Toppin is going to be a must-see dunker when he steps onto the court this Saturday.

The second-year big man has already delivered a taste of what he’s capable of. In an almost-empty arena in Atlanta, Toppin pulled off a jaw-dropping one-handed bounce through the legs and reverse finish. He then leaped over teammate Julius Randle and his own father for an epic windmill slam. The high flyer then finished his night by taking off just ahead of the free-throw line and going between the legs.

The 23-year-old pulled off three highly-impressive dunks effortlessly, which means he hasn’t scratched the surface of what he’s capable of.

This will also be a homecoming of sorts. The Brooklyn native played his college ball at Dayton, just around three hours southeast of Cleveland. So when Toppin, the former AP Player of the Year, returns to a packed house in Ohio, the energy will be palpable.

With no disrespect to Green, Anthony, or Toscano-Anderson, Toppin is the one who can put the “dunk” back in the dunk contest.

Toppin can make history for the New York Knicks

The Knicks aren’t exactly having the season many expected. At 25-33, New York is 2.5 games out of the 10-seed and quickly running out of time to turn things around.

Fortunately, Toppin winning the Slam Dunk Contest would be the highlight of the season in more ways than one.

Obviously, New York would take pride in its 2020 first-round pick winning this contest. But should the 6-foot-9 forward beat out his competitors, the Knicks would have more Slam Dunk Contest wins (five) than any other team in NBA history. They’re currently at four, tied with the Atlanta Hawks.

New York’s first winner was Kenny “Sky” Walker, who beat out Drexler and Spud Webb back in 1989. But the reason the Knicks are up to four is Nate Robinson, who won a record-setting three times in 2006, ’09, and ’10.

The Knicks may be a long way from an NBA title. But Toppin can at least deliver them a memorable victory elsewhere.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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