While the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest has lost some of its luster over the years, it still is a major draw every year during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend. Several of the biggest superstars of the last five decades made their name or expanded on their legacies through the event. Others have made their names strictly through the event, as well. While the glory might be enough for some, the event does come with monetary compensation.
Judging by the typical talent pool in the event, however, that money might not be enough.
History of the Slam Dunk contest
The Dunk Contest started as a remnant of the ABA. Those ABA dunk contests saw the rise of Julius Erving, who eventually took part in the inaugural NBA contest, too. There, a 34-year-old Erving faced off against Larry Nance, and lost, making Nance the first NBA Dunk Contest champion.
From there, some of the most famous dunkers of all time took the throne. Dominique Wilkins, who became a mainstay of the competition, took home the 1985 title but fell in the ensuing years to diminutive Spud Webb and His Royal Airness, Michael Jordan. Wilkins regained his title in 1990.
The nineties were a mixed bag when it came to the dunk contest. Some of the names might have been lost in time, like Harold Miner and Brent Barry. The contest had a three-year hiatus after the 1997 contest when a young teenager named Kobe Bryant dazzled audiences with his athletic showmanship.
When the contest returned, Vince Carter stole the show with one of the best showings the world has ever seen. He secured his place in NBA history with dunks that are still talked about twenty years later, as Carter winds down his career. With a few memorable runs from Jason Richardson, Dwight Howard, Nate Robinson, and Blake Griffin, the contest lost its steam.
The 2016 contest pitting defending champion Zach LaVine against Aaron Gordon proved to be the last great contest to-date, but in recent years the competition has grown stale to many fans. Perhaps, a change in the award could do some good.
What do winners of the NBA Slam Dunk contest get?
The events of All-Star weekend come with incentives such as trophies, exposure for the lesser-known players, and an exciting weekend in the host city, but players are not working for free, either. All of the events come with a prize. Each All-Star on the winning team gets the same amount of money, $100,000. The Three-Point champion and the Dunk Contest champion, however, are each awarded $200,000.
The $200,000 prize is one of the biggest prizes an NBA player can get that isn’t a part of his salary. Why, then, does the event struggle to get the big names anymore? Players these days can get exposure around the world thanks to social media, but a solid All-Star outing can still bring a player’s name into the mainstream
Nobody has a definitive answer as to why more big names don’t participate, but for the lower-paid players in the NBA, the prize money might be enough incentive when sprinkled with the charity and exposure. If a new generation can get into it, however, perhaps the contest can turn around for good.
Who is participating in the 2020 NBA Slam Dunk contest?
This year’s Dunk Contest has two participants who have put on memorable shows in the past. Dwight Howard is more than a decade removed from his memorable victory in the Dunk Contest, while Aaron Gordon is hoping to relive the magic he brought as runner-up in 2016 and come out ahead. Derrick Jones Jr. and Pat Connaughton will have to win the crowd over with these two in front of them, but their high-flying acrobatics could be enough to do so.
These 2020 NBA All-Star events will take place on February 15, and perhaps a new classic Dunk Contest can reinvigorate it going forward.