This is Keeping Score, where Albert Samaha dissects the juiciest dramas in the world of sports.

Every year in the middle of the season, the NBA organizes its All-Star Weekend festivities with a list of low-stakes competitions. The most contentious is the dunk contest, in which a handful of players try to impress a panel of judges with aerial acrobatics, basically like Olympic diving that ends with a ball in a hoop instead of splashing in a pool.

The winner of this year’s dunk contest, which took place last Saturday, was Mac McClung.

Not familiar with McClung? Neither do the many NBA fans who don’t follow high school basketball. McClung, who reached slight virality on the internet Thanks to his gravity-defying dunks as a teenager in 2017 and 2018, he is now a fringe player who has spent much of his professional career in the NBA minor leagues.

Not long ago, players like McClung would not have been invited to the contest, which used to be reserved for bigger names. But times have changed, much to the chagrin of a certain type of old-school hoop fanatic. One of them, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, said this week that Lebron James, the biggest star in the NBA, had “ruined” the dunk contest. James has never infamously participated, despite once saying He would do. By Smith’s reasoning, other stars have followed James’ lead. Even the current best dunker in the league, the explosive Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies, has said that he has no plans to participate in the contest

For NBA fans, this reluctance to compete in a pointless spectacle embodies everything that’s wrong with the league: supposedly titled athletes lacking the inextinguishable competitive spirit of the game’s most unblemished icon, Michael Jordan.

You see, Jordan has competed in the dunk contest three times, winning twice. In 1988, he faced fellow star Dominique Wilkins in a memorable showdown widely regarded as the greatest dunk contest of all time.

The lore of that event casts a shadow that no high-flying NBA superstar can escape. But it is an unfair standard.

The dunk contest had only existed since 1976and nobody dunked regularly at basketball games until Elgin Baylor he did it in the 1960s. The dunks Jordan wowed people with in 1988? They were original and pretty, but anyone running them today would yawn, as if Thomas Edison had arranged a meeting with Google engineers to show them his light bulb.

The dunk contest gets tougher every year because we viewers grow numb to every advancement of the trade. Innovations come less and less. In 2000, Vince Carter put together the best performance in a dunk contest of all time with a series of jams featuring never-before-seen twists and tricks, including one in which he jumped so high he plunged his forearm into the net and hung from the hoop by his elbow – Jordan himself call it “the most incredible dunk” he had ever seen. This year, when the New York Knicks’ Jericho Sims hung from the rim by two elbows, the crowd barely cheered.

Excelling in the dunk contest requires an increasing level of creativity and a corresponding amount of thought and time. Do Lakers fans really want James to spend hours each week choreographing a high-flying act outlandish enough to rouse our jaded souls?

Instead, why not let the McClungs of the world earn their way into the spotlight by honing their aerial craft while the biggest stars cheer them on?

“It Solidified”, James saying of McClung in a news conference Sunday, “as one of the best dunk competitors we’ve ever had.” ●

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