Like many hoop junkies, All-Star Saturday Night has always been a staple of the NBA season for me. As a kid there is nothing more exciting to watch than your heroes take part in over-hyped battles to determine just who the best three-point shooter and dunker is in the league. Of course as you get older you eventually learn that there is so much more skills and attributes to the game that dwarf flashy three point shooting and dunks, but most children’s minds haven’t been spoiled by those boring facts yet. Call it misplaced nostalgia, but regardless of what it is, I still always look forward to the league festivities that take place every All-Star Game Eve and was embarrassingly excited by the Knicks being well represented this year. I shouldn’t have watched.
The Three Point Contest
The focus of this piece is obviously going to be on White, but Novak was equally disappointing. For over a year Knick fans have lobbied for Novak to take part in the Three-point Shootout to further assert his dominance in a skill that completely defines his sole purpose on the Knick roster. We were mystified by his absence in last year’s contest and were thrilled to see him selected this year, perhaps as confirmation that the Knicks have finally arrived. Well let’s see how it went:
He got off to a hot start but the instant Kenny Smith says “Novak is the best spot shooter in the NBA” the Novakain abruptly wears off and fails to even get pass the first round by finishing with 17 points. Steve hasn’t exactly been Novakian this season so his pedestrian performance can only remind Knick fans of just how underwhelmed they are with his shooting. His days as the leading three point shooter in the league seemed have already passed as his .447% sits at third in the league and his actual 3PM is a trivial 96, which is 25th in league and surpassed by his own teammates with Carmelo’s 118. No big deal though because if you love basketball, you love Kyrie Irving and take a real delight to seeing a Cavalier continue his wild coming out party by winning the Rookie game MVP and now clinching the 3 Point trophy. Besides, we still have James “Flight” White on deck, so let’s move on.
The Dunk Contest
Okay, not bad…I guess. I mean it looked a little flashier than Brent Barry in ’96 since it was a two hander, but he didn’t quite lift off from the free throw line like Serge Ibaka did in ’11 and it definitely wasn’t better than his own work from overseas:
It’s pretty much agreed that the skits and props from previous years have degraded the contest a bit so White’s inclusion of PanAm era Flight Attendants was kind of lame, especially for someone that has been grounded on the bench for most of the season (Chuck was spot on by saying that fans should be viewing stars and not journeymen). We already know from an earlier report that he didn’t practice beforehand but then again for someone that’s 30 years old, who can blame him?
In Round Two the wheels come completely off. (Don’t watch this if you have a soft heart because this is embarrassing)
Ouch. As Shaq said to the 30 year old, “Good Try Young Fella.” I never witnessed the shot clock expiring on a dunk contest participant since the league put in a Birdman rule. Even more painful than watching the horn sound after the clock hit zero was the trouble he had just brining the ball up the court. Shaq and Charles joked at how winded he looked but to have trouble with the ball is something that really is awkward to see during “All Star Weekend”. Given the buzz around White representing the Knicks this year, this really was a disappointing performance. And watching White escape into the bench and dodge the camera? Brutal. All he needed was the “Good Job! Good Effort!” kid there to make things even more uncomfortable. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t have rather watched LeBron tomahawk a few monstrous dunks than seeing a Knick unravel on a national stage. Actually I think after last night, more players will probably want to pass on entering the dunk contest though both JR Smith and Iman Shumpert vouched on twitter to be part of next year’s contest:
— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) February 17, 2013
A Historical Perspective
Casual Knick fans might point to Nate Robinson’s dunk contest heroics as a reference point to compare White to. His dunk titles from 2006, 2009, and 2010 pretty much solidify him as the best Knick contestant to ever be in the contest, but older fans will remember some past Knicks that have also graced the stage. Where they better than James White? Let’s review:
James White vs. Doug Christie in 1996
If you can remember Doug Christie being a Knick, pat yourself on the back because most people probably have no memory of this happening. Seeing Christie in a Knick uniform looks like something from another universe but it did happen, at least for a few weeks in 1996. Eventually he was traded to Toronto and then went on to make a name for himself as King before being known only for the poor sap that gets bullied by his wife. Christie’s performance here isn’t that bad. Just like his Knick career it’s nothing memorable but the behind the back kick was pretty fun to watch though poorly executed.
Winner: Doug Christie
James White vs. Allan Houston in 1994 (00:35-1:00)
Yes he’s not officially a Knick in this contest, but does anyone actually think of Allan as a member of any team but the Knicks? No. Plus the novelty of seeing one of the game’s purest shooters partake in a dunk contest is really weird. The behind the back off the backboard alley was ahead of its time for 1994 but the hilarious bounce off the head-catch and dunk routine definitely goes down as a candidate for worst dunk contest. If you remember 1994, you were probably too blown away by Isaiah Rider’s through the leg dunk to even remember Houston.
Winner: Allan Houston
James White vs. John Starks in 1992 (Opening sequence and from 9:25 mark on)
First of all, wasn’t the 90’s great? The names in this contest (Cedric Ceballos, Nick Anderson, Larry Johnson, Stacey Augman, and of course Starks) really remind you of just how amazing it must have been to be a kid during the 90s. Starks was a surprisingly good dunker in his early years, and his most famous of all of course was “The Dunk” over Mike, so his participation in this dunk contest wasn’t that surprising back then even though it seems bizarre when looking back today. If you go on to watch clip 2 and clip 3 you’ll see a very Nate-like performance from the smallest and most ferocious guy on the floor. Ceballos and future Knick Larry Johnson stole the show but Starks actually had an impressive run at the trophy.
Winner: John Starks
James White vs. Kenny ‘Sky” Walker in 1989
Walker’s dunks from 1989 still hold up today. Many people forgot about how prolific a dunker Walker was and thanks to YouTube, it’s worth digging into during a lunch break.
Winner: Kenny “Sky” Walker and it’s not even close.
So there you have it. That gives some perspective onto how bad White was last evening. Chuck and Kenny did say that it was obvious the dunkers in last night’s contest were nervous. Who wouldn’t be? For many of these players, the dunk contest is their only opportunity to get national exposure to such a wide and casual audience. It’s not easy to participate in a contest that will be wildly dissecting on social media and annoying blogs such as this one, so it makes me think that more credit should be given to any player even thinking of participating. If LeBron can’t bear to be part of the contest, perhaps out of fear he doesn’t blow fans away, than it makes it even more impressive to partake in it. The fact that the Knicks even have a roster that is displayed in both the All-Star Game and in the skills competitions the night before is enough for Knick fans to be happy about. Think about how much of a far cry this is from when the Knicks didn’t even have a single representative on the All-Star team back when the game was held back in MSG 1999. Regardless of what White and Novak did, or didn’t do last nigh, it’s still an relief to even have the Knicks well represented during the All-Star break, especially given the fact that just a few seasons ago the Knicks were so bad that they were banned from national television. So exhale, and enjoy the game.