Miami Heat guard Derrick Jones Jr. jumped over his 6’9 teammate Bam Adebayo | Photo courtesy of the Miami Heat [Twitter]

The 2020 NBA Slam Dunk contest now is in my top five of all time. Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard pulled out his old Superman cape that he wore when he won the 2008 dunk contest. I figured he would reheat that moment while adding some flare to it. He ripped the “S” off of his chest and revealed the #24 to commemorate the late great Kobe Bean Bryant. Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Conaughton took it back to famed actor Woody Harrelson’s character Billy Hoyle in the 1992 basketball classic film, White Men Can’t Jump, with his outfit and similar dunk. In the film, Hoyle caught an alley-oop. In the dunk contest, Conaughton used Milwaukee Brewers star outfielder Christian Yelich as a prop. He jumped over him, snatched the ball out of his hands and slammed it down. Miami Heat guard Derrick Jones Jr. jumped over his 6’9 teammate Bam Adebayo, who stood at the dotted line inside the paint. That’s no easy feat. Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon jumped over NBA All-Star Weekend ambassador Chance the Rapper multiple times. Even though the dunks were similar, the fact he used Chance was enough to get the love from the crowd and judges.

But, considering that the dunk contest took place in “the house that Michael Jordan built,” it’s wild that the NBA didn’t have Big Mike involved in the dunk contest in some way. 

After receiving perfect scores (50 points) on both of their two attempts in the final round, Jones Jr. and Gordon — easily the best showmen of the night — entered a dunk-off. Gordon wasn’t feeling that, though. Since he earned 50 points on four back-to-back dunks, Gordon felt he should’ve won without a dunk-off. But those aren’t the contest rules.

I felt where Gordon was coming from. Maybe the NBA will implement new rules in the future, but the fans always want more. So I believe this dunk-off format will stay for a while.

After Jones Jr. and Gordon received 50 points on their fifth attempt, the contest came down to each player’s sixth dunk. Jones Jr. took off right inside the free-throw line, windmilling the ball effortlessly for 48 points. Gordon initially wanted to jump over former Los Angeles Laker Shaquille O’Neal, but Shaq wasn’t up for it. So Gordon brought in the tallest man in the building: Boston Celtics center Tacko Fall. Gordon dunked over his 7’5 stature, but the judges only gave him a score of 47.

One of the commentators named the 2020 contest as, “the greatest dunk contest since Jordan and Dominique [Wilkins],” referencing the 1988 dunk contest at the old Chicago Stadium. 

It wasn’t the greatest dunk contest since 1988. They’re jumping the gun. Vince Carter’s show in 2000 was the best since, hands-down. What would make for a better dunk contest is to have the judges be ex-slam dunk participants and NBA players. The 2020 contest included Miami Heat champion Dwyane Wade, Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen, Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker, Chicago rapper Common and Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman. The celebrity element is cool for entertainment. But when it comes down to scoring, celebrities don’t always judge the best.

I would love to see past slam-dunk champions as judges. Watching Jordan and Wilkins on the judge panel would’ve created an awesome full-circle moment for NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago. 

In the end, Jones Jr. won the 2020 dunk contest. 

Gordon felt robbed, again, after losing the 2016 contest to then-Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine. I don’t think he was robbed this time. 

In my humble opinion, the contest could have gone either way. I would’ve scored Jones Jr. ‘s windmill dunk higher than Gordon’s dunk over Tacko Fall. It’s all about creativity for me, and Gordon admitted that he didn’t have any other dunks in his arsenal after his fourth dunk. Jones Jr. said he had plenty of ammunition for another couple of rounds.  

At the end of the day, the main thing missing from the once star-studded dunk contest is the stars. That’s why the 2020 contest doesn’t outshine Big Mike and Wilkins’s 1988 battle or Carter’s epic 2000 show.

By 1988, Jordan was the league’s Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Scoring Champion and NBA All-Star. He’d also made All-NBA first team and NBA All-Defensive first team. He also won the slam dunk contest in 1987. His opponent, Atlanta Hawks small forward Wilkins, was an NBA All-Star, Scoring Champion and 1985 dunk contest champion, too. Their rivalry played out at the dunk contest, and during season matchups between the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks.

By 2000, Carter was the franchise player for the Toronto Raptors. He’d already earned NBA Rookie of the Year, and helped carry Toronto to its first playoff appearance in franchise history. In a showdown against cousin and teammate Tracy McGrady and hotshot Houston Rockets favorite Steve Francis, Carter changed the dunk contest forever with a 360 windmill, and “elbow in the rim” dunk.

In the 2020 contest, Jones Jr. is a role player for the Miami Heat. Gordon is a starter for the Orlando Magic, but has no NBA accolades. Without electrifying star power, the slam-dunk contest loses its spunk. 

I thought for sure Los Angeles Lakers star Lebron James would be the next big-name dunk contestant, following in the legacy of Julius “Dr. J” Ervin, Jordan, Bryant and Carter. We’ve watched James put on mini dunk shows in the pregame layup lines. He clearly has the star power, but I don’t think he has the creativity and finesse that it takes to win a dunk contest. Additionally, I don’t think he wants to put it all on the line with a chance of coming up short. I mean, he is 35 years old now. 

I also would’ve loved to see Carter in one last contest before he retires this year. He still does the reverse 360 layup in pregame warmups. He probably does cryotherapy immediately after, too. (ha-ha). 

Hopefully, the future leaders of the NBA, such as New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant, will take us back to the essence of the dunk contest, and give us what we need. NBA stars will give the contest that 1988 and 2000 feel.