The NBA All-Star game tips tonight at 8:30 p.m. on TNT. I’m sure there will be some incredible highlights in what has always been pro sports best all-star showcase. But it’s going to take something other-worldly to top what Dwight Howard did in the Sprite Slam Dunk competition Saturday night.
The Orlando Magic’s 21-year-old center, who was billed by TNT’s Charles Barkley as the league’s all-time high-flying big man, sent down four of the most hellacious jams this side of Dr. J, Larry Nance, Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter.
They largely define description, but here goes.
The first featured Howard, who leads the NBA with 177 dunks thus far this season, tossing the ball from behind the backboard, grabbing it with two hands and then reaching with his left to throw it straight down. All this occurred with his body still stationed behind the board. It earned a 50 from the judges.
So did dunk No. 2 in which Howard pulled off his jersey to reveal a Superman costume. Howard also donned a cape. With teammate Jameer Nelson lobbing a pass over the backboard, Howard, cape flapping, leaped from between the foul line and dotted circle. Corralling the pass, he threw it through the hoop.
In the finals against defending champion, Minnesota’s Gerald Green, Howard bounced it high off the floor, tapped the ball off the glass with his left hand, before unleashing a furious right-handed flush.
For his encore, Howard had Nelson affix a souvenir Magic basket kit (much to the delight of NBA Properties, no doubt) on the right side of board. With the ball perched on the small rim, Howard grabbed it and then rocked a side-winding windmill.
Formulate your own descriptors after viewing or reliving the action at NBA.com
Dwight’s dominance overwhelmed several incredible jams by Toronto’s Jamario Moon, Memphis’ Rudy Gay and Green, whose birthday cake slam — in which be blew out a candle inserted in a cup cake that was left on the rim’s plate — will likely become the footnote to the 2008 competition.
Howard’s heroics did make for some awkward fill moments by Cheryl Miller interviewing the judges about who they thought won, as – in a first – fans texted and voted online over a five-minute span to determine the winner. The balloting process would have been an even more brilliant marketing moment for Sprite, which received on-air billboards and mentions, if the outcome was in jeopardy. Somehow, Howard only received 78% of the tally.
The performance left judge and TNT analyst Magic Johnson thanking Howard for bringing new levels of creativity to an event that he said people were “yawning” about and calling for its discontinuance four years ago. TNT’s Kenny Smith was even more ebuillent. After Howard’s tap-off-the-board slam, Smith yelled: “I’m leaving the building…I’m quitting my job.”
Why would Smith want to do that? Then, he wouldn’t have an up-close seat to see what Howard has in store next year.