It’s that most wonderful time of the year! When the truest and most honest expression of athleticism comes together with the heroics of modern sport to manifest in the form of unfortunate costumes and half-hearted props—it’s the Slam Dunk Contest, y’all. And in the time honored tradition of two years and counting, we’ve got a sneak peak of the biggest, flashiest, and floppiest dunks to watch for in this year’s contest.
The Griffin Observatory
The full name of this dunk is “The Kia Griffin Observatory Tribute To Stars No Longer In Our Orbit” but everyone else nicknames it “Blake’s Wake.” A self-driving, 2018 Kia Sorento emerges and slowly begins driving up the court. An effigy in the shape of Blake Griffin rises from the sunroof of the car, its arms raised and holding a basketball made of a bunch of almonds, glued together, in a nod to one of the host state’s biggest agricultural exports and favorite snacks. Victor Oladipo, nervously pacing in the wings, begins his run toward the net. He hits the top of the key just as the Sorento rolls under the basket. Oladipo jumps, ascends, clears the car and simultaneously lights the effigy while taking the almond-ball from the fiery clutches of its hands. He dunks. The car doesn’t stop. "California Love" plays. The effigy is a towering inferno that suddenly seems a little over-the-top given California’s recent wildfires and last year’s Dunk Contest drone technology failure. Half the Staples Center is evacuated and the smell of burnt almonds doesn’t come out of the banners and jerseys hanging in the rafters for years.
La La Slam
Donovan Mitchell, a huge fan of musicals, takes to the court in a beige suit and a very big fedora. He tap dances his way up and down the sidelines as Kenny Smith is heard humming along and Shaq complains about the “song and dance routine the contest has turned into.” Just then, Mitchell flings his hat into the air and reveals a basketball had been balanced atop his head all along! He swoops in from the right side of the key and completes a between the legs dunk, everyone gasps because they didn’t realize he was wearing tap shoes. He lands in time to catch the hat and roll it up his arm onto his head.
An elaborate replica of the Los Angeles Aqueduct is constructed within the Staples Center out of waterslide tubes and filled with Sprite, an homage to the Dunk Contest sponsor of yore. Larry Nance, Jr.—not a Sprite guy but a showman all the same—dresses himself in a gel suit meant to resemble the creature from The Shape of Water, but is actually a sea monkey. A production intern found it at a garage sale and Nance, who hasn’t seen the movie, can’t know the difference. Due to the material of the suit and the stickiness of the soda, Nance gets stuck in the tube on the way down. The basketball slips out of his grasp as he struggles inside the tube and does a perfect arc from center court into the bucket. A lot of people, unaware of the malfunction, think the incompletion of the dunk is intentional and a critique on water usage and droughts in California. He’s awarded no points.
The SS (So Sad) Catalina
Turns out, Dennis Smith, Jr. was crazy about Dunkirk, almost as crazy as he is about the rich naval history of the United States. Thrilled to tour the greatest attraction Los Angeles has to offer, the 301-foot steamship SS Catalina, Smith is devastated to learn that the 85-year-old relic was destroyed for scrap in 2009. Smith comes out to the somber accompaniment of Military Taps played on a solitary horn by Harry Styles and performs the saddest dunk of all time. Everyone weeps.
Escape From L.A.
Olapido shows up for this one in Snake Plissken's trademark eyepatch but clearly took the visual cue too far because he has also affixed a wooden peg-leg to his knee. A hologram of Donald Trump is projected in the middle of the court and Oladipo revs his motorcycle through it—oh yeah, he is also on a motorcycle—to cheers from the crowd. He has a hard time getting off it, though, and does a few circles before he can signal Boomer the Panther, patiently holding the basketball within a ring of fire under the net, to come and help him dismount. At this point the big finale of completing a dunk from the back of the motorcycle is shot and the banner boldly stating "WELCOME TO THE HUMAN RACE" that was meant to unfurl as Oladipo dunked, has opened to some confusion from the crowd and commentators. Barkley proceeds to call every player in the current NBA “too soft” as Oladipo quietly dunks a singed basketball. Pyrotechnics are huge this year!
Junior 2: Two Juniors
Larry Nance, Jr. and Dennis Smith, Jr. come out in character as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in their roles in the movie Junior, respectively. Nance wears a hospital gown with his name and number embroidered on the back and is playing that classic trick of putting a basketball up your shirt in order to appear pregnant, Smith helps him along. When they reach the center line Larry pantomimes extreme labor pains and Dennis ejects the basketball from his gown by slapping it downward. He proceeds to the basket to complete a 360 dunk and Larry catches it and swaddles the ball in an official 67th NBA All-Star Weekend Los Angeles baby blanket.
Shaq’s Existential Attack
In the style of Jeremy Evans, Donovan Mitchell sculpts a replica of the statue of Shaq that hangs outside the Staples Center and proceeds to dunk over it. The replica is so good that Shaq thinks it’s the original and refuses to score “a burglary of self.” His existential crisis eventually leads him to the discovery of new age medicine and he gets heavy into crystals and pilates. As he rounds 50 he’s in the best shape of his life.
The Bucket List
Jack Nicholson sits in a folding chair mid-key casually eating a footlong hoagie, as some of the lettuce tumbles out of the sandwich and gathers at his feet. Unperturbed by this slipping hazard, Larry Nance, Jr. dribbles within a few feet and launches himself up and over Nicholson to dunk. Admittedly a vanity project for Nicholson, Nance was stuck with the dunk given his tenure with the Lakers and because he is a good sport.
Live From A Primordial Tar Pit It’s Saturday Night
The La Brea Tar Pits are a primal reminder that the earth is beholden to none of us, that there are secrets locked deep within its core—and Dennis Smith, Jr. loves secrets! In addition to this he’s a great fan of that part in The Flintstones where Fred surfs down the spine of the dinosaur to call it a day at the quarry, and envisions a dunk where he slides from the trunk of the mastodon statue screaming in alarm at the edge of the tar pits to the back of its dying partner. Upon arrival at the pits, Dennis is immediately struck with the futility of such a pandering contest when our time on this planet is so finite. He lobs the ball into the tar pit where it will fossilize and remain for millennia to come. A small footprint he can leave in history, anyway.
The Traffic Jam
All four contestants get stuck on the freeway back to the city in an Uber Pool they ordered from N’ice Cream on the Venice Beach boardwalk. They miss the whole contest.