After the three-point contest ended, I had everything planned out. I was going gush about Karl-Anthony Towns' improbably defeating the Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green, the Sacramento Kings' DeMarcus Cousins, and Boston Celtics Isaiah Thomas on his way to winning the Skills Challenge (in the first time front court players could compete, no less!). I was going to crack a few lame jokes about how three-point champion Klay Thompson's father played for the Minnesota Gophers back in the day, making the Splash Bro "Minnesotan." And then I was going to finish up by raving about Zach LaVine's run away repeat victory in the dunk contest and gloat about how the Minnesota Timberwolves walked away with three of the four awards handed out to that point. It was all set up to be a good, but unmemorable night. But little did I know about what was about to unfold in the dunk contest.
The first round of the dunk contest came and went without much fanfare. The Denver Nugget's Will Barton put down a good dunk, but it wasn't anything Earth-shattering, the Detroit Piston's Andre Drummond went for the moon and missed on his first two attempts before settling for an easier dunk on his third, and the Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon (the only person people believed would "challenge" LaVine) threw down a between-the-legs 180 that netted him a score of 45.
And then, out came Zach LaVine.
Words cannot do justice to what LaVine is able to accomplish while in the act of dunking. I can only imagine that watching LaVine dunk is in some ways akin to what it was like to watch Leonardo da Vinci paint or Mozart play the piano; effortless, breathless, and purely derived from God-given talent, so much so that you can't believe exists, and yet, there it is. In short, the only way to properly show your thanks and appreciation for LaVine's art is to don a stank-face and act like a magnitude 9.0 earthquake is occurring for all eternity.
At this point, one could've easily assumed that the rest of the competition was only a matter of semantics, and, for half of the second round, that appeared to be the case. Drummond performed what ended up being a pretty cool dunk in which he utilized NBA legend Steve Nash's impressive footwork to give him a pass, but once again the dunk took many tries, limiting its wow factor. Will Barton followed up by not connecting on a single one of his attempts.
But then Gordon did this and things were about to get real.
Aaron Gordon over the mascot. https://t.co/H6qgOeFIWB— RealGM (@RealGM) February 14, 2016
Completing a between-the-legs dunk is difficult in and of itself, but to do it while also jumping over the team mascot and grabbing the ball out of it's hands?! BRUH. Clearly, this was now a two-horse race. It was now on LaVine's shoulders to respond.
And how did LaVine respond? Well, like this:
LaVine with the lob from the free throw line. https://t.co/ZToChzVB7j— RealGM (@RealGM) February 14, 2016
I mean, good lord. LaVine flew through the Toronto air as if somehow the city had been transported to the surface of the moon. Also, shoutout to Andre Miller (who guest announcer Kevin Hart speculated was 65 years old) for the perfect feed. Drummond and Barton were eliminated and it was on to the finals.
Gordon was first up and he connected on what was quite possible the best dunk I have ever witnessed in my life (to that point, at least).
Ohhjjjjjjjjjjhjhhhhh https://t.co/EBtJB6T3Lb— Today's Fastbreak (@TodaysFastbreak) February 14, 2016
The degree of difficulty of that dunk was simply astronomical. First you have the spinning mascot holding the ball, then you have Gordon timing the spin perfectly and not only grabbing the ball, but cupping in it with a single hand, tossing the other one behind his head and completing the action with a windmill! That dunk should have scored higher than a 50. That dunk should be forged in a heavy duty plastic, mass produced, and shipped all over the United States to be used as a source of green energy.
Not to be outdone, LaVine whipped out his ace in the hole. For over a year now, fans have waited with baited breath to see LaVine's mythical free-throw line windmill, a dunk that had only been referred to in legend and witnessed at random Pro-Am's and on YouTube; it truly was the Loch Ness Monster of dunks. But then it happened.
The dunk contest was now over. There no dunk that Aaron Gordon could possibly do that would keep Zach LaVine from hoisting the dunk contest trophy over his head for the second time in as many years. That dunk was the metaphorical Vince Carter "It's over" throat-slash. And then Aaron Gordon did the impossible and connected on the greatest dunk I have ever seen.
SHUT IT DOWN https://t.co/ne1GJT6g36— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) February 14, 2016
That dunk. THAT. DUNK. I'm not sure it falls in line with the laws of physics. Maybe that is what those LIGO researches measured that lead them to conclude gravitational waves exist? That may go down as one of the greatest dunks of all time.
The only way LaVine managed to force a dunk off was by performing a windmill from the free-throw line!
LaVine from the free throw line. https://t.co/7ND2X2bck4— RealGM (@RealGM) February 14, 2016
In the dunk off, Gordon called upon teammate Elfrid Payton to provide a pass off the side of the backboard so Gordon could throw down an easy (relatively) two-handed, reverse windmill.
Aaron Gordon from Elfrid Payton. https://t.co/B48bhDoE7L— RealGM (@RealGM) February 14, 2016
LaVine countered with your run-of-the-mill between-the-legs reversed dunk from behind the backboard.
Zach LaVine not going away. https://t.co/YBdJOshTfd— RealGM (@RealGM) February 14, 2016
Gordon's final dunk was an amazing double-pump dunk that somehow was only given a score of 47. That dunk should've been an easy 50.
LaVine finished off the contest with a between-the-legs dunk from the free-throw line, a dunk he admitted to have never even attempted until that moment.
LaVine was given a score of 50 and was declared the winner.
* * *
Even though Zach LaVine was declared the victor, the 2016 dunk contest did not feature a single winner. Zach LaVine won. Aaron Gordon won. The NBA won. We all won (except Walk The Moon, they lost). It was a night that will not soon be forgotten, if ever. The way that LaVine and Gordon went at each other with such panache, creativity, and unholy athleticism will be passed down as legend from generation to generation, much like the Michael Jordan-Julius Erving and Vince Carter dunk contests of old. And how fitting that this performance occurred in the city that was home to Carter for so many years.
Recency bias is a potent toxin, but it possible that this dunk contest will go down as the greatest of all-time. And, man, am I thankful that I was able to witness it. THE DUNK CONTEST IS BACK!