NBA All-Star Weekend: Assembling the all-time Slam Dunk Contest, 3-Point Contest, and Skills Challenge
February serves as a frenetic time for basketball fans around the country for a multitude of reasons. Teams start to hit their strides and trade talk picks up as contenders look to improve for a playoff push while lower-level squads decide to make moves to build for the future.
But, the real kicker usually comes midway through the month, as players, coaches and fans ascend on a specific city for NBA All-Star Weekend.
The league’s best of the best get to showcase their skills as they show off their handles in the Skills Challenge or launch some deep balls in the 3-Point Contest. They fly through the air in the Slam Dunk Contest, and wrap it all up with the All-Star Game itself to finish out the weekend strong.
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As is the case in any sport, players come and go through the years as All-Star Weekend sticks around, and different athletes stand out in each event throughout the span of those few days in February.
But, what if Father Time wasn’t a factor? What if the best to ever compete in each contest from the league’s numerous eras could battle it out against each other to determine who the true all-time Slam Dunk Contest champion, 3-Point king or Skills Challenge conquerer truly was?
To stir up the pot, it’s time to break down who would participate in the all-time versions of each event, with competitors listed in alphabetical order:
Skills Challenge: Jason Kidd, Damian Lillard, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams
The Skills Challenge serves as a nice warmup for fans as they get settled in the arena on Saturday night during All-Star Weekend. So, to dip some toes in the water, the all-time weekend will start there, as well.
For this event, it’s time to look back at the history books to see who has stood out since its inception in 2003.
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The guaranteed participants, in this case, have to be multiple-time winners, who proved that their victories weren’t flukes. For those spots, you have Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade and Damian Lillard.
To fill out the rest of the equation, it’s time to find some frequent participants who either took home the trophy once or were never able to hoist it in the first place. They’ll have the experience needed to make it a competitive event and could redeem themselves in the process.
For those spots, it seems fitting to go with Jason Kidd, the event’s inaugural champion, and Deron Williams, the record-holder for the fastest time in the competition. Then, we’ll add Tony Parker and Chris Paul, who each appeared in the contest four times.
Then, how do you evaluate who wins? The contest has evolved over the years and rules have changed, and the event’s winner is now determined through a single-elimination bracket. For the sake of sticking with the all-time theme, we’ll stick with the original rules and stay away from the bracket, which has only been used for five out of 17 years.
It’s tough to pick a true champion, but we’ll go with Wade, solely based on the star power of those he beat. It’s tough to argue against wins in back-to-back years, especially when he went up against the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James (twice), Steve Nash (giving him a head-to-head win), and Chris Paul (twice, giving him two more head-to-head wins there).
3-Point Contest: Ray Allen, Larry Bird, Steph Curry, Craig Hodges, Jason Kapono, Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Klay Thompson
Now, let’s up the ante a bit as we enter the all-time 3-Point Contest.
Using similar rules as the selection process for the Skills Challenge, we’ll start with some of the heavier hitters in the form of the multi-time winners. Larry Bird is a guarantee, given he started off the contest’s history with a three-peat.
Then, you can’t have one three-peat without the other, so adding Craig Hodges to the fray seems like a must.
Rather than just putting in any multi-time champions and in order to fill spots with shooters who may not fit the mold of the selection process, only one player who won the contest more than once will make it into this group. In this case, it’s the highest-scoring multi-time winner of the bunch, Jason Kapono.
Straying away from the format that was established in the Skills Challenge, let’s honor the record books as Ray Allen and Reggie Miller get added to the eight-man group. While Allen does have one 3-Point Contest title on his resume, Miller does not.
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However, having the first and second players in the league’s all-time 3-point record books seems like an important piece of this pie.
And, you can’t have the 3-Point Contest without the third man in those record books: Steph Curry. The craziest part of that stat? He’s reached that spot on the totem pole in just 698 games, but has only won the 3-Point Contest once.
Sticking with the trend, it’s time to complete the dynamic duo and add in the other half of the Splash Brothers: Klay Thompson. A one-time champion in his own right, it’s only fitting to add in a makeshift family feud to give this event some flare.
Then, why not make it all whole by adding in the common thread? The father of the Splash Brothers and Warriors head coach, Steve Kerr. Pit him up against some of the all-time greats in the sport, and the new era of superstars with whom he happens to spend a lot of his time with these days as the head honcho out in the Bay Area.
The group of eight will play with the classic 3-Point Contest rules, featuring five racks of five balls placed around the arc with a “money ball” placed at the end of each rack.
For a winner, you can’t pick against the all-time leader in 3-pointers made with one of the smoothest shots a fan may ever see, so Allen will take home the title in this All-Star Weekend event.
Slam Dunk Contest: Vince Carter, Aaron Gordon, Dwight Howard, Michael Jordan, Zach LaVine, Jason Richardson, Nate Robinson, Dominique Wilkins
And now, it’s time for the main event of the evening: the Slam Dunk Contest.
This one is going to irk some feathers for many basketball fans across the league’s history, considering some enthusiasts appreciate “old school” dunk contests more than the flashy elements seen in more recent instances of the event.
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To start it all off, the only guarantees of the bunch are simple: “His Airness” Michael Jordan, and quite possibly the king of the Dunk Contest, Vince Carter.
Then, two-time champion Dominique Wilkins gets added to the conversation, looking to avenge the legendary loss to Jordan when the latter famously launched himself to the basket from the free-throw line, creating a moment that will forever live on in basketball lore.
The back-to-back champion in 2002 and 2003, Jason Richardson gives the Warriors some more representation in this all-time All-Star Weekend, followed by another back-to-back champion and three-time overall king, Nate Robinson.
Things get a bit tougher after that starting five, and the recency bias starts to creep in.
Dwight Howard helped to bring out the best in Robinson throughout the 5-foot-9 dunker’s reign of terror, even turning into Superman for numerous high-flying dunks before Robinson busted out his “Kryptonite” Knicks jersey to finish the job.
After all of these years, Howard could add a second title to his mantel in 2020, as well, and could build up his case to join this event in the process.
Zach LaVine seems like a lock, seeing as he brought back some consistency to the contest with his back-to-back wins in 2015 and 2016. While he’s not competing in 2020, he helped to rejuvenate the event and takes the sixth spot in this all-time affair.
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But, many argue that LaVine’s foe in 2016, Aaron Gordon, deserved the trophy, especially considering the wide variety of dunks he showcased throughout that night in Toronto.
Could LaVine be ducking Gordon in the 2020 Slam Dunk Contest as he takes his talents to the 3-Point Contest instead? If that’s the case (and really, even if it’s not), it seems right to put Gordon on this list.
No matter what, the contest would really come down to Jordan and Carter in the end. It may be a neck-and-neck race in the minds of some fans, but Carter truly changed the game with his highlight reel from the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, and the ferocity with which he threw the ball down through the rim is unmatched.
For this all-time event, the man who’s career has spanned across four decades takes the cake.
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