De­bat­ing all-star week­end

The Compass - - SPORTS - Ni­cholas Mercer Ni­cholas Mercer is a reporter and pho­tog- ra­pher for The Com­pass. He can be reached at nmercer@cbn­com­

The Or­lando Magic’s Aaron Gor­don stood inches from the three-point line at the Air Canada Cen­tre in Toronto, Ont.

Bounc­ing on his toes, Gor­don ex­haled and took half-a-dozen pow­er­ful steps be­fore ex­plod­ing to­wards the rim. It was the fifth round of the 2016 ver­sion of the NBA dunk com­pe­ti­tion and Gor­don was locked in a heated dunk off with de­fend­ing cham­pion Zachary Lavine.

Await­ing Gor­don in front of the rim was Stuff The Magic Dragon - the Magic’s acid trip of a mas­cot - who held a bas­ket­ball over its head. Com­ing from the right side, Gor­don col­lected him­self and leapt for all he was worth.

Us­ing the base­ball glove he calls a right hand, the for­ward grabbed the ball and pushed it un­der both his legs be­fore tak­ing it in his left hand and jam­ming it through the hoop. The re­ac­tion to the slam dunk earned Gor­don a score of 50 and set the ca­pac­ity crowd into a frenzy.

He had done some­thing no one be­fore him had done. Some called it the best slam dunk in the his­tory of the com­pe­ti­tion. Gor­don prac­ti­cally went over the mas­cot in a sit­ting mo­tion.

He got so high he would’ve won an Olympic bronze medal in the high jump at the 2012 Lon­don Games.

It was an eye-open­ing dis­play of ath­leti­cism and a true mea­sure of the ex­cite­ment the dunk com­pe­ti­tion can bring to the NBA’s All-Star Satur­day night.

His coun­ter­part, Lavine, used three dunks from the free throw line — the clos­est man can come to fly­ing — to pick up the con­tro­ver­sial win.

Gor­don’s dunk is one that he prob­a­bly won’t no­tice­ably feel for a cou­ple of years. How­ever, he’ll start to feel them soon enough. The same goes for Lavine.

Soon, his body will ache at the thought of ris­ing up and cram­ming the ball over the heads of op­po­nents. It’ll come in bursts later in his ca­reer, but it won’t be as com­mon as it was when he was younger.

Such is the life of the dunker. Such is the life of the supremely ath­letic player who keeps push­ing his body to new heights.

It’s why the dunk con­test is cycli­cal. For a long time, it was the main event of the all-star week­end. Peo­ple set their cal­en­dars around the com­pe­ti­tion.

The best dunkers squared off with the best dunkers for years. It wowed crowds across the na­tion.

Then, the best dunkers stopped do­ing it. They stopped putting their bod­ies on the line.

The dunk com­pe­ti­tion got stale. Vince Carter re­vived it in 2000, but he hasn’t com­peted since.

LeBron James has never com­peted. Nor has Kevin Du­rant, Rus- sell West­brook or Dwayne Wade.

Amaz­ing dunkers come along ev­ery cou­ple of years. They com­pete for the crown and then they re­move them­selves from the show.

It’s been like this since 2000. Lavine and Gor­don will carry the com­pe­ti­tion for the next few years and then it could suf­fer be­fore an­other leap­ing saviour is found.

Mo­ments be­fore Lavine and Gor­don put on a show for the ages, some on the broad­cast won­dered whether the three-point com­pe­ti­tion should be given main event sta­tus. There’s an ar­gu­ment to be made there.

The con­test rou­tinely fea­tures the top marks­men in the game. Stephen Curry, Klay Thomp­son and J.J. Redick have all put their tal­ents on the line. As have young blood like Devin Booker and C.J. McCol­lum.

It just seems like ev­ery year, the brides­maid to the dunk com­pe­ti­tion’s bride at­tracts the top stars in its dis­ci­pline.

This year’s field had all of the above shoot­ers, plus Kyle Lowry, Khris Mid­dle­ton and James Har­den. It was a great field that was still with­out Jared Dudley, An­thony Mor­row and Kawhi Leonard, who are all in the top-15 league-wide in three-point per­cent­age.

It just seems like the con­test con­sis­tently brings out the stars. It also re­flects where the league finds it­self. The NBA is a nightly three-point com­pe­ti­tion. Fans love it and so do the play­ers.

And, it’s less stress­ful on the body.

The three-point com­pe­ti­tion has its mer­its and can get ex­cit­ing when play­ers are rolling, but there is noth­ing like the slam dunk com­pe­ti­tion.

It’s fe­roc­ity, cre­ativ­ity and ath­leti­cism are se­cond-to-none.

It’s why we watch bas­ket­ball for any­way.

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