Obi Toppin won a disappointingly bland Slam Dunk Contest in Cleveland. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
TECHNOLOGY MEDIA

4 Innovations to Save the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

The 2022 NBA All-Star Game was a thrill. The Slam Dunk Contest was a dud. Times have changed — but we have four major innovations to help fix what used to be All-Star Weekend’s crown jewel.

Jalen Green’s intentions were pure. In his mind’s eye, he thrilled us right out of our seats. Shaq clapped. Dr. J’s effortlessly cool face actually moved.

These things did not happen in real, actual life.

Saturday night’s Slam Dunk Contest in Cleveland was meant to be the perfect capper to NBA All-Star Saturday Night, but the whole affair faltered. Poorly executed attempts and frequent misses, dunk concepts that felt like reruns, and an overall lack of energy and charisma marred what should have been a famous night for Knicks forward Obi Toppin, who ultimately hoisted the champion’s trophy without anything resembling the same aura that cloaked the MJs, Vince Carters, Dominiques, and Zach LaVines of the past.

Looking to the future, Boardroom is here to fix the Slam Dunk Contest before it’s too late.

Below are four innovations that could each — or some combination therewithin— instantly improve upon what we had to endure Saturday night.

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Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon Pre-Approve the Dunks (and the Contestants)

The key is to put on the best possible spectacle. If that means some contrivances along the way, fine. Fine!

Do it like this:

  1. As the pre-eminent Dunk Contest operators of the NBA’s current era, appoint Chicago’s Zach LaVine and Denver’s Aaron Gordon as All-Star Weekend Chief Dunk Officers.
  2. Five-to-10 potential contestants submit five formal dunk proposals to LaVine and Gordon with detailed written descriptions and visual aids (storyboard, animatic, 3D rendering, Industrial Light & Magic, etc.)
  3. LaVine and Gordon come to an agreement on the four or five dunkers whose proposals best capture the spirit of excitement and creativity the Slam Dunk Contest deserves.

The key is that a more robust screening process is needed for the event’s continued existence to be justified. This jolt of expert supervision is one way to get us there.

Do it (Only) in the Metaverse

The physical world was clearly inadequate for our purposes Saturday night. And when our standard three dimensions of space are no longer suitable to reach the audiences we want to reach and affect them in the ways we want to affect them, we do what an increasing number of brands are doing in an incredibly broad range of industries: we take our talents to the metaverse.

That’s right. An all-virtual Dunk Contest.

If making the entire thing Web3-only is what it takes to revamp and revitalize the exercise, so be it.

Hey, Nike and Roblox have already taken LeBron James to NIKELAND — in this age of the Gamification of Everything. So, drastic options like this one must be on the table. Just think of all the marketing and advertising tie-ins, from AR/MR/VR experiences to interactive contests to sports betting and beyond.

Celebrity Mentors, Just Like The Voice

Yes, we need more supervision and accountability here — but Gordon and LaVine can’t do it all themselves. So, let us convene a broader panel of all-time greats to help coach up our dunkers and get in the proper frame of mind during All-Star week in the run-up to the big night.

It works on The Voice. It can work here, too.

Think of not just high-flying icons like Julius Erving, Larry Nance, Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb, Jason Richardson, and Nate Robinson, but branding and marketing leaders like Steve Stoute, Rihanna, Gary Vaynerchuk, Kylie Jenner, Daymond John. Both cohorts can provide a whole lot of insight to get us closer to that ideal balance of entertainment and innovation.

Just Cancel it (for Now)

You know how they sometimes do controlled burns in the forest so new stuff can grow? Same principle here. Burn it down to build it back up.

That’s what happened after 1997. There was no Dunk Contest the following year before an NBA lockout robbed us of All-Star Weekend entirely in 1999. Then, in 2000, Vince Carter and Co. resurrected the entire institution with one absolutely bonkers night in Oakland that recaptured the magic and kick-started a new generation.

In the case of the Slam Dunk Contest, we should welcome history repeating itself.

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