NEW ORLEANS – Shaquille O’Neal sat beneath the basket on a king’s gold throne and then watched as Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore soared over his head for a spread-eagle, right-handed, tomahawk dunk that brought the crowd at the Smoothie King Center to their feet on Saturday night.
The dunk prompted Shaq to jump to his feet and place a gold crown on the rookie’s head. Sadly, it was a case of premature coronation.
On the final dunk of the night in the reconfigured, team-oriented Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, Washington guard John Wall grabbed the ball from above the head of “G-Man” — the mascot of the Wizards who was standing two feet in front of the basket — and then buried a two-handed reverse slam that brought down the house and secured the team dunk title for a three-player team from the Eastern Conference.
Then, in a vote of fans, Wall’s two-hand slam also gave him the title of best dunker of the night.
“This was only my second time doing the dunk — the first time was on Thursday,” said Wall, who worked on the move with Aidan Charlery, the mascot known as G-Man. “I just felt comfortable in myself and I knew it was a dunk that hasn’t been done before. That was the main thing with coming up with the creativity, and it worked out in my favor.”
The slam dunk contest rules changed to a team format this year, with three head-to-head matches between Eastern and Western Conference players. In the other two “battles,” Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors defeated Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, and Paul George of the Indiana Pacers defeated Harrison Barnes of the Golden State Warriors.
The dunk contest climaxed a four-event State Farm All-Star Saturday night.
The Foot Locker Three-Point Contest went to a tiebreaker between San Antonio guard Marco Belinelli and Washington guard Bradley Beal. Belinelli caught fire in the extra round, making eight of his last 10 shots to score 24 points, the highest total of the night. Beal took second with 18 points.
“I think it was more smart to put the last five (money) balls in the corner, so you know how many points you’re behind,” Belinelli said. “Unbelievable.”
The two players had tied in the championship round with 19 points each. Belinelli got to his total by making seven of his last nine. Beal, meanwhile missed his first three shots before hitting his last six to force the tiebreaker.
Belinelli, a native of Italy, got off to slow starts in all three rounds but rallied. He joined Peja Stojakovic and Dirk Nowitzki as the only non-Americans to win the contest.
“I didn’t know that, but I feel great,” Belinelli said. “It’s a dream come true. I can remember when Larry Bird won the 3-point contest, and now I know I won the same trophy. It’s something hard to describe.”
In the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Utah Jazz rookie guard Trey Burke and Lillard nipped Philadelphia 76ers guard Michael Carter-Williams and Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo by a tenth of a second, 45.2 to 45.3. Burke was the anchor man on the relay-style event that called for a layup, 3-pointers, passing through a cylinder and a full-court dribble.
Team Bosh, composed of Miami center Chris Bosh, NBA legend Dominique Wilkins and guard Swin Cash of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, won the Sears Shooting Stars competition for the second consecutive year. Bosh’s half-court heave completed a series of four shots from increasingly longer distances in just 31.4 seconds.
That was 4.2 seconds faster than Team Durant, which was made up of Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, NBA legend Karl Malone and guard Skylar Diggins of the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock.
“It was straight luck,” Bosh said, smiling. “You throw it up and you pray.”
Bosh said in practice that he attempted 200 half-court shots and only made two. Bosh decided right before the competition began to go with his regular jump shot rather than take a run-up for added momentum.
“I have range,” Bosh said. “I keep asking coach (Erik Spoelstra) to let me shoot that shot in a game. He won’t let me do it yet, but I think today will give him confidence if he was watching.” “Personally, I was hoping that he made that shot because I was running out of gas,” said Wilkins, 54, laughing.
NOTES: Despite the pooling of talent that has occurred in the last several years, new NBA commissioner Adam Silver said small-market teams still can compete for a league championship. “The fact that we had four teams in the conference finals last year (Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City) who are all in the bottom half of the league in terms of market size is a strong indication that the collective bargaining agreement is working in terms of the correlation between market size and success,” Silver said. … Silver said Miami is not a top-15 market, and “it was only until LeBron (James) went to Miami that people started referring to Miami as a big market.” … The time may come when NBA players wear advertising logos on their jerseys. “It’s something we’re looking at,” Silver said. “It makes sense for this league as a global league. As people are TIVOing and taping all forms of entertainment programming, those live images are critically important to our marketing partners.”
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