By Pat Costello
“Are we so different, you and I?” Commodus asked this of Maximus in Gladiator prior to their epic duel. This question is very fitting when comparing the 2016 Dunk Contest to the 2017 Dunk Contest. Were they so different? Like Maximus and Commodus, yes, they were very different. One is bad to the bone, while the other tried to rest on the success of those who came before. Aaron Gordon, Deandre Jordan, Derrick Jones Jr. and Glenn Robinson III are Commodus, the jealous, watered-down version of what Zach Lavine and Gordon, Maximus if you’re still following the comparison, offered in 2016.
Last year, Lavine and Gordon clearly took the advice of Proximo: “win the crowd.” The two put on an epic performance, throwing down dunk after dunk on their first attempts, and jacking the crowd up as if they were throwing bread into the stands. Their contest is so revered because of their consistency. Neither man seemed to miss during the latter part of the contest. The NBA players and fans shared the reactions to each jam, reaching peak excitement after every finished attempt. The two effectively yelled “are you not entertained?” towards the crowd at the end of their performance, and for that they received a thumbs up from Caesar.
When the 2017 contest rolled around, the expectations were through the roof, with everyone believing Gordon would run away with the contest. However, after a lackluster drone-filled dunk and three missed attempts on his second dunk, he was forced to sit and watch the finals. Jordan was the second favorite, but did little to excite anyone except DJ Khaled, so he, too, was knocked out. Robinson III and Jones Jr were the two finalists, causing the crowd to go mild with disinterest. “Marcus Aurelius had a dream that was Rome, Proximo. That is not it. That is not it!” Maximus yelled at one point when explaining how Rome was in a downward spiral. The lack of star power in the finals, plus the duo’s inability to make a dunk on the first attempt doomed the contest to be remembered poorly. Jones Jr. won the contest simply because they had the trophy made already, so somebody needed to go home with it. My vote was for the drone. The contest as a whole gets a thumbs down from Caesar.
2016’s contest was like the scene in the Coliseum when the Gladiators reenact the second fall of mighty Carthage. It was supposed to be Zach Lavine’s contest to win, and nobody expected otherwise, but in the end, the outcome was surprising and pleasing to everybody involved. 2017’s contest was the Maximus vs. Tigris fight, with this year’s entrants filling the role of Tigris. They expected that past performances would carry over into this year, but in the end, they got an axe to the foot.
The hope is that next year’s contestants will not make the mistakes that this years’ did. The Dunk Contest is one of the most exciting parts of All-Star weekend, but this year’s did not live up to the hype. Like Juba said at the end of the movie: “And now we are free. I will see you again. But not yet. Not yet!”