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Blake Griffin: Jump The Sprite

The outcome had to be preordained with the neophyte of flight performing on his home court, but the margin for “The Blake Show” didn’t have to be that blatant.

Blake Griffin, the Los Angeles Clippers rookie rising sensation, topped Washington Wizards center Javele McGee with 68% of the fan vote in the 2011 Sprint Slam Dunk Contest on TNT’s coverage of NBA All-Star Saturday Night. Sure, the power forward was spectacular with a power 360 (was it a 450?) and a reverse from a pass off the basket extension. For his third effort, Griffin, evoked Vinsanity circa 2000, and dunked from outside the charge circle, elbow deep into the rim.

But with gravity constraining human feats of elevation and seemingly limiting the truly extraordinary to video games, the dunk contest has devolved into a contest of props from contestants surmounting or employing chairs (Gerald Wilkins), blindfolds (Cedric Ceballos) people seated and kneeling (Terrence Stansbury,) lighted cupcakes (Gerald Green) and ballplayers (Spud Webb, Nate Robinson, Chris Webber and Dwight “Superman” Howard).

Griffin and his coach Kenny Smith, the TNT analyst and 1990 dunk contest finalist, took it to another level on Saturday, in a way David Stern, Adam Sliver and NBA sponsors had to love.

Throughout the event, the four competitors (Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka were also in the game) sat on a Sprite (the official soft drink of the NBA) cube as they contemplated their final flight preparations. They were flanked by a panel of judges, including Dominique Wilkins, aka ‘Nique and the 1985 and 1990 Slam Dunk king (”The Human Highlight Film” was robbed by homer call in Chicago for Michael Jordan during the 1988 event), and Dr. J sitting behind a table draped with a Sprite banner.

(Speaking of Erving, Ibake paid tribute to the man who made dunking an art form. The Thunder forward added inches to The Doctor’s famed foul line leap — Michael Jordan and Brent Barry also straddled the mark on their 15-foot dunk-contest deliveries — during the original slamfest from the final ABA All-Star Game in 1976. The man from the Congo clearly went airborne from outside the stripe. Still, Ibake — who also added to the event’s prop total by rescuing a stuffed animal tied to the rim with his teeth as he jammed — only earned a 45 out of 50 for his foul-line extended glide. Guess he didn’t throw down with enough force.)

Then in an exalted display of product integration, er showmanship, Smith began orchestrating the crowd as the Crenshaw Select Choir singing “I Believe I Can Fly,” as Griffin’s final takeoff neared. Meanwhile, a Kia (the official car of the NBA) Optima, emblazoned with a Sprite logo, was parked horizontally under the hoop. Clippers teammate Baron Davis then passed the pill through the sun roof, and Griffin, clearing the front of the car, almost six-feet in length, crammed with two hands. (Watch at: http://www.nba.com/video/channels/allstar/2011/02/20/20110219_dunks_reca...).

What he didn’t leap over the roof of the car? Griffin’s likely saving that for a Kia SUV next year, while he no doubt downs a can of Sprite in a single bound.

From this perch, Griffin’s repertoire didn’t match McGee’s arsenal, which featured the seven-footer dunking on two side-by-side baskets. It might have taken him multiple attempts, but McGee finally succeeding in holding and cramming the ball with his left hand, while tossing the other rock off that backboard, before throwing down right-handed on the flanking apparatus (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNJ0K8qdq00).

Not content with two, McGee also put down three balls on a solo flight, albeit on just one hoop (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49CfDLpuWWA). He then scored with a left-to-right baseline float that culminated with an inward, backward-reaching reverse. He made that look incredibly easy.

The Feb. 19 edition wasn’t anywhere near the worst miscarriage of dunking justice. That dubious distinction still belongs to Nate Robinson’s win in the 2006 competition over Andre Iguodala. The Philadelphia 76er took his own pass off the floor with a left-handed catch, wrapped it around his back to his right-hand, and concluded matters with a one-motion flush. Additionally, AI also took a pass, which was bounced off the right side of the back of the backboard by the real AI, then-teammate Allen Iverson. Iguodala caught the carom and then flew out from underneath the board to jam on the left side of the goal with right-handed authority, all the while keeping his head from smacking against the bottom of the board.

(Check out TNT’s The Lost Dunks for Iguodala’s efforts, as well as Howard’s sticker slam and other crams that don’t get their proper recognition.)

The 5′9″ Robinson, who earlier had jumped over 5′7″ Spud Webb, the 1986 contest winner, seemingly had unlimited (14, 17, 20 or 30 by some accounts) attempts on his final try to put the ball between his legs, throw it off the board and ram the rebound. The conclusion was thrilling, but almost anticlimactic. Indeed, the build-up was so tedious, and cringe-worthy (Larry David, anybody?), the NBA changed the rules thereafter so competitors have to complete a dunk within two minutes.

You know what, guys? Get your jams right the first time. Then we’ll raise Sprites with both hands and toast your hops from the front seat of a Kia.