A little bit of surprising news hit the Golden State Warriors fanbase on Tuesday, when the 2022 Slam Dunk Contest contestants were announced. Had someone told you that a Warrior would be in the contest, you likely would have pointed to Andrew Wiggins or Jonathan Kuminga, but instead it was Oakland’s own Juan Toscano-Anderson.
JTA is up against Houston Rockets rookie guard Jalen Green, Orlando Magic second-year point guard Cole Anthony, and New York Knicks sophomore wing Obi Toppin, last year’s runner-up.
I love Toscano-Anderson as much as anyone, but I think it’s safe to look at that field and conclude that the contest doesn’t attract stars quite like it did in, say, 2000, when Vince Carter bested Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, and Jerry Stackhouse, or in 1988, when Michael Jordan beat out Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler.
That’s not to say it won’t be magical. No one was expecting the 2016 show to be of much note before Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon decided to spend 30 minutes earning themselves an additional eight figures’ worth of endorsements.
JTA is doing something a little rare by suiting up for the festivities, as he becomes just the fifth Warrior to suit up for an NBA dunk contest, and just the fourth to partake in THE Slam Dunk Contest.
So let’s have some fun and revisit all the times the Dubs have thrown it down for show at All-Star weekend.
1976-77 — Larry McNeill, kind of
The Slam Dunk Contest has a kind of fuzzy and funny opening history. The ABA held the first contest in 1976, famously won by Dr. J. A few months later, the ABA and NBA merged, and it wouldn’t be until 1984 that the contest, as we know it, would begin in earnest.
But in that initial merger season, after Dr. J had captured the basketball world’s attention, the NBA tried a Slam Dunk Contest of sorts.
The internet is mostly letting me down with details here, but, according to Wikipedia, it was a season-long event that featured one player from each team. The Warriors Larry McNeill, a 6’9 forward nicknamed “The Hawk,” was the runner-up, losing out to Darnell Hillman, while better known players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, and George Gervin were sent packing early.
McNeill only played 204 total minutes during his Warriors tenure, but he’ll always hold the distinction as their first Slam Dunk Contest participant ... sort of.
1988 — Otis Smith
I mentioned the ‘88 contest already, in which Jordan beat Wilkins in a clash for the ages, with Drexler finishing third. And behind Drexler? The 6’5 Otis Smith, playing in his first of two seasons with the Dubs.
Losing to those three names is nothing to be ashamed of, and Smith also beat out three names (Jerome Kersey, Greg Anderson, and Spud Webb), as the contest used to have eight players (the eighth, Ron Harper, had to withdraw after suffering an injury).
Smith made it out of the first round with some dunks that were dripping in old school cool, but was done in during the second round by having to follow MJ, and the much less lenient missed-dunk rules of yesteryear.
It’s quite a throwback to watch Smith’s dunks, and not just because of the grainy video quality.
Bring back short shorts!
(I’m trying, says Jordan Poole)
2002 — Jason Richardson
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it right now, and I’ll say it many more times in the future: Jason Richardson deserves to be mentioned on the short list of greatest contest dunkers of all time. When people say Jordan, Wilkins, Dr. J, LaVine, and Carter, they need to also mention J-Rich.
In a one-off tournament-style contest in 2002, Richardson breezed through the field, using a perfect 50 (recreating a famous Wilkins jam) to best Desmond Mason in the opening round, and beating out Gerald Wallace (who had beaten Steve Francis) in round two to take home the trophy.
J-Rich did it all, showing off the speed and agility of a bantamweight, with the power of a heavyweight. Plus, a rookie Gilbert Arenas helps him out!
But it was only the start...
2003 — Jason Richardson
It was in 2003 that J-Rich cemented his legacy as one of the greatest contest dunkers in NBA history. In beating Amar’e Stoudemire, Richard Jefferson, and Mason again, Richardson put on a clinic, scoring perfect 50s in three of his four dunks, before 50s were handed out like tin foil hats filled with ivermectin at Joe Rogan’s birthday party.
It was clutch, too, as Richardson approached his final dunk needing a 49 to win, at which point he broke out the reverse, alley-oop, backwards, through-the-legs, left-handed dunk that I still think about on a weekly basis.
Grace. Violence. Creativity.
The total package.
2004 — Jason Richardson
Richardson’s reign as Slam Dunk Contest champion came to an end in 2004, as he ripped past Chris Anderson and Ricky Davis, but came up short in the final against Fred Jones when he failed to complete a dunk on his last attempt. Jones had also missed his final dunk, so Richardson needed a rather meager jam to win it all — but he stuck with the spirit of the contest instead, attempting Vince Carter’s famous elbow-in-the-rim dunk, but with a 360 preceding it.
He might have lost, but J-Rich was still the main story from the event due to his second dunk of the night: a perfect 50 in which he casually went through the legs ... after tossing the ball to himself off the backboard.
By this time his dunking sorcery was well known, but the unfathomably difficult, and yet still graceful rim-rattler prompted Kenny Smith to declare on air, “that is the most incredible dunk I’ve ever seen.”
Win or lose, Richardson only added to his dunking legacy in his final contest.
2014 — Harrison Barnes
The most recent Warrior to compete in the contest came in the final year before the Dubs’ dynastic reign of terror began.
Barnes’ appearance came on a weekend when the NBA tried a one-off format change that was pretty silly. Three players from each conference performed in a “freestyle” round, which was remarkably lethargic, with the winning conference getting to choose the order for the “battle” round, which featured three head-to-head showdowns. The East won all three battles and thus the contest, with John Wall taking home honors as “Dunker of the Night” (whoever thought that people wanted the Slam Dunk Contest to be less of an individual contest and more of a team one was, I can only imagine, fired on Monday morning).
During the freestyle round, Kenny Smith stated that, “I think Harrison Barnes is a great game dunker — I’m not sure about this contest,” which proved to be a remarkably accurate statement. Barnes’ dunks were mostly benign and lacking in pizzaz, though he certainly brought more energy to the event than the emcee, Nick Cannon did.
Barnes was, indeed, a great in-game dunker, so I think it’s best we remember him that way.
Your go, JTA.