Entering 2016’s Verizon Slam Dunk Contest, Zach LaVine was already listed as the victor. And with good reason. The contest was his to lose because of his magical performance the year before.
In attempts to dethrone him, Will Barton, Andre Drummond, and Aaron Gordon were selected as his opponents. On paper, the field looked weak. Both Drummond and Gordon are known as power dunkers and never showed anything remarkably flashy prior; Barton seemed to be the one who would give LaVine the most problems because of his athleticism and thrilling play style.
All four contestants had solid first round dunks, but Gordon and LaVine stole the show with their first attempts. Gordon threw down a reverse through-the-legs, followed by LaVine going around his back off a self alley-oop.
From that point forward, we knew we were witnessing something special.
Gordon’s subsequent attempt was a jam no one has ever seen before. He had the Magic’s mascot stand on a hoverboard while holding the ball. Off a running start, Gordon leaps, clearing the mascot, going through his legs and stuffing it. The combination of power, finesse, and creativity led to a scintillating dunk.
LaVine knew he had to bring his best on his next dunk. Which he did.
Enlisting the help of Andre Miller, LaVine backs up to the opposite foul line and the whole arena knows what’s coming next. As he gets his running start, you start thinking that he’s going to take off from the free throw line. He does. As he begins his ascension, Miller lofts him the perfect alley-oop pass and LaVine leaps with half his foot inside the free throw line and glides through the air en route to a score of 49.
Please note that Michael Jordan & Julius Erving were at about the same spot LaVine was on their free throw line dunks.
Aaron Gordon needed to step it up yet again and he delivered. Again with the mascot and the hoverboard, the mascot begins spinning around with the ball in his outstretched arm. It gets a little nerve-wracking, hoping that nothing happens to either man. Well, in a beautiful combination of timing and athleticism, Gordon leaps and snatches the ball out the hand of the mascot. As he jumps, he starts his 360 and cups the ball before windmilling it around and flushing it. For added flair, Gordon put his off-hand behind his hand, a la Karl Malone.
To keep the scores tied, LaVine attempts the same dunk but with his own added flair. No hoverboard, no mascot, just pure athleticism. Off another self alley-oop, LaVine does the same dunk as Gordon, just minus the hand behind the head. He receives a 50, and the show goes on.
For the third straight dunk, Gordon brings out the mascot. This time, however, both individuals are a part of the greatest dunk ever. The mascot, who stands a littler shorter than seven-feet, holds the ball above his head and waits. As Gordon gets a running start, he explodes over the mascot, tucks the ball underneath both his legs and reverse slams it with one hand. Astonishing. The judges, specifically Kenny Smith, think the contest is over, but LaVine still has one dunk to extend the match.
It’s hard to write off the defending champ after seeing the kind of dunks he’s done that night. Yet again, LaVine retreats back trying to run as much of the court as possible. He just took off from the free-throw line, what else could he be doing? He gains speed as he runs down the court, takes off from the same spot as the dunk before last, but, this time, windmills it as he flys through the air. Just as some people thought the contest was over, LaVine makes his case for the night to continue.
In another sudden death round, Gordon has Elfrid Payton throw him a pass off the side of the backboard. In what was Gordon’s least impressive dunk of the evening, he caught the ball and whipped it around in a reverse, two-handed windmill. Captivating the Air Canada Centre and forcing Zach LaVine to deliver yet again.
LaVine readies himself behind the backboard, and a little off to the side. The master of the self alley-oop is getting ready to throw down another one. This time, off the alley-oop, LaVine goes through his legs from under the backboard and reverse flushes the ball with two hands. LaVine got so high that he almost hit his head on the backboard before he dunked it.
Gordon’s next dunk was so powerful that it rivals Dominique Wilkins’ double clutch from a few decades back. In Dominique fashion, Gordon goes from the baseline and throws down a dunk that displays sheer power and athleticism. As he goes up for the reverse, he cocks the ball behind his head, then brings it all the way back down in between his legs as he does almost a full split in mid-air. The slam that followed energised the crowd and got them ready for LaVine’s attempt.
To win, LaVine needs a 48, as Gordon’s dunk was given a 47 by the judges. Again, for the third time that night, LaVine gets ready for a free throw line slam. He did the alley-oop, he did the windmill, so what could he have up his sleeve? Well, it’s only right for LaVine to go back-to-back with a dunk where he goes between his legs from one step inside the free-throw line. Yes, Zach LaVine went through his legs, from one step inside the free throw line. After he had finished it, everyone knew it was over — even Aaron Gordon knew as he shrugged his shoulders in amazement.
Many feel that Gordon was robbed, which is a valid argument. Reggie Miller felt that it should’ve been a tie because both guys were so great. But, Zach LaVine deserved to win because of his overall performance, although Gordon had the best dunk of the night.
Both guys were absolutely sensational Saturday evening. Gordon’s under-both-legs dunk will go down as the best in history while the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest will go down as the best ever. What made it so special was LaVine and Gordon did dunks that no one has ever seen before, and put on an athletic display that no one has equaled.
1988’s Slam Dunk Contest, the battle between Dominique Wilkins & Michael Jordan was remarkable but didn’t have what this contest had: a perfect balance of finesse and power from both contestants.
Vince Carter’s performance in 2000 was just as great as Gordon’s & LaVine’s, but 2000 didn’t have the competitiveness that 2016 had. It felt like VC was competing against himself that night.
Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine have revived the dunk contest. Luckily for the league, this duo is going to be around for years, and the match will be just as entertaining as long as these two are present.
*Photo Credit: Elsa / Getty Images*