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It’s not all about you. Or me. Thoughts on the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

The Dark Adultification of Everything

2022 NBA All-Star - State Farm All-Star Saturday Night
The Greatness of Memory
Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Sometimes I catch myself thinking “Why would I watch the dunk contest? There’s no one in it. It’s not what it was.”

And I wonder, why is that?

It’s true, the most famous young high flyers in the NBA, like Ja Morant, or the ever injured Zion Williamson won’t be competing this year. It was hard to know who was scheduled for the event this year, so far had it fallen. GLeaguer, and YouTube sensation Seth McClung. NBA2k generated player Jericho Sims. The Rockets own high flyer, and for my money, the most prolific in-game dunker in the NBA (non-big-division), Kenyon Martin Jr. I think Martin is a genuine candidate, but the Rockets are such a punchline, almost no one knows that.

The problem is, between a lot of fans growing up, and vitriol about it on social media, everyone seems to sort of hate the dunk contest. Again, why? Because it’s not what it was? How can it be, if expectations are that the greatest contests of all time must be surpassed every time for it to be worth watching? How can it be, if it’s competing with your childhood memories of your NBA heroes, true All Stars, and the young bloods, future All Stars, battling it out for high-flying honor?

How could a modern contest, dissected, critiqued, and frankly, brutalized (in real time) ever compete with your low-definition, high-emotion, recollection of something fun, and special, in your childhood?

The dunk contest, from a fan perspective, wasn’t meant to be serious, important, or God help us, thought-provoking, but fun, and amazing. When you can relive every second, of every dunk contest, at any moment online, it’s not quite the same.

For the old school players it seemed a little different. It was a point of pride for players who thrived on pride, who lived for out competing one another in a further display, with everyone watching, back when hardly anyone could watch much basketball.

The NBA today is comprised of ferociously talented young men who seem far less competitive with one another. They have pretty much known since they were teens on certain AAU teams that they’d be in the NBA together, after a brief stop at a hoops factory masquerading as higher education. They don’t seem to have that same spirit, or, spite, driving them.

They spend Fashion Week:Paris together buying the latest Balenciaga. The dunk contest is a goof. Practicing for it too much would be a little try-hard. They don’t need more attention. They’ve had it since they were 14.

There’s a lurking problem beneath a lot of this, as well. I’ve lived long enough to age out of “key demographics”. I can watch things now, see the craft, see the budget, and the talent, and realize, it’s simply not aimed at me at all. It doesn’t matter if they attract my attention or not. It’s just not for me.

I’ve seen entertainment that used to be produced by maybe a dozen creative people a month, in order to make everyone a living wage, turned into a multi billion dollar industry with thousands upon thousands of people involved. Seriously, go find an old “Avengers” comic and see how few people made the thing, every single month, compared to the global entertainment-industrial-complex it is today.

We’ve “Adultified” so many things typically produced for children and younger people. Like comic books. Like dunk contests. That doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy those things, or take delight in them all their lives, but it’s sad when the adults seize control. It ruins it when a form meant for one thing is twisted out of recognition.

It’s a shame when the adults insist on a “dark reboot” of “Archie” comics.

Or demand a reprise of the feelings of childhood, and expect a deeper meaning from a crazy dunk.



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