Against all odds, I actually watched a fair amount of the NBA’s Vegas Vacation this weekend, and I’m here to tell you that it wasn’t that bad, as long as you did it right.
First of all, pay no attention to anything that happens on Saturday afternoon. The rookie game sounds good on paper, but it’s really nothing more than a bunch of guys who aren’t all-stars playing let’s pretend, kind of like when you used to put on your dad’s tie and carry his brief case around the house.
The next thing to miss is the deal where they form three-person teams and have a shooting contest. What do you get when you mix a WNBA player, a mediocre NBA player, and a legend who should probably be wearing sweats instead of his old uniform? Snoozeville. Sure, there was a bit more drama since Scottie Pippen was essentially auditioning for another trip around the league (Heat? Lakers?), but even so -- Snoozeville.
The three-point shooting contest was marginally interesting (though not as compelling as Gilbert Arenas’s recent post-practice $20,000 showdown with Deshawn Stevenson), if only because a guy like Jason Kapono smoked superstars Arenas and Dirk Nowitzki. Kapono, by the way, got extra points for mocking teammate Shaquille O’Neal’s freethrow shooting during his post-contest interview.
Next you had the Skills contest, which is basically like the NBA’s version of the obstacle course that used to serve as the dramatic finale of ABC’s Superstars competition. It’s interesting that the NBA struggles to get big names to sign up for the dunk contest (more on this later), but the league’s three brightest stars (Kobe, D-Wade, and Bron-Bron) came out for this. It was like watching Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson playing miniature golf. They’re competing, but really, what’s the point?
The Barkley-Bevetta match-up was interesting, probably more interesting than anything else that happened on Saturday night. The build up was worthy of a heavyweight championship fight, with weeks of lead in. Aside from Bevetta’s headlong dive as he tried in vain to catch a backpeddling Barkley at the wire, two quotes summed up the event. Before the race from Bevetta, when asked about Barkley’s chances: “I’ve learned never to underestimate the heart of a champion.” I think he meant to say, “never underestimate the heart of a Western Conference champion, but he’s old. We’ll let it slide. The second quote, from a panting Barkley following the race: “We raised a of lot money for a good cause... (looking at $50,000 check) Well, we raised two blackjack hands for a good cause.” And Bevetta just looked on, blood from his knee running down his leg.
All of which led us to what we’re supposed to believe is the highlight of the evening. To be honest, the dunk contest stopped being cool years ago. In fact, this is the first year in a while that I actually recognized all of the names in the contest. But dunking is still dunking, which will always be cooler than three-point shooting or basketball obstacle courses, so I watched.
If you didn’t watch, the first thing you need to know is that Dwight Howard got hosed. He unleashed one of the most impressive dunks you’ll ever see -- while slapping a sticker on the backboard twelve-and-a-half feet above the floor.
The judges responded by bouncing him from the competition in favor of the pogo stick (Gerald Green) and the pixie stick (Nate Robinson).
That Green eventually won doesn’t really manner. Robinson’s presence in the finals -- no, his very presence in the competiton -- is what bothers me. I understand the whole “freak of nature” thing, plus the underdog thing, but it’s really getting old. Remember when you were in high school and some yahoo got the clever idea to nominate the biggest dork in school for Homecoming King? So up on stage you had four guys who just stepped out of an Abercrombie ad standing next to an extra from Revenge of the Nerds. It was funny for the first five minutes, but then you had to look away.
With the dunk contest, it’s time to look away. When you’ve got a guy who’s shorter than a refrigerator winning the contest one year and clanking dunks in the finals the next, it’s time to look away.
But fear not. As I look away, I look towards a brighter future, one with a more perfect slam dunk contest. Here’s how we get there:
1. Nominate the Nerd
Okay, we’re not really nominating the nerd. The guys who are doing it now are the nerds, we need an Abercrombie. So each year the NBA (or Nike) twists one arm. For argument’s sake, we’ll start with Vince Carter. (Future years might see LeBron, Kobe, McGrady, guys like that.) So you take the junior varsity boys and let them do their thing -- jumping over chairs, bouncing the ball off Steve Nash’s head, etc. -- until you’ve got a winner. Then the King of the Dorks advances to the fiinals where he’ll face Vinsanity. The NBA will market this like only the NBA can -- Old School vs. New School; Generation X vs. Generation Next; stuff like that -- and they’ll have weeks to promote it. Editor's Note: I first proposed this idea two years ago. Apparently David Stern still has it under consideration.
2. Up the Ante
Get a big sponsor, someone like Nike or Sprite, to pony up with a prize worth playing for. Sure, the trophies look nice, but nothing says bling like an environmentally irresponsible SUV! Just as the finals start, have someone -- perhaps Sinead O'Brittney? -- drive a big-ass Escalade out onto the court. That'll get the juices flowing.
3. Change the Game
Here’s the best part. Once we get to the finals, we play HORSE. No help from teammates, no props (unless you want to dunk on Dick Bevetta), just you, the ball, and the rim. Carter goes first, ripping off a hellacious dunk, and the Dork King will then do his best to execute the same dunk. Judges will decide which contestant’s dunk was better, and the other guy will get an H. In round two King Dork will go first and Carter will try to match. You're right, that is the best idea you've ever heard. The guys would still be able to prepare a few dunks, but the attraction of this format would be seeing these superior athletes imitating dunks on the spot. Just imagine the buzz when somebody breaks the other guy's serve. Oh, and in between rounds you can bring out a trampoline and have Nate Robertson bust out a few power dunks.
Okay, I'm done. Tune in next week when I'll offer a solution to global warming and cure the common cold. Until then...