Blake Griffin jumps over a Kia and other memories from the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest
The former Clipper was strongly challenged on his home court the last time the event was in Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES – With 19,067 people mostly on their feet in Staples Center, Baron Davis stuck his head out of the sunroof while wearing Los Angeles Clippers warm-up gear and a red headband. His Clippers teammate Blake Griffin needed a memorable dunk as JaVale McGee was eying the trophy in 2011. While the Kia Ultima wasn’t Griffin’s car of choice, he made it work.
And in one of the most memorable and debated NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Championships, Griffin sealed the victory by jumping over the silver sedan, somehow having the timing to catch a misplaced one-handed lob pass by Davis and dunking the basketball hard with two hands.
“I was worried that I wasn’t going to get the dunk down,” Griffin said. “The idea was to windmill it. It was a little high. So, then I was just like, ‘Dunk it.’ So right after I dunked it, I came down and I was pissed because I didn’t think it was going to be good enough. But it worked out. But like everything, there was controversy.”
The Slam Dunk Championship has had its memorable moments, such as Michael Jordan versus Dominique Wilkins in 1985, 5-foot-9 Spud Webb winning in 1986, Vince Carter perhaps giving the greatest performance of all time in 2000 and Zach LaVine vs. Aaron Gordon in 2016. With the NBA All-Star Weekend returning here in 2018, memories of Griffin jumping over the Kia will certainly be recalled before the Slam Dunk Championship begins on Saturday night at Staples Center. Griffin’s rise over the moon roof will always be remembered in dunk contest annals. But often forgotten was that the 2011 NBA All-Star was strongly challenged.
McGee, Los Angeles’ own DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka were ready to take the spotlight from Griffin on his home court. Hall of Famers Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Clyde Drexler, James Worthy, Wilkins and former Slam Dunk champion Brent Barry served as judges. Online fan voting also played a role in deciding the winner.
Looking back, it was amazing that a grieving and fatigued Griffin was able to do so well.
“That All-Star Weekend was kind of a blur for me,” Griffin said. “We had been on an eight-game road trip leading into All-Star. My best friend passed away Wednesday night before All-Star Weekend started. I was in the dunk contest, Rookie Game and All-Star Game.
“It was in L.A. I kind of overbooked myself. Things I didn’t know at the time. I wish I could look back at that dunk contest with more fonder memories.”
NBA color analyst Kenny Smith promised a memorable dunk contest to the audience and he was right.
Surrounded by cheerleaders carrying NBA Africa flags, Ibaka re-made an old Dr. J. dunk by taking off from the free-throw line to slam it down on the first attempt. The tough judges gave him a 46. “Air Congo” had a story line in his second dunk as he was trying to save a young boy’s lost teddy bear that was dangling off a small pole from the front of the rim. The 2008 Spanish League dunk champion came from behind the basket and got up high enough to slam the ball in while also catching the stuffed animal with his teeth. It was so good and creative that the crowd was confused.
DeRozan offered a strong remake of former slam dunk champion J.R. Rider’s “East Bay funk dunk” by taking the ball through his legs in the air before jamming it. Somehow, he only received a score of 44. The Compton, California, kid was perfect on his second dunk, receiving a 50 after he threw the ball in the air, scooped it with his right hand, turned his back to the basket and finished with an acrobatic dunk.
“I put a lot of thoughts into my dunks and executed them as planned,” DeRozan said. “Most definitely, I thought I did everything in my power to be in a position to win the event.”
McGee was creative from the start as he had two regulation 10-foot rims placed side by side on his first attempt. He followed by dunking a basketball simultaneously into each basket in a dunk that had never been done before and scored a 50. Needing a 45 to make it to the finals, McGee stayed creative by having his former WNBA star mother, Pam McGee, and the FBI bring out a special ball. With one ball in each hand and a third thrown by then-Washington Wizards teammate John Wall, JaVale McGee slammed all three down and received a 49 to make the finals.
Meanwhile, Griffin had an acrobatic and strong 360-dunk with two hands on his first attempt that was reminiscent of Wilkins and landed a 49. The first attempt on the rookie’s second dunk had the makings of something memorable as he threw it off the side of the backboard and attempted a failed 360-dunk. With the clock winding down, Griffin threw down a safe but pretty windmill dunk.
Griffin and McGee advanced to the finals while DeRozan and Ibaka were eliminated, to the chagrin of some critics. It is typically rare in the Slam Dunk Competition that all four contestants do well. Unbeknownst to DeRozan and fans watching all over the world, he forced a change in Griffin’s game plan.
“Some things just went wrong,” Griffin said. “One of the dunks I was going to do, DeMar DeRozan did right before I was going to go up there. So, I panicked because I only had four dunks. I always tell guys now that if you’re going to do the dunk contest, make sure you have six dunks or backups in case someone does it. So, I had to do something on the fly.”
With the ball cradled against his forearm, McGee went along the baseline and ducked his head while flying under the hoop before throwing it down on his first dunk in the second round. Griffin stepped his game up in the second round as he took a page out of Carter’s book by throwing the ball off the glass before dunking and hanging on the rim with his elbow inside it on his first dunk.
McGee’s final dunk was a fierce slam off the backboard in which he came from the left side, was well above the rim, caught the ball up high with his right hand and dunked it in. Despite the creativity, McGee said he didn’t spend a lot of time preparing for the contest.
“I didn’t put a lot of time or effort in, to tell the truth,” McGee said. “I [created] all my dunks at the practice. The two-rim dunk I didn’t create until the practice day.”
While McGee’s final dunk was acrobatic, it didn’t have the flair that Griffin saved for last.
The Crenshaw Elite Choir slowly walked to half court and sang R. Kelly’s, “I Believe I Can Fly.” While Griffin wanted to use a convertible, the event sponsor wheeled out the Kia onto the court. With Davis inside ready to go, Griffin jumped over the hood, caught the ball and slammed it through with two hands.
Much of the crowd was stunned in amazement, but McGee wasn’t swayed by what Griffin did.
“I didn’t think it was that impressive,” McGee said. “There was a lot of production. He had the Kia, which was sponsored by the NBA. I was like, ‘OK, it’s not going to go well.’ ”
While DeRozan didn’t use any props and isn’t a big fan of them in a dunk contest, he gave Griffin credit.
“I’m someone that studies and appreciates the history of the game,” DeRozan said. “Dominique, Spud and M.J., none of them used props. It should be about athleticism. Blake did change the bar for everyone, got the crowd going in a creative way and used some cool props.”
After the judges and fan vote was tabulated, Griffin was named the winner over McGee and was handed the trophy from Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller. McGee didn’t take kindly to the result, wasn’t a fan of the fan voting and never competed in the dunk contest again. The current Golden State Warriors center, however, says he has since moved on and looks back on it all fondly.
“That was 2011. That was seven years ago. Crazy,” McGee said. “There is nothing I can do now. It’s not a big deal now. At the time, I was kind of mad. It was a great event. I did some legendary dunks.”
When DeRozan was asked who should have won, the longtime Toronto Raptors guard said: “Me, of course. For sure it would have been cool to win at home in front of my family. But it’s in the past now.”
While the night was far from perfect for Griffin, his unique dunk contest performance will go down as one of the most notable because of the car jam.
“I wanted my teammates to drive out in a convertible and jump over the whole thing. I wasn’t allowed to do that,” Griffin said. “I had to use the Ultima. I wanted to use a convertible. That was my original idea. A lot of stuff just happened. And on top of that weekend with everything that was happening, it was kind of a blur. But it was a lot of fun.”