Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard will reportedly participate in the NBA’s slam dunk contest for the first time since 2009 — a return to the event that few fans foresaw and possibly fewer craved.
The NBA received a commitment from Howard for this year’s contest in Chicago, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Howard participated in the event three straight times from 2007-09, winning the 2008 contest with a serious of creative dunks that included one with a Superman cape.
Howard was a high flier, but at 6-foot-11 he was the tallest player to ever win the contest. It is harder for big men to stand out in the field, and another win would require even more creativity from Howard. Perhaps the 11 years he has spent away from the event has given him time to develop original ideas.
Interest in the dunk contest has waned in recent years due to a number of factors, including a dearth of big-name participants, the absence of fresh material and a lack of suspense. According to Charania, Howard’s participation is an attempt by the NBA “to revitalize the energy in this year’s competition.”
Howard spent most of last decade trying to resurrect his reputation to little avail, until finding success as a 34-year-old reserve behind Anthony Davis and LeBron James on this year’s Lakers. Four teams had given up on the three-time Defensive Player of the Year over his four previous seasons, largely due to his many clashes with teammates and an inability to adapt to a diminished role in modern offenses.
Howard’s fall from NBA grace also included several off-the-court controversies, including allegations that he beat his 6-year-old son with a belt, an early morning traffic stop the morning of a playoff loss, a child support lawsuit and a sexual harassment lawsuit that has also resulted in an ongoing countersuit.
Through the first half of this season, Howard has adapted well to a bench role on a team clearly led by Davis and James. He is averaging 7.1 points on 73.8 percent shooting and 6.8 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per game for a team with the league’s second-best record and fourth-best defensive rating.
Since Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon breathed life into the contest with an epic duel in 2016, the winners have included Glenn Robinson III, Donovan Mitchell and Hamidou Diallo. Only Mitchell is a star-level talent, and in February 2018 the Utah Jazz guard was not yet a household NBA name.
Short of LeBron making his dunk contest debut or a 42-year-old Vince Carter returning to face the game’s best young athletes, it is hard to imagine a participant who could single-handedly resurrect the event. Per Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, Memphis Grizzlies rookie sensation Ja Morant is mulling an invite. He may not draw viewers to the contest, but his electrifying athleticism would certainly bring excitement. The event needs an injection, but Howard’s return is not exactly the most thrilling solution.
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