With a couple of awe-inspiring glides to the rim, Zach LaVine took the 2015 NBA Slam Dunk Contest in convincing fashion and single-handedly injected life into an event that had been gradually losing its luster.
The staple of All-Star Saturday had often been a disappointment over the last decade, but the Minnesota Timberwolves rookie made those days a distant memory with his very first dunk. After two perfect scores of 50 in his two opening-round attempts, he topped Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo in the championship round as captured by Bleacher Report:
Rookie Zach LaVine is the 2015 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Champion! pic.twitter.com/EMH7RiXwU1
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 15, 2015
With the help of teammates Shabazz Muhammad and Andrew Wiggins, the 19-year-old threw down a pair of ferocious between-the-legs dunks in the final round. The first came off a pass from Muhammad off a stanchion behind the backboard, while Wiggins held his assist out wide for LaVine to power home with a reverse jam between his legs.
As for Oladipo, he couldn’t channel the lighting he ignited in the opening few rounds. With LaVine putting the pressure on, Oladipo‘s first attempt resulted in three straight misses, and his score of 41 for his final dunk wasn’t nearly enough to threaten LaVine‘s reign.
Although it wouldn’t result in him lifting the trophy, though, Oladipo certainly brought it early on.
He opened up with an unbelievable spinning dunk that he jammed home for a reverse, seemingly looking like a 540-degree rotation at first. While it was more of a 360 upon further review, it was still nonetheless historic, per Michael Lee of The Washington Post:
Upon further review, it was a 360 for Victor Oladipo but he finished with the reverse. Still something new.
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) February 15, 2015
Oladipo was preceded by hometown Brooklyn Nets center Mason Plumlee and Bucks youngster Giannis Antetokounmpo, both of which threatened to throw down big dunks. But neither could wow the crowd quite like Oladipo or LaVine, and that was apparent from the Timberwolves rookie’s very first dunk.
Coming out alongside the Quad City DJs as they performed the theme to Space Jam, LaVine sported the iconic Michael Jordan Toon Squad jersey. He had no plans of shaming the No. 23 on his back.
Instead, LaVine came right out and threw down a nasty dunk for Round 1 that had judges like Julius Erving and Bernard King beside themselves. He went to his money move—between the legs—and finished with his head soaring past the rim.
The judges gave it a 50, like Oladipo‘s initial dunk, but ESPN’s Skip Bayless still gave the nod to Oladipo after Round 1:
Spectacular between-the-legs from Zach LaVine, but I give Oladipo slight edge.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) February 15, 2015
That changed quickly with the start of the second round.
Antetokounmpo couldn’t throw down a ridiculous attempt, and Plumlee didn’t do much to ignite the crowd with his leaping dunk over brother Miles Plumlee. But LaVine wasn’t about to let his opening-round dunk do all the talking, as he had something even more magical in store.
LaVine‘s second dunk looked to be the most simple yet the most jaw-dropping and havoc-wreaking at the same time. He soared up to the rim, again seeming to be gliding higher and higher even as he threw the ball down with a behind-the-back move and flush.
Grantland’s netw3rk and Shea Serrano couldn’t believe it:
LaVine’s second dunk legit had people on press row acting like they were at the cage
— netw3rk (@netw3rk) February 15, 2015
has zach lavine landed yet
— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) February 15, 2015
At that point LaVine still had to outlast Oladipo in the two-round championship stage, but that seemed like a mere formality after he had thrown down two perfect dunks.
In the end, there was no doubting his dominance as the best dunker in the field and perhaps the entire league after LaVine had accomplished a feat not done since Dwight Howard, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Zach LaVine is the first player with multiple individual dunks with perfect scores in the same dunk contest since Dwight Howard in 2009.
— ESPN Stats Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 15, 2015
Even entering the main event of Saturday night, there seemed to be little doubt that LaVine would come through as he was an odds-on favorite to win, per Odds Shark. But if you think that made the win any less sweet for the rookie, you’re dead wrong.
“I’m still on cloud nine,” LaVine told The Wall Street Journal‘s Alex Raskin. “I feel like I’m dreaming. Seeing all the dunk contests and people hoisting the trophy. I just saw myself do it and lived it. So it’s a dream come true. I’m glad my family is here to witness it and go through it.”
USA TODAY Sports
LaVine probably is still on cloud nine considering how much air he was getting Saturday night at the Barclays Center.
The local Plumlee and the Greek Freak attempted to put their best performances forward, and Oladipo certainly gave him a fight. But from the moment LaVine came out with the Toon Squad jersey, it was his contest to lose.
His dominant win had ESPN’s Michael Smith wondering who would be involved in LaVine‘s tournament next year:
So who will be the other participants in next year’s Zach LaVine Invitational?
— Michael Smith (@michaelsmith) February 15, 2015
LaVine has showcased more than just the ability to be a highlight-reel dunker, flourishing as a rookie with a young Timberwolves squad this season. But from the moment he was drafted, LaVine looked destined for Slam Dunk Contest titles and has done nothing to quell the hype.
Considering how LaVine stole the show this year and the obvious need for an injection of life into the staple of All-Star Saturday, one can bet he’ll be involved for years to come.