Here are four players, including Gordon, who have been robbed of victory in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
4. Dominique Wilkins, 1988
Wilkins had little chance against Michael Jordan in 1988, but not because of his dunking. The weekend in Chicago was all about MJ (who also won All-Star Game MVP), who was on a rapid rise to global superstardom.
After a thrilling back-and-forth show, Wilkins needed a 48 on his final slam to clinch the win, but controversially received a 45 for his thunderous two-handed reverse windmill. When MJ responded with his iconic free-throw line flight in front of the home crowd and judge (Chicago icon Gale Sayers), it was all but over.
(The dunk contest was terrible or nonexistent from 1989-1999)
3. Andre Iguodala, 2006
There was no conceivable way 5’9 Nate Robinson was going to lose riding the Spud Webb 2.0 wave—especially after he dunked over Spud (not that impressive to jump over a famously short guy!).
This was clearly about the narrative more than the dunks, because there was really no argument for Nate over Iggy. Nate’s ups are breathtaking, but Iguodala’s dunks were cleaner and more original. His off-the-backboard reverse from behind the baseline remains one of the coolest and most creative entries ever and hasn’t been replicated.
On the other side of things, it took Nate FOURTEEN attempts to complete his final dunk.
2. JaVale McGee, 2011
This is less about McGee’s performance and more about Blake Griffin lamely turning his lone (and much-hyped) NBA Slam Dunk Contest appearance into a car commercial. Not only was Blake’s final dunk a straight ad for a Kia that he barely jumped over, but the contest was also flatly rigged for Griffin (competing in Los Angeles), which is only further evidenced by the subpar first round that never should have advanced him over DeMar DeRozan.
McGee was also impressive and far more creative than Blake. He smartly came up with two never-before-seen dunks featuring two hoops and three balls that showed off his own unique wingspan and ability, and seeing someone his size do the inverse baseline rock-the-cradle is a sight to behold.
Not that it would’ve mattered if Blake was the predestined champ, but McGee regrettably made it easier for Blake with an oddly pedestrian final dunk, going with a basic tomahawk off-the-backboard.
This dunk contest was some classic late-Stern era ish, and McGee, the rest of the field, and the NBA fans were robbed of a genuine competition.
1. Aaron Gordon, 2016 and 2020
The 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest accidentally paid homage to the previous time Chicago hosted the event by producing the most controversial dunk contest ending since 1988, and maybe ever.
But Gordon arguably should have won in 2016 after his under-the-legs stuff over the mascot. Zach LaVine was awesome that night—this is arguably the best dunk showdown of this century—but Gordon should’ve won for the under-the-legs innovation.
In the 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, though, Gordon was objectively spurned. Gordon tallied five straight 50s—including maybe the most beautiful dunk ever that was the night’s best—then jumped over 7’5 Tacko Fall. Jones Jr. was solid and his off-the-backboard between-the-legs was phenomenal—but it was simply stunning to see Jones Jr. announced as the winner.
Gordon was rightfully ticked off afterward, saying “I feel like I should have two trophies.” He’s not wrong.
As far as changes to the voting, decimal points and/or higher numbers don’t need to be involved. It’s a dunk contest that rides on the likes of Scottie Pippen and Chadwick Boseman—it doesn’t need to be elaborate. Plus, holding up the 1-10 sign is a staple NBA dunk contest image.
In the event of a tie, each competitor should get one extra dunk, and if it’s still locked, the five judges can each pick an overall winner for the event, as opposed to determining one based on the final round.