The Slam Dunk judges were right

February 17, 2020
2020 NBA All-Star - AT&T Slam Dunk

Jesse D. Garrabrant

The success of the All-Star game overshadowed this, but I don't want to forget that on Sunday afternoon, everyone was whining about the bad judges at the slam dunk competition. I get it—I love whining about stupid rules and bad officiating and whatever else is whine-worthy. I recently wrote a whole thing about how replay is alienating sports fans and ruining the games we love the most. We live in a time of failing institutions, and the only pleasure left to us is pointing out, with great anger, exactly how the failure is happening. For a certain kind of person (read: me), it's essentially the new national pastime.

But it's important to be honest with ourselves when the situation calls for it, and the "controversy" over last night's slam dunk contest is a sham. As I'm about to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, they absolutely made the right call. See, it all came down to the finals between Derrick Jones Jr. and Aaron Gordon, and Jones Jr. broke out this dunk:

As the announcers said, that has never been done before, in a slam dunk contest—off the backboard, leaping a human being, between the legs, jam. The degree of difficulty is stupidly high, and he deserved the 50. Then Gordon responded with his own 50-worthy dunk:

That meant the title would be decided by a dunk-off, and you can see the four dunks they pulled off in the overtime session starting at the 1:10 mark here:

Now, I thought Jones got cheated out of a higher score on his windmill jam from a step inside the foul line, but it didn't matter because he won 48-47 when Gordon's leap over Tacko Fall failed to impress Dwyane Wade and two other judges. That was the source of the outrage—he jumped over a really tall guy, and it should count for more!—but watch it in slow motion:

He didn't jump over him! He jumped to his shoulders, and then basically crushed Tacko's head with his groin as he dunked the ball. Sorry, but that's not executing the's just crashing nuts-first into a really tall dude. There's no way he deserved a 50 for that, and Jones' dunk was way more impressive. Reality didn't placate Gordon, though...he was legitimately mad.

“What are we doing, man?" he said. “Jumping over somebody 7-foot-5 and dunking it is no easy feat. What did I get, 47? Come on, man. What are we doing? I don’t even know who gave me the 9s. I’m going to find them."

Then he said he wouldn't even enter the contest again:

I totally get being pissed off, but facts are facts—as good as his dunks were, Jones' were better, and the judges got it right. Gordon is doing the right thing by retiring, though, because Zion Williamson is going to win the next 15-20 of these things anyway.

Dirty Soccer Pass of the Week: Bobby Firmino, Liverpool

I can't even begin to describe this:

Okay, let me try: A no-look drag-hook give-and-go lead. (Like I said, I can't even begin.)

The "We Live in a World Where Powerful People Are Never Punished" Confirmation of the Week: The Astros

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has had to come out and defend the fact that none of the players involved in the Astros cheating scandal have been punished, and his explanation was as stupid as you might imagine for a position that is indefensible:

"Yeah, I understand. I understand people's desire to have the players pay a price for what went on here," Manfred said. "I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price. To think they're skipping down the road into spring training, happy, that's just a mischaracterization of where we are. Having said that, the desire to have actual discipline imposed on them, I understand it and in a perfect world it would have happened. We ended up where we ended up in pursuit of really, I think, the most important goal of getting the facts and getting them out there for people to know it."

What the...?? Manfred's word salad is a bizarre combination of "knowing we disapprove of your actions is punishment enough" and "we tried, but it turns out there's just no way to impose any authority on anyone."

Both of which are bullshit, for different reasons—these guys were already shameless to agree to cheat in the first place, so shame is not a real punishment, and as for not being able to exercise the proper authority, may I introduce you to baseball history, where players that cheated in the past were given literal lifetime bans? Kennesaw Mountain Landis would have had these guys publicly flogged, and that's just for starters.

Now, Manfred has his reasons—he's scared of the players' union, who would argue on their behalf that they didn't "know" it was cheating since the parameters of what's permissible with technology hadn't been communicated to them by Astros management. But again, part of being commissioner is that you fight through transparent nonsense like that and trust that you can make your case to the public. Had they opted for that battle, it would have been obvious that the players knew exactly what was happening and were 100% complicit. But you have to have the will first, and clearly Manfred completely lacks even a semblance of backbone. He thinks he should get a prize for letting people see the results of the investigation! The upshot here is that a manager and GM got suspended for a year, and the team lost a little money and a few draft picks. They get to keep their World Series, which they blatantly cheated to win, and all the players who knowingly broke the rules (and continue to construct transparent lies about it) get off scot-free. It's absurd, and it insults every manager, player, and front office worker who play by the rules, not to mention the fans who would like to believe there's a semblance of integrity in the sport they love. This is all so very, very 2020.

The D-Wade Shutter-Upper of the Week: Bam Adebayo

Watch Bam make Wade eat his words on TV in a surprisingly entertaining skills contest:

His victory speech was also fantastic, as he gave a shout-out to the gamblers who picked him even though he was favored to finish last:

"I just want to say something. I read a tweet that I was last to win in Vegas," said Adebayo, who was +1200 to win at FanDuel Sportsbook. "So whoever bet, I hope you got your money. I hope you go buy yourself a Ruth's Chris, Cheesecake Factory, something in that fashion."

Have a steak, Bam fans, and remember: Even though Wade goofed this one, he's still a hero for his slam dunk judging.