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Was Indiana Pacer Paul George Robbed of the NBA Slam Dunk Title?

The 2012 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest on NBA All-Star Saturday night was under-whelming to say the least. Several rules were changed to help the contest develop, reach out to fans, and to refrain from lagging. Some of these rule changes did the opposite, seeming to not only to make the dunk contest stale to many fans, but to actually force the weekend’s highest-rated event to take a few steps backward.

There were only four contestants in this year’s competition. There was only one round, with each contestant presenting three dunks to be voted on. Each dunker was given two minutes to perform, per dunk. In case they get it wrong and missed the dunk, each player was able to re-try the dunk over and over as many times as needed in the two-minute time frame, until they got it right. The biggest change, in a mad grab for the NBA to boost their social media status, was that this year’s winner would be totally voted on by the fans through Twitter and texting. The good old days, with a panel of former NBA Slam Dunk champions acting as judges, were to be replaced by an American-Idolized version of the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.

Utah Jazz forward Jeremy Evans, a last-minute replacement, won the contest Saturday night. Evans replaced New York Knicks guard Iman Shumpert, who had to bow out due to injury. Prior to Shumpert’s withdrawal, rumors had circulated that he was planning a dunk involving his teammate (and new NBA sensation) Jeremy Lin. Evans won with 29 percent of the fan votes, but it’s hard not to wonder how the combo of Shumpert and Lin would have fared in this popularity contest.

Paul George, a second-year guard for the Indiana Pacers, also took part in the contest on Saturday. George’s attempts were by far the most inventive of the contestants. In a dunk contest that has become as much about spectacle as it is about skill, George literally put the lights out in Orlando.

For his first dunk, George set up fellow Pacers Roy Hibbert and Dahntay Jones near the basket. Hibbert, the 7’2” All-Star center, stood behind Jones. Jones was to lob the ball to George on the fly, as Paul George attempted to jump and dunk over both players at once. The lob didn’t quite work, so George eventually took the ball in his own hands to complete the leaping throw-down over the heads of his teammates. George’s second dunk involved neon black lights and a glow-in-the-dark Pacers uniform. The Amway Center went dark, and under the neon lights, George completed a 360 windmill slam. For his third attempt, George did a reverse windmill slam, while slapping a Larry Bird sticker on the backboard.

Evans got the best crowd response of the night, by jumping over a seated Utah Jazz teammate, Gordan Hayward, and dunking two basketballs. Evans then donned a Karl Malone jersey and dunked over diminutive comedian Kevin Hart, who was dressed as an actual mailman. Hart participated in, and was voted MVP of, Friday night’s Celebrity All-Star Game. Kevin Hart has over 3,000,000 followers on Twitter.

This year’s Sprite Slam Dunk Contest was hurt by several things. The lack of big names in the contest seemed to instantly keep the crowd from jumping out of their seats in anticipation. The abundance of missed dunks didn’t help to liven up the mood either. Several of the dunks were very similar, including a total of five people (and one motorcycle) being jumped over. Leaving the votes completely up to the fans will never result in a fair contest, but merely who’s Facebook friends or Twitter followers can get to their phones first.

The 2013 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest will no doubt have some much-needed retooling. Maybe taking the whole thing a bit back to the old school will help the contest in the future. Big names, better dunks, and actual judges, would most certainly help to improve the event.

Paul George, being interviewed during Pacers practice earlier this week, may have said it best himself. “It was a joke. I guess whoever had the biggest celebrity in their dunk was going to be the winner. I think I was just destined to lose that competition.” George later went on to describe his feelings about participating in All-Star weekend, overall. He also played in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, scoring 23 points. “It was fun. It definitely humbles you and makes you want to work even harder.”