JaVale McGee never had a shot against Blake Griffin, but still put on a show


Blake Griffin certainly had the most entertaining, choir-singing, scene-stealing, crowd-screaming, show-stopping, car-hopping dunk of the night. But overall, he was probably the third-best dunker in Staples Center on Saturday. The best two dunkers were JaVale McGee and Toronto Raptors swingman DeMar DeRozan, and both have a legitimate argument that they were robbed from an opportunity to be slam dunk champion.

Not hating on Griffin, just calling it how I see it.

The odds were severely stacked against any participant not named Griffin, since he had the hype, the fan support and most famous name in the competition. He's an all-star who has been a force since he was allowed to play for the Los Angeles Clippers after taking a year off to recover from a knee injury. But when word began to circulate a few hours before the contest that Griffin had planned to dunk over a car, the other competitors really had to start preparing for second place.

I mean, Griffin had the NBA's official vehicle, the Kia Optima, with a Sprite Slam Dunk sticker on the side. That meant he had to make to the second round, because a prop that elaborate, and possibly expensive, was not going to waste.

I happened to be seated near the tunnel, where Baron Davis was resting on the hood, so I knew what was about to go down before Kenny Smith grabbed the microphone, begged people to get out of their seats and said, "We're going to bring the pageantry to the dunk contest."

To top it off, Griffin had the Crenshaw Elite choir come out to sing, "I Believe I Can Fly." No way McGee was going to follow up the dunk with anything better. McGee joked afterward, "Nothing's going to beat the car unless I bring a plane out or something."

Can't touch this. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)

McGee certainly tried his best to overcome a second-or-nothing situation, as he brought out two dunks that had never been attempted before in the slam dunk contest. His first dunk -- or rather dunks -- was so ridiculous that I thought he was a tad too ambitious. He had originally thought about raising a prop goal to 12 feet, so that he could dunk flatfooted off the vertical. But after McGee practiced it on Thursday, he didn't like how it looked, so an observer suggested he dunk with two basketball off both rims.

He tried the first time and got it to go down. So he decided to add it to his arsenal. He needed almost the entire two minutes to pull it off, but when he did, it was rather incredible. He got a 50.

"He created that two rim dunk and only a seven-footer with his wingspan could pull that off," said McGee's mom, Pam. "I was shocked."

Pam McGee was enlisted for his second dunk, but only after JaVale McGee flinched and was forced to change his plans. A few weeks ago, McGee came up with the dunk in which he snatched a piece of paper out the net with his teeth before jamming. He had added a tweak for the competition but was unable to attempt in when Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka -- who early had a severely slept-on foul line dunk -- pulled a doll off the rim with his teeth directly before him.

"Serge had did a dunk that was similar to the one, so I switched it around so that I could get a high score," JaVale McGee said.

JaVale McGee had pulled off his three-ball dunk earlier this week in Orlando. Hilton Armstrong was the passer and he put the ball in the right spot for McGee to get it on the first try. He brought out John Wall, who needed a few attempts before McGee could throw them down. He got a 49, only because Brent Barry gave him a nine. I predicted a 50 when I saw it on Wednesday, but Barry should know, as a former champion, that dunking three times while in mid-air is not the easiest thing to do.

McGee had his mother involved, as she walked down an aisle, carrying a red, white and blue in a box and wearing her old Los Angeles Sparks warmup from her days in the WNBA. Afterward, McGee let it be known that it would've been better used in the final round.

"Definitely was trying to get the crowd into it, we knew they was going to be text voting, too," he said. "Most of the people in the world are women, so we felt it was good to get those texts."

Thanks, John. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

McGee earned his trip to the final round, but DeRozan really has a reason to be upset. DeRozan had the disadvantage of going first, but he started out the competition really well, as his Raptors teammate Amir Johnson threw the ball off the basket support and DeRozan jumped underneath the basket, brought the ball between the legs and dunked. He got a 44. It was at least a 47. Canadian exchange rate or something.

The judges made up for it some, when they gave him a 50 for a really nice jam in which he caught the ball of the bounce, brought it down below his waist and nearly banged his head on the rim as he did a reverse dunk.

Now, Griffin's first dunk was a two-handed 360-jam, but I was surprised that he got a 49 right after McGee got a 50 for dunking on two rims. I didn't think McGee's dunk, given the degree of difficulty and creativity, could only be one point better than Griffin's. But it was no biggie, since I wanted to see McGee battle Griffin in the final. I just didn't know that Griffin would get ushered in with some questionable scoring.

Griffin wanted to catch a pass from Davis off the side of the backboard and do another 360-dunk, which would've been insane. But he had to settled for catching the ball of the backboard and throwing down a windmill. It was nice dunk, but certainly not better than DeRozan's between-the-legs 44. Griffin got a 46, giving him the extra point he needed to advance.

Granted, Griffin plays for the Clippers, but DeRozan is born and raised in Los Angeles -- and went to USC. He got no love.

Griffin brought back Vince Carter's arm in the rim dunk in the final round, but McGee added a twist to Michael Jordan's famous rock-the-cradle. McGee's third dunk may have been his best of the night, given the dexterity required to pull it off. He drove baseline, dipped under backboard, rocked the ball and dunked it on the other end.

The irony of the competition? Coach Flip Saunders always criticizes McGee for being a style over substance player, yet McGee was upended because he had more substance than style. Once the decision was left up to fans with cellphones, then McGee had no shot at winning a popularity contest. Most people hadn't heard of the guy until he showed up on Saturday. Griffin trumped McGee with 68 percent of the vote.

On his decisive jam, Griffin had the assistance of two great showmen in Davis and Smith, a former slam dunk champ. "It was actually my idea to use the car," Griffin said. "When they first came to me with the dunk contest idea, they said there was no rules. I was like, 'So I can jump over a car?' Kind of playing around.
"I got the dimensions and all that. Figured I could probably clear it and Baron came up with the choir and Kenny and they all put everything together," he said. "I was actually going to jump over the choir separate from the car, and then Baron was like, 'Why don't you do it together?' So we had the choir position around the car, and then people came in and said you can't cover up the car."

When Griffin hurdled the Kia, Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett waved his hands across his neck and yelled, "It's over." And it was. McGee was so shook after that dunk, he could've dunked from halfcourt and not turned a head. It was a tough act to follow. But Pam McGee still has her own opinion about the real champion.

"In my opinion, my son won the dunk contest," she said. "The dunk contest is entertainment. I think JaVale accomplished what he wanted to do. If you don't know, you better ask somebody, you know who JaVale McGee is now. I think hey, he did a wonderful job."

McGee was happy with his performance and said he would likely compete again. Maybe he can jump over a truck. "Hey," he said. "I might."



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