On a big name level, a pre-injury Paul George made a monster slam look easy. NBA Draft picks Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine followed that up with some viral heat of their own.
On a smaller name but maybe bigger dunk level, Rafal Lipinski wowed the Parisian crowd at Quai 54 with his unexpected Polish wizardry. High schooler Shelby McEwen put his name on the map with a free throw-line bang that has been seen around the world. And a dunker by the name of “Young Springs” jumped over a police car in a fitting homage to Eric Garner.
Like most of you, I’m sure, I’ve seen all of those highlights on YouTube. The best dunks I’ve seen in person, though, took place a few weeks ago in Chicago, IL, at a contest called City Slam.
City Slam, which was hosted by 7-Eleven and presented by Brisk, didn’t get off to a roaring start. Because of rainy weather, the event was relocated at the last second from Seward Park, a hub of Chi basketball, to Stanton Park Gymnasium, a somewhat hidden spot. What the change meant, ultimately, was that Brisk had to move all of their signage at the last minute, and more importantly, fans couldn’t crowd around the baskets for the event like they would have at Seward.
No matter. Once everything was in motion, once fans had their branded towels and cool cans of the new Brisk Half & Half Blueberry Lemonade flavor tea, once the dunkers warmed up and the cameras turned on, City Slam would turn around in a big way.
The first applause of the day, funny enough, didn’t even come for the dunks. It was reserved for one of the judges, Chicago Bulls wing Jimmy Butler.
“I’m excited to be here,” said Butler, who was clad in tight clothing and a pair of spectacles. “Everybody loves a dunk.”
Butler remembers his first dunk. In the middle of high school, he sprouted from 5-8 to 6-4 and suddenly found himself able to flush the ball home. Though he was late to start getting to 10-0 and above, Butler hasn’t looked back since. “I’m the best dunker on the [Bulls],” he half-joked.
The other two judges were Stacey King, who played for the Bulls and is now an analyst, and Chicago Bears center Roberto Garza.
“These guys are real athletes,” Garza said in amazement as he watched the contestants get ready. “Look at them.”
He wasn’t joking.
The four contestants were Justin “JusFly” Darlington, Chris Staples, Guy Dupuy and Marcus Lewis.
Darlington, a lean leaper from Toronto, CA, is well known on the dunking circuit. He can do cartwheels, flips and just about anything else with the ball. Darlington can also jump out of the gym. Staples, or “Hoop-Star” as the announcer called him, gets high and finishes hard. When he dunks, the rim shakes and fans rise. That simple. Dupuy is another dunker-for-hire, albeit a somewhat short one. He makes finishing look effortless. Lewis was the wild card, but also the favorite. After all, what the 2014 College Slam Dunk champion lacked in seasoning was more than made up for on this day by the fact that he is from Chicago.
In general, all are good enough to win the NBA Dunk Contest, but only one could win City Slam.
After the first round, a Freestyle session where each of the four guys had 60 seconds to show their stuff, it looked like the underdog Lewis might win. While he might not have shown the ability to jump off of one and two feet like Staples did, the hometown hero galvanized the crowd with a couple of nifty finishes. Darlington, on the other hand, was the only guy who couldn’t really get his dunks down.
The Tandem round, which was held second and involved a teammate, was pretty cool. But it was the Vert round which took the cake. In this session, a bar was placed in front of the basket that the dunkers had to clear. It started at 40 inches and was raised by four inches after each dunker had a go. If you failed to jump it, you were out. If you went over it, you moved on. From the beginning, Lewis, who had never really attempted anything like this, struggled. Dupuy showed off silly hops, showing off by placing his hand behind while he jumped. It was Darlington who won, though. The Canadian was the only dunker to clear 62 inches. It was a personal best, and however high it sounds, it looked ever more amazing in person.
After a lengthy break—during which some of the crowd filtered out, while others grabbed more Brisk—the final round took place. In this one, each guy had 60 seconds to throw down their favorite dunk.
All four, as the tape which aired on ESPN this past week shows, threw down something serious.
When it was all said and done, Butler, King and Garza named Dupuy champ over Lewis and Co. The win came with a $10,000 check and major dap from Butler.
“It’s a dream come true,” said a tatted and shirtless Dupuy afterward. “Now it’s on to the next goal.”