by Adam Figman / @afigman
Kenny Smith is plenty familiar with All-Star Weekend. The two-time NBA champion and current Inside the NBA studio analyst participated in the Dunk Contest in 1990, ’91 and ’93, the Three-Point Shootout in ’93, and has been covering the annual series of events for TNT since 1998. During a break in Thursday night’s Inside broadcast, Smith spoke briefly to SLAM about all things All-Star.
SLAM: Do you have a specific All-Star Weekend memory that stands out?
Kenny Smith: For me, the biggest All-Star memory that I can remember is Magic coming back [in '92]. Because I always thought that basketball was an icon of what life is, and that was a big moment in the NBA when it truly was. It was about acceptance, about inclusion, and about breaking down barriers and breaking down a fear. Before that happened, so many people were fearful of people with HIV. I think it helped not just for HIV, but a lot of fears that people had in general—to kind of attack it from a different standpoint. So for me, that’s the biggest All-Star moment. I don’t think you can ever top that.
SLAM: Did it affect you personally?
KS: It actually made me smarter. It made me become more educated about HIV. It helped me become, I guess, smarter and more educated. I was happy to be a part of that moment indirectly by being in the NBA family.
SLAM: What’s your favorite All-Star Weekend host city?
KS: I like the smaller cities, because sometimes in the bigger cities, there are so many things going on that everyone doesn’t get focused until maybe Saturday that it’s here. But smaller cities, they start the week before, two weeks before. Everyone’s coming to town. And when everyone converges in, they’re here. So I like the smaller cities. New Orleans is good. I like Atlanta, which is not a small city, but I loved Atlanta. Houston is always really good—that’s a big city, though. Denver wasn’t bad. I mean, when you come to All-Star Weekend, it’s like all of your trading cards are walking around. It’s a different dynamic, man. It’s so much fun seeing that.
SLAM: You participated in the Dunk Contest three times. What do you think of the way it’s evolved?
KS: I’m interested to see it, because a lot of people say, “Oh, it’s changed.” But a lot of people don’t remember where it started, in the ABA, and how they used to do it. Each guy used to get three dunks, and then the next guy would do three, and then the next guy would do three. And then they went to the everyone-does-one-dunk format, and now they went back to this. I think it’s good. This year is gonna be fun because you have a lot of players that are not just dunkers—they’re really good players. You’ve got some really good players in it, which is gonna be really fun to watch.
SLAM: Do you think the freestyle round is going to be good enough to stick around?
KS: It worked for breakdancing [laughs]. It was a freestyle, then it was a one-on-one battle—that’s breakdancing! And like I said, I just want to see the best dunkers dunk. So regardless of how you rate ‘em, put up numbers, vote on the Internet, socially get people engaged, I just want to see the best dunkers in there dunking, and we’re gonna see that.
SLAM: Do you have a prediction?
KS: I go back and forth every day. At first I had John Wall. And now I’m leaning toward Terrence Ross. I’ve been watching the Toronto games over the last week or so, and I was like, Oh, I forgot how high he jumps. Not even when he’s dunking, just going to the rim. I was like, Oh, right.
SLAM: What do you think of Damian Lillard doing all five main events?
KS: Well, I was the only one, and you can research this, to do the Dunk Contest and the Three-Point Shootout in the same night, which I thought was exhausting. I thought it was exhausting, and I only did two events in the same night.
SLAM: So you think it’s a little over the top?
KS: Yeah, because you lose the one thing that this is about—you start to lose the adrenaline. You come out, and everyone goes “Ahhhh!” and you shoot the threes, and then you go back out for the dunks, and everyone goes “Ahhhh!” and you’re like, I’ve been out here already.
SLAM: Was there anyone snubbed from the All-Star Game that you were upset about?
KS: Not upset. I really truly understand how everyone there is good. I truly do. There are guys who have a case—Lance Stephenson, Serge Ibaka, Goran Dragic—but, like, who would you take off? All these guys have a case, man.