Image copyright: Usa today
LOS ANGELES — Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell paid homage to legendary dunker Vince Carter and took home the slam dunk championship on Saturday night at Staples Center.
Mitchell, a late addition to the contest, sported a vintage Carter jersey then replicated his famous 360 windmill dunk to claim the title over Cleveland Cavalier forward Larry Nance Jr.
“It’s crazy,” he said afterward, admitting the dunk contest was one of his favorite events at All-Star weekend as a kid.
But Nance, who earlier in the contest sported his father’s Phoenix Suns jersey, nearly won with a stunning dunk of his own in the finals. It was so surprising that no one at Staples Center was entirely sure what he’d done until the replay was shown.
Nance did a double-tap dunk, tossing the ball off the backboard, catching it mid-air, tossing it again off the backboard and then slammed it. It grew more impressive the more you watched it. His first dunk of the finals incorporated his dad, Larry Nance Sr., the first-ever slam dunk champion in 1984.
Nance Jr., who was dealt to the Cavs from the Lakers on Feb. 8, donned his dad’s retired No. 22 jersey and threw down a rock-the-cradle slam with his first dunk. An Akron native, Nance grew up a Cavs fan and admitted on Saturday he couldn’t choose which city, L.A. or Cleveland, he preferred. With the crowd in his favor, he advanced to the finals with full-on windmill that began behind the basket.
Mitchell set a high bar with the first dunk of the night, tossing a ball off an adjacent backboard, corralling it and throwing down a windmill to get the crowd buzzing. He followed that up by catching a toss of the side of the backboard and finishing over several prop guests, including Kevin Hart.
Dennis Smith Jr., the shortest competitor in the field, had the first 50 of the night when he flushed a through-the-legs, 360 jam, but it wasn’t enough to get him to the finals. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo struggled with his dunk attempts and lost any momentum as he missed his first four dunks of the night.