Blake Griffin could boost NBA slam-dunk contest

LOS ANGELES -- Dominique Wilkins considers himself to be from the first and last era of superstar players who also were spectacular dunkers willing to put their rep on the line each year at All-Star weekend.

But he said there may now be another.

"Blake Griffin," Wilkins said. "He's a monster."

Griffin, the Los Angeles Clippers rookie, has created anticipation for the dunk contest Saturday at the Staples Center. Fans have flocked to arenas this season to see his powerful dunks.

Griffin is more than just a dunker, too. Western Conference coaches voted him to the All-Star team and opponents have paid him the kind of respect rarely doled out to a rookie.

You might want to make sure you catch Griffin's show. Recent history indicates he may not do it again as his stardom grows.

Since its debut in 1984, the All-Star dunk contest has declined to the point that today's high-flying star players can't be bothered to enter the event once they reach a certain status, if at all.

"I think that's a mistake," said Hall of Fame player Clyde Drexler, who participated in three dunk contests in the '80s. "I think all guys that are qualified should [do it], no matter if you're Kobe Bryant or DeMar DeRozan or those young guys. If you can still do it and your fans enjoy that then you should give that to them."

It used to be that way. In the first seven years of the competition, 13 All-Stars participated in the contests, including seven starters and four players who would be elected to the Hall of Fame.

"We wanted to know who the best was," Wilkins said.

There would be a long drought of star dunkers after Wilkins won the ‘90 event, which also included Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen. Just four All-Stars participated in the 16 contests held from 1991 through 2006.

Vince Carter sparked renewed interest in the dunk contest when he won in 2000 with an array of original dunks. But Carter wasn't an All-Star that year and hasn't entered the contest since. The same goes for Bryant, who won in 1997.

All-Star Dwight Howard entered in ‘07, ‘08 and ‘09 but no other top players joined him. There is no indication they are eager to do so, either.

One criticism of the contest is that there are limits to the variety of dunks. Hawks forward Josh Smith, the 2005 dunk champion, said it's difficult to come up with new ones.

Smith said there also could be a stigma attached to young players who win the contest.

"They are always going to label you as a dunker," he said.

Smith also cited the wear and tear of the season as a disincentive to participate. Star players play lots of minutes and carry a heavy burden for their teams, and the dunk contest might represent another one.

"They feel like they're getting old, and it's a chance to rest instead of compete again," Drexler said.

Players in Drexler's day have an advantage in that there were more new dunks to be discovered. But some of the other reasons offered for today's stars to skip the event don't seem to wash.

They played 82 games back then, too, and today's players enjoy plush travel and are attended to by large staffs of trainers and other medical personnel. Wilkins, Drexler, Michael Jordan and Julius Erving hardly were pigeonholed as dunkers.

Tracy McGrady competed in his first and only dunk contest in 2000. He said he didn't even want to do it that time because he'd seen the dunks planned by Carter, his teammate and cousin, and knew he couldn't top them.

But Carter eventually talked McGrady into entering (he placed third). McGrady said he isn't sure why more star players don't do the same.

"But I tell you if it would have never became that way, man, it would have been very exciting to see all these guys at one time," he said. "That would have been awesome."