Monday night, Yoenis Cespedes wowed the Citi Field crowd, using 17 first-round homers and nine final-round slams — including an absolutely devastating parting shot — to beat out seven other star sluggers in a riveting Home Run Derby.
Hopefully, the NBA was watching, because it probably could have learned something.
The Slam Dunk Contest is basketball’s answer to the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Break, but whereas the Derby is as entertaining as ever, the NBA’s premier event lost its luster long ago, somewhere around the time the league’s biggest stars and best dunkers decided they no longer needed to participate.
Save for Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin briefly breathing some life into the event several years ago, the Dunk Contest has felt largely dormant — and been almost entirely forgettable — for some time. And in recent years, the lackluster field has gotten progressively worse.
Gone are the days of hoping that the game’s mega-stars will dunk, astheyoncedid. At this point, most fans are hoping not for LeBron James to put on a show, but just for a full lineup of names they recognize, featuring guys who actually play. (I’m looking at you, Jeremy Evans and James White.)
Can you imagine if Ramon Santiago represented the Detroit Tigers in the Home Run Derby instead of Prince Fielder? Or if Roger Bernadina stepped to the plate on behalf of the Washington Nationals instead of Bryce Harper? Would you watch?
I say that in jest, but that’s essentially the product the NBA is giving fans with its Dunk Contest, and it’s the reason interest is waning, with many — myself included — calling for its overhaul or even the outright cancellation of the event.
In order to revive the Dunk Contest the NBA needs to look no further than the Derby. The field wasn’t filled entirely with the LeBrons of the sport, not all superstars — heck, the guy who won this year isn’t an even an all-star.
But it was a competitive and entertaining mix of the league’s most prominent home run hitters (AL leader Chris Davis and NL No. 2 Pedro Alvarez, who was an injury replacement for NL leader Carlos Gonzalez), young stars (Cespedes and fellow finalist Bryce Harper), the All-Star defending champ (Prince Fielder) hometown superstars (David Wright and Robinson Cano) and a captain’s pick (Michael Cuddyer, childhood friend of Wright) that made it a must-see event.
It’s not exactly groundbreaking to say that fans want to see proper representatives in the Dunk Contest, but events like Monday’s Home Run Derby underline just how far the NBA’s All-Star Weekend has fallen since the event’s glory days. There are plenty of reasons to prefer hoops over hardball, but when it comes to All-Star festivities, the NBA could learn a ton from America’s pastime.