Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks won the NBA dunk contest for a second straight year in 2010, but Saturday's event at All-Star weekend in Los Angeles lacks the star power that made it so exciting in its early years. Some players fear injuries. Many stars see it as beneath them to participate. But it didn't use to be that way. What happened to the showcase for the game's greatest leapers?
The Doctor is in
Julius Erving won the first dunk contest held by the ABA in 1976, then highlighted the NBA's first event eight years later by taking off from the free-throw line. What few people remember is that Dr. J didn't win that contest. Larry Nance did.
A soaring Hawk
The 1985 competition may never be matched for star power. The field boasted Julius Erving, Clyde Drexler and a promising rookie named Michael Jordan. But it was Dominique Wilkins, the "Human Highlight Film", who beat them all with a stunning display of grace in the air and power at the rim.
No small achievement
It's amazing enough for a 5-foot-6 runt to dunk a basketball on a 10-foot rim. But Spud Webb, a diminutive guard for the Atlanta Hawks, stunned everyone in 1986 by throwing down a variety of creative slams. Among others, he upset his teammate Dominique Wilkins, the defending champ.
Though he lost in his first try in 1985, Michael Jordan owned the competition in 1987 and '88, cementing his place as the game's greatest leaper. As he focused on becoming the game's best player, however, he never participated again. And the event lost its luster for years.
Sky isn't the limit
Kenny "Sky" Walker put on a pretty good show in 1989, but he was one of many no-names to win the competition and never achieve much in the league.
Look at that!
Cedric Ceballos livened up an otherwise dull contest in 1992 by putting on a blindfold, running in from midcourt and dunking. Skeptics insisted he had to have been able to see, at least a little bit, but whatever. Creativity and showmanship have always been a part of the event -- and sometimes gamesmanship.
There's no better example of what happened to the dunk contest than Harold Miner's victories in 1993 and 1995. The event no longer featured the likes of Michael Jordan, just the so-called "Baby Jordan" whose NBA career was short and otherwise without distinction.
Kobe Bryant started making a name for himself as a rookie in 1997 by winning the dunk contest. But, once he established himself, he never competed again. And he sure didn't save the competition. The NBA didn't even hold a dunk contest in 1998, then cancelled all All-Star festivities because of a lockout the next year.
Back with a bang
After a two-year hiatus, the dunk contest returned in 2000 and recaptured the public's imagination thanks to Vince Carter. In arguably the best performance in the event's history, he executed a succession of breathtaking dunks, including one in which he stuffed his right arm through the rim and hung by his elbow.
The event got a little silly in 2005 when contestants had to use another player as part of their routine. Suns point guard Steve Nash, an avid soccer player, kicked and headed the ball to Amare Stoudemire. But Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks ended up winning after leaping over Kenyon Martin, who was sitting in a chair.
Dwight Howard is the closest thing to a superstar who has competed in the dunk contest in years. The Orlando Magic center won in 2008 after putting on a Superman cape, taking off from the free-throw line and throwing the ball in the basket (he never quite reached the rim). He lost in 2009 when he good-naturedly let Nate Robinson jump over him in the finals. And now? At the age of 24, he's done.