Pop quiz time! Can you name the four participants in the 2017 NBA Slam Dunk Contest?
Correct! Last year's rightful (but not actual) winner, Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic, will be on hand on Saturday night. The other three dunkers: the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan, the Suns' Derrick Jones Jr., and the Pacers' Glenn Robinson III.
While those four superstar athletes will throw down some phenomenal dunks, we can't help but feel a little underwhelmed by the lack of star power.
In fact, that's one of five reasons the Slam Dunk Contest isn't all that fun anymore (barring last year's epic exhibition) — and No. 1 has a lot to do with the King.
Tommy GilliganTommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
The NBA's superstars skip the event, thanks to LeBron
Not to go full "Back in my day" on you, friends, but ...
BACK IN MY DAY, the game's best players didn't think the Dunk Contest was beneath them. That's why the 1988 competition is such a classic; the dunks were spectacular, made even better by the fact they were being thrown down by Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins.
Or take the duel between Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady in 2000. Carter and McGrady aren't quite on the same level as His Airness and the Human Highlight Film, but they were two of the brightest young stars in the game at the time.
Basically, I blame LeBron James. His refusal to participate in the Dunk Contest at any point in his career made that decision acceptable for other stars, and there's no going back on that precedent now.
It's a smart business decision, sure; LeBron's mitigating injury risk and resting his body for the long haul. But even Kobe did the Dunk Contest (and won in 1997). The fact that the King never participated on All-Star Saturday is one of the NBA's biggest failures.
Mark D. SmithMark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Participants are terrified of being embarrassed
God bless the Birdman.
Chris Andersen's ridiculously awful performance in the 2005 Dunk Contest — when he needed nine attempts on his first dunk — served as a warning to every NBA dunker to come:
Trying something new and failing in the most spectacular fashion doesn't win you any respect for your creativity. Combine that urge to ridicule with modern social media, and it's hard to blame guys for playing it safe in the Dunk Contest.
The whole competition takes way too long
The All-Star Saturday night broadcast is a money-making endeavor, of course, so we understand why the hosts need to interrupt every other dunk with some sponsored segment, or a concert, or a sign that proclaims a player, "Mr. 540."
Again, we get it. The powers that be are trying to take an event that should take an hour (tops) and stretch it out as long as possible to get that sweet, sweet ad revenue — but I don't want to have to dedicate three hours of my life to watching a handful of no-name NBA players throw down their safest "specialty" dunks.
And all the time spent trying to set up those segments drains the crowd of its energy, which comes through on the television broadcast. Like professional wrestling, the dunk contest is only as good as the crowd. If you put the arena to sleep, the competition is going to suffer.
Bob DonnanBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
We deserves some of the blame as fans, too
Go back and rewatch the 1988 Dunk Contest, or the 1987 version, or even the epic competitions of the early '00s.
You'll notice there's a lot of repetition in the dunks, yet the fans didn't care at all. In fact, Michael Jordan used the free-throw line dunk TWICE in the '88 Dunk Contest, and he still managed to defeat Dominique Wilkins for his second consecutive title.
At some point, we as fans have to stop kvetching about the competition, kick back, and just enjoy the show.
The slam dunk is one of the greatest joys in all of sports. Keep that in mind on Saturday.
Finally, there's (probably) a limit to human creativity
The simplest explanation for our Dunk Contest melancholy? We've seen nearly everything a person can do to jump and throw a ball through the hoop while hanging onto the rim — or nearly everything players are willing to try, at least.
But maybe Saturday's field will prove me wrong. I certainly hope so.