LOS ANGELES - Fred Jones figures he has seen every slam dunk contest since the NBA revived the event in 1984. The Indiana guard is a dunking aficionado — and yet he wavered when asked to take on two-time champion Jason Richardson on Saturday.
“I said no at first,” said Jones, who will participate in his first dunk contest during All-Star weekend. “I didn’t know if I was ready to do it justice. I’m a basketball junkie. I know a lot about all the great champions in this event. I wanted to make sure I could measure up.”
Jones also was looking forward to a weekend vacation from the NBA grind. His friends and family were looking for a break of their own, however: They persuaded Jones to enter the contest so they could get a free trip to Los Angeles.
Jones will join Golden State’s Richardson, Boston’s Ricky Davis and Denver’s Chris Andersen in a slimmed-down version of the event. LeBron James declined an invitation to participate.
Though Michael Jordan will always be Jones’ favorite dunker, he ranks Richardson among the best in the event’s history. Jones is particularly enamored with Richardson’s signature dunk: leaping to catch a high bounce from the floor, then passing the ball between his legs for a one-handed slam.
“People don’t understand how tough that is,” Jones said. “I could maybe (make that dunk) in college, but I was lighter then. I’ve been lifting weights too much.”
Andersen is unknown to most casual basketball fans, but the Nuggets’ 6-foot-10 utility player has an athleticism that catches everybody’s eye. He has a 34-inch vertical leap to go with his height — and he also has a healthy appreciation for Richardson’s work.
“I’m going to try to use some of his stuff against him,” Andersen said. “He has a few favorite moves that I think I can put a spin on. I’m a one-footed jumper, and he’s a two-footer. Maybe I can use that.”
Though all three challengers are worthy, Richardson is the strong favorite to become the first three-time champion in the event’s 19th edition (there was no competition in 1998 or 1999).
Earlier in the week, Richardson claimed he had no special plans or trick dunks for the contest — just more of the phenomenal slams that have been propelling Warriors fans out of their seats for three years.
“He’s going to be tough to stop,” said former Phoenix star Cedric Ceballos, who won the 1992 contest with his famed blindfold dunk. “J-Rich has some stuff that nobody has seen before. It’s going to be fun to see what he comes up with.”
Nowitzki isn't tired
Dirk Nowitzki thinks Mark Cuban worries too much.
Cuban made headlines last weekend after trading jabs with U.S. coach Larry Brown over NBA players’ involvement in the Olympics and other international tournaments.
Cuban would prefer to keep his high-priced players out of international events to safeguard their health, though he hasn’t yet made an ultimatum to international regulars Nowitzki of Germany, Steve Nash of Canada and Eduardo Najera of Mexico.
Nowitzki was the Most Valuable Player of the 2002 World Championships. He also participated in the European Championships last summer, and he doesn’t think any of it has affected his play for the Mavericks — quite the contrary, in fact.
“The whole thing is a little overrated,” Nowitzki said. “I’m 25 years old. I can take it. If I wasn’t playing there, I’d be playing pickup every night. It’s just not a big deal.
“When I’m in competition, I’m getting better. You can really improve your game if you’re working at it all the time. I don’t think it’s something to worry about.”
Peja Stojakovic will try for his third straight victory in the Long-Distance Shootout on Saturday, and the Sacramento Kings’ All-Star forward might be getting a bit cocky.
“The only way I can lose is if I get in the biggest slump of my life,” Stojakovic said with a straight face. “Really. It’s over. They should go home.”
Stojakovic then broke into a laugh before praising his competition: Detroit’s Chauncey Billups, Philadelphia’s Kyle Korver, Seattle’s Rashard Lewis, Denver’s Voshon Lenard and Houston’s Cuttino Mobley.
“This is a great field, and anybody could win it,” he said. “I just hope it’s me.”
Stojakovic, who will appear in his third All-Star game Sunday, is hoping to become the first three-time champion since Craig Hodges in 1990-92. Larry Bird won the first three editions of the event.
T.O. the reporter
It was easily the most bizarre sight of the massive All-Star interview session on Friday, even stranger than seeing Allen Iverson in a Milwaukee Bucks (throwback) jersey: Terrell Owens became a member of the media.
The San Francisco 49ers’ star receiver fancies himself an actor and a model, but he makes no effort to conceal his utter disdain for reporters. Owens has boycotted all media on several occasions since he became a superstar four seasons ago, and he has barely spoken to media at all over the past two years.
Yet the NFL Network enlisted Owens to participate in the All-Star weekend as a correspondent, and he provided several clever exchanges with the stars. He tried to jinx Kevin Garnett, who hasn’t missed a free throw in an All-Star game, and he traded laughs with Iverson and Baron Davis.
Owens also joined 2000 slam dunk champion Vince Carter to critique the upcoming competition.
“Jason Richardson is great,” Carter said. “Just when you think he can’t possibly pull out another stunt ...”
“Like pulling a pen out of his sock, so to speak?” Owens replied.
“Exactly!” Carter said.
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