LOS ANGELES - Indiana’s Fred Jones won the NBA dunk contest practically by default on Saturday night, dethroning two-time champion Jason Richardson when both missed their final jams.
It was hardly a Hollywood ending for Jones, a Pacers reserve competing in his first dunk contest after initially declining an invitation because he wanted a vacation on All-Star weekend instead.
Jones made two impressive dunks earlier in the contest, including a cool one-handed reverse after throwing a bounce pass to himself from the 3-point line. But two misses on his clever final attempt — on a pass from a friend in the stands — should have made it easy for Golden State’s Richardson to become the contest’s first three-time champion.
But Richardson also missed his final dunk, handing the title to Jones.
“It was an honor to be out here, because Jason Richardson is one of the greatest dunkers ever,” Jones said. “I was just trying to be creative and do something different.”
Boston’s Ricky Davis and Denver’s Chris Andersen were eliminated in the first round. Davis made only one dunk, and Andersen got more cheers for his elaborately spiked hair than his jams.
Jones is a longtime fan of the dunk contest who admired Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins before he was tall enough to slam. He was ready for his first crack at the contest: He got a 50 for his first dunk — a long bounce pass finished off with a hard slam — and another 50 on his one-handed reverse in the finals.
Jones needed only a 46 to win, but he went for a difficult original dunk. He passed the ball into the stands to a friend, who threw a high-arching bounce pass toward the basket.
It was a beautiful, unique idea for a slam — except Jones missed it twice, fumbling good passes. Jones shook his head, while his friends howled their disapproval.
But Richardson missed another unimpressive attempt, and Jones won the contest while sitting on the bench.
“Nobody could really get a grip on the ball,” Richardson said. “I’m not even sad about it. I’m happy just winning twice.”
It was the 20th anniversary of the NBA’s revival of the contest, which was a cult favorite in the ABA in the 1970s. Phoenix’s Larry Nance won the first contest in 1984.
A panel of Lakers greats judged the contest: Norm Nixon, Jamaal Wilkes, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. The crowd didn’t care much for their idols’ judgments, booing several scores.
Richardson hesitated before agreeing to a second defense of his title. Though he has improved his shooting and defense in each of his three seasons with the Warriors, he was worried about joining Harold Miner, Kenny Walker, Terence Stansbury and others who were labeled pure dunkers without all-around games.
His first dunk was a nondescript one-handed windmill, but Richardson brought down the house with his second dunk of the first round: After a soft toss off the backboard, he leaped to catch the ball with his left hand, passed it between his legs and threw down an impossibly graceful right-handed slam.
All five judges rose with their “10” cards in hand, and the crowd stood and cheered.
Andersen was eliminated in the first round despite an impressive two-handed slam following a pass off the backboard. He was the tallest dunker in the competition, and the Nuggets’ utility player drew the attention of Lakers superfan Jack Nicholson with his heavy gel and spiked hair.
PBT: The Spurs saw the NBA title slip through their fingers Tuesday night. Do they have it in them to rebound from their meltdown in time for Game 7?
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
Bosh: 'We'll see who hits first'
Heat forward Chris Bosh talks about what could be a very physical Game 6 stating, "Hit them in the mouth, throat and their eyes." Miami coach Erik Spoelstra says the opposing Spurs "attack you ... but we do the same thing."
Latest from ProBasketballTalk
Wednesday And-1 links: 76ers in no rush to hire a coach8 hr 22 min ago
PBT Extra: Previewing Heat/Spurs NBA Finals Game 710 hr 9 min ago
Get your NBA cheer on
Check out some of the dancers from the NBA.