Hamidou Diallo, Joe Harris, and Jayson Tatum took home the trophies in Charlotte for the dunk contest, 3-point contest, and skills challenge, respectively. But the biggest winners and losers of All-Star Saturday Night go beyond the competitions. Here are our picks.
Winner: Hamidou Diallo
Pain shouldn’t factor into how impressive a dunk is, but there’s something about the Vince Carter elbow hang that makes you ooh and ahh and wince all at the same time. Diallo did his own interpretation of that famous Carter dunk on Saturday, and won the contest in that moment. He began with a number of unavoidably corny dunk contest add-ons: Diallo ripped open his Oklahoma City jersey pre-dunk to reveal a Superman logo and he called Shaq from the stands in order to jump over him.
Calling himself Superman wasn’t tacky once the dunk all came together. Look at Diallo hanging on the rim, five seconds after he rammed his forearm through the net, opening his jersey to reveal the logo. He is Superman. He’s whoever the hell he wants to be in that moment—a mix of superhuman and Vince Carter and, most importantly, the one redeeming contestant in 2019’s dunk contest.
Loser: Dunk Contest Scoring
I’m a millennial. I could power a windmill rolling my eyes at older generations complaining about people my age “needing participation trophies.” Yet there’s the dunk contest, dunking on every millennial who insists the world isn’t in the midst of a participation-trophy crisis. Hamidou Diallo was, unquestionably, the winner, and he was awarded as such. But what happened before and after Diallo’s dunk was a judging travesty.
Dennis Smith Jr. took three attempts to complete his first dunk, which was probably worth a score of 40 if it was made on the first try:
Smith was given nines across the board for 45 total points after taking a five-minute warm-up. John Collins broke the wing of the airplane he brought out to jump over—a literal representation of flying—for his second dunk, and still scored a 42. Gimmicks are bad. Breaking the gimmick is worse, especially when it is a symbol of your ability to soar. Smith made his next attempt, a high-flying jumpman over a seated J. Cole, on the second try. That’s now three total misses. He was given a perfect 50. It was admittedly impressive, and there are many, many folks out there who can appreciate a guy who dunked on J. Cole, but he still missed, and the dunk itself wasn’t a 50 to begin with. He made it to the final round despite all the misses, because he’s in New York now, and that’s how it works for non-millennials’ other favorite gripe, coastal elites.
Smith never made his penultimate dunk despite multiple tries. Straight sevens. Then it took Smith five attempts to connect on his final dunk, which involved Steph Curry lobbing the ball and jumping over Dwyane Wade. Two greats don’t necessarily make for a great dunk, and five attempts absolutely doesn’t make for a high score. Except Smith received a perfect 50—on a dunk that took more tries than Diallo had in total on the night. Call it soft, call it rigged, call it an inevitable repercussion from the participation-trophy generation. For one night, I can’t argue.
Loser: The Currys
It’s homecoming weekend for the Curry family, who, in addition to their many Charlotte ties, have the same amount of representatives in All-Star activities (Steph and Seth) as the entire Hornets organization (Kemba Walker and Miles Bridges). The brothers grew up in Charlotte, as dad Dell played 10 seasons in white and teal; both went to Charlotte Christian for prep school, and both played college ball in North Carolina (Steph went to Davidson, while Seth finished at Duke). Steph and Seth were both in the 3-point contest, giving the Curry family double the odds of taking home the trophy. The numbers were also on their side: Seth is shooting 46.5 percent from deep this season, third-best in the league, and Steph (44.4 this season) is the greatest shooter in NBA history. But it also gave the family double the odds of failing, thus double the odds of embarrassment.
Seth didn’t make it out of the first round, finishing with the third-worst total. Steph advanced to the second round in true Steph style, hitting 19 straight 3s between the finish of the first round and the start of the second. But he was ultimately beat out by Joe Harris. The Curry parents didn’t have to worry about which son to cheer for. Instead, the entire Curry fam had to deal with something they aren’t used to: losing.
Winner: Kemba Walker
As far as nightlife goes, a weekend in Charlotte doesn’t bring quite the same excitement for players as the two previous All-Star Weekends, in Los Angeles and New Orleans. (They’ll try the barbeque and change their tune.) But the location is a win for Kemba Walker. Walker has been hidden in a small market throughout his eight-season career with the Hornets. Underrating a player is easier when he’s not on national TV, and that lack of visibility can limit opportunities—like, ironically, All-Star. Walker has been voted an All-Star three times in total, but never as a starter until this year. And though he’s deserving, the fact that the host city is his—and that there aren’t any other Hornets who qualify—probably gave him a push in voting.
Walker’s four-year, $48 million contract will expire at the end of the season. The deal’s been a massive bargain for Charlotte, which will finally have to pay up if it wants to keep Walker away from the rest of the league. A little shine for the 28-year-old during All-Star is like backpay for the small contract and the small-market exposure: His Instagram is flooded with advertisements, he’s the representative of the entire event, and he was brought out to open Saturday night’s festivities. He didn’t make it out of the first round of the 3-point contest later in the night, but he’ll be in the spotlight again when he hits unrestricted free agency. All-Star is a perfect appetizer.