Carlos, Jones claim dunk titles
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2020 - 12:00am

The Chooks To Go/MPBL All-Star showcase took place at the MOA Arena last Thursday while the NBA held its All-Star extravaganza at the United Center in Chicago last weekend. They were a few days and 10,000 miles apart but the fun factor was the same.

It’s special to stage the All-Star event, whether in the NBA, PBA or MPBL. It’s where the best of the best in whichever league congregate to put on a show for the fans. Every year, it’s a treat for the fans to watch their hardcourt heroes come together to do the fun things in basketball, especially the dunk contest.

In the MPBL edition, 5-9 Dave Carlos remained the undisputed dunk king. It’s incredible how an athlete of his height can sky so high and throw it down with authority. The MPBL cast of dunkers listed Fil-Indonesian Biboy Enguio, Fil-Canadian R. J. Ramirez, Chris Lalata, Hawaii-born Fil-Am Nick Demusis and defending champion Carlos. Demusis put up a challenge in the finals but Carlos wouldn’t be denied another crown. 

MPBL founder Sen. Manny Pacquiao gave an assist to both Demusis and Carlos during the competition. He tossed it up for Demusis to slam in one attempt and joined his son Jimuel and two others in a straight line that Carlos jumped over to stuff it in with one hand. Carlos needed two tries to finish with a flourish. There was no question he deserved the trophy and the P100,000 first prize.

The five MPBL judges had no difficulty choosing the man on the throne. They were Bounty Agro Ventures/Chooks To Go president Ronald Mascarinas, MPBL commissioner Kenneth Duremdes, Pacquiao’s son Jimuel, Chooks To Go athlete/two-time FIBA World U18 3x3 Slam Dunk champion Kobe Paras and broadcaster Mark Zambrano.

The NBA version didn’t end quite as decisively. Four dunkers showed up for the competition – Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton, Los Angeles Lakers’ Dwight Howard, Orlando’s Aaron Gordon and Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. Howard, 34, was the oldest and tallest (6-9 without shoes) of the group. Gordon, 24, is 6-8. Connaughton, 27, is 6-5 and Jones, 23, is 6-6.

Howard won the slam dunk title in 2008. The year before, he joined the contest but didn’t win although one of his dunks was spectacular – that was when he stuck a sticker of his smiling face on the backboard 12 feet and six inches above the rim before slamming the ball in. In 2009, Howard wound up second in the fan voting that determined the winner from 2008 to 2014 through text messaging. When Howard won it in 2008, he wore a Superman cape and delivered a soaring performance.

In his fourth slam dunk contest appearance, Howard couldn’t match the amazing athleticism and aplomb displayed by his competitors. He reprised his Superman caper and tore off the S sticker on his shirt to reveal the number 24, in tribute to Kobe Bryant, hoping to generate sentimental support from the crowd. But Howard was good for only 41 and 49 points in his first round dunks. Connaughton booked a 50 on his second attempt in the first round where he grabbed the ball from the back of a standing Giannis Antetokounmpo, leaped over his 6-11 teammate, bounced the ball off the backboard then stuffed it in with two hands. Connaughton had a 45 in his first try so he and Howard were struck out of the finals. Gordon had a 50-50 and Jones, a 46-50 to advance.

Gordon and Jones were awesome in the two-dunk final round as they both scored 50-50. Then they went to a dunk-off. If after two dunks, they’re still tied, the judges would determine the winner in a consensus vote as co-champions aren’t allowed. For the record, the judges were Jones’ former Miami teammate Dwyane Wade, WNBA star Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks, actor Chadwick (Black Panther) Boseman, rapper Common (Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn) and NBA legend Scottie Pippen. Apparently, the judges were supposed to score a tie on the second dunk-off but something went wrong in the process. Jones ended up winning the last dunk, 48-47 and ran away with the crown. 

Gordon, who lost to Zach Levine in the 2016 final and probably should’ve won, just couldn’t get a break. He scored five straight 50s before barely floundering in his last attempt, creasing 7-5 Tacko Fall’s head in elevating over the Senegal center for a dunk. Jones was neither sensational nor creative in his final slam, running the length of the floor before taking off to jam with one hand like Julius Erving and Michael Jordan did years ago. But failing to leap clearly over Fall led to Gordon’s setback. A lot of fans said Gordon was robbed like he was in 2016. His previous dunks were unbelievable but the rule is the judges score each attempt separately and it came down to a last try. In his final dunk, Gordon’s degree of difficulty was high. Fall is 7-5 without shoes and 7-7 with. Fall wore shoes when Gordon made him his jumping prop after Shaquille O’Neal, who isn’t as tall, declined. It was a case of high-risk, high-reward. Gordon should’ve played it safer like Jones did.

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