This is definitely not the way that announcers in New Orleans — or, for that matter, commentators on the TNT network — will introduce the four-player lineup for the N.B.A.’s slam dunk contest on Saturday night.
“Please welcome … Aaron Gordon, who has averaged 8.8 points per game in three seasons for the Orlando Magic …
“Derrick Jones Jr., who has scored a total of 11 points in seven games for the Phoenix Suns …
“Glenn Robinson III, with his 4.3-point average over five seasons for three different teams …
“And DeAndre Jordan, the one name casual fans should know, with his per-game averages of 8.9 points and 10 rebounds in nine years with the titleless Los Angeles Clippers.”
You will not hear any such statistics cited on All-Star Saturday night, even though it is absolutely true that none of the participants have managed to average 9 points a game over the course of a career.
Last year’s event, in Toronto, for example, was an aesthetic and ratings success. Once airborne, the contest was a double-overtime showdown between Zach LaVine, the eventual winner, and Gordon that brought back memories of Michael Jordan versus Dominique Wilkins in the 1980s, minus the outsize reputations.
LaVine passed the ball behind his back before one dunk. Gordon routed it through his legs on a reverse dunk. According to The Associated Press, the telecast drew seven million viewers at its peak, the highest total for any cable show that night.
A dunk contest among LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and John Wall would surely attract a larger audience. But the event requires too much rehearsal and too many hard landings for such a commitment by established superstars.
LaVine has emerged recently as something of a dunk celebrity, and he might have given the contest in New Orleans a significant boost. But even before his season ended this month with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, LaVine announced that he would not vie for a third consecutive victory. There are only so many ways you can ram a basketball through a hoop.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I could in the dunk contest,” LaVine, 21, told reporters last month. “It would be hard for me to go back and outdo myself. I’m never saying I won’t ever do it again, but I’m focused on this year. Getting the rest and just focusing more on just the game is the main thing.”
While the cast of daredevils continues to change, there remains a core fan base that simply loves outrageous pretzel jams by relatively anonymous contestants.
That theory will be put to its biggest test on Saturday, with the quartet of who-are-these-guys? If even this event manages to pull strong ratings, organizers should consider an even greater leap of faith: Do participants really need to be N.B.A. players, or basketball players at all? Couldn’t tall, well-trained acrobats manage even trickier circus dunks?
The league could include both players and nonplayers, calling the event “Dunking With the Stars.”
When it comes to luring big names to its All-Star break antics, Major League Baseball has easily eclipsed the N.B.A.
Baseball continues to showcase some of its biggest stars in its home run derby — which has attracted TV viewership similar to the dunk contest’s in recent years. But its audience appeal also seems more dependent on well-known names.
Giancarlo Stanton beat such notables as Robinson Cano and Todd Frazier in 2016, when the derby drew 5.5 million viewers, according to the Sports TV Ratings website. Viewership was higher in 2015, at 7.1 million, when Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs joined the festivities.
It may be that baseball’s stars are more easily persuaded to participate in the home run derby because the contest requires little practice and, unlike the dunk contest’s reliance on judging, is decided by a simple, objective standard — how many baseballs are knocked over the wall.
Still, even such a straightforward event requires a great deal of energy and is not tailored for frazzled veterans.
“The home run derby wears you out,” David Ortiz told WEEI.com when he decided not to participate in the 2016 event. “It’s good for the younger guys to do it, puts you on the map for a minute. It takes everything out of you. You definitely have to be in your 20s to do it.”
That goes double for the dunk contest. Double twist, with a reverse finish.