CHICAGO — All-Star Saturday’s main event lived up to the awfully high standards it faced this year. In what will go down as one of the best Dunk Contests of all time, Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. and Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon needed two extra rounds to determine a winner, with Jones narrowly coming out on top.
Dwight Howard started off the evening with a one-handed 360 that showed off his pearly whites, and while it was impressive, the judges deemed it worthy of a 41.
Derrick Jones Jr. went next, but before he could show off why his nickname’s Airplane Mode, the competition was paused to celebrate his birthday. A cake was lit and brought onto the floor, and everyone in attendance serenaded him with “Happy Birthday.”
From there, Jones took flight, jumping over Heat teammate Bam Adebayo. Only one judge gave him a 10, and as a result, Jones picked up a 46.
Pat Connaughton came out third and decided to go full Billy Hoyle. The Milwaukee Bucks guard came out in White Men Can’t Jump garb, then propelled himself over Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich en route to a 45 that earned boos from the crowd, which thought he deserved a better score.
One dunker was able to earn a 50 in the first round, though, as Aaron Gordon closed the round with a bang. Gordon went between the legs, turned his back to the rim, and dunked with two hands to the delight of everyone in attendance.
Round two led off with Howard opting to both pay tribute to Kobe Bryant and remind fans of his iconic Superman dunk from 2008. Former Orlando Magic teammate Jameer Nelson — who helped him on the OG Superman jam — joined him and tossed Howard a lob from behind the backboard. The big man caught it, took off, and threw down with authority en route to a 49.
Connaughton’s second dunk was one of the best of the night. He needed a few attempts to launch himself over Giannis Antetokounmpo, but when he was able to do it, he sent the ball through the rim with two hands. On replay, we saw that Connaughton also kissed the ball off the backboard, and after a slight appeal to the judges, got a 50.
Here is Jones’ second dunk. I still cannot believe it. Watch, it got a 50 and, in the process, eliminated Howard.
Gordon needed a 45 to knock out Connaughton and get a spot in the final. He got an assist from Chicago’s own Chance the Rapper, who stood with the ball over his head. Gordon leaped over him, brought the ball below his knees, did a 180, and jammed with one hand for his second straight 50.
A potential final for the ages was set: Gordon (100) would take on Jones (96), while Connaughton (95) and Howard (90) would watch as the two waged war against gravity and rims. Jones went first and once again showed off his otherworldly hops by cleanly jumping over two people, going between the legs, and throwing down with authority en route to a 50.
Gordon once again brought out Chance and a collection of dancers and TikTok celebs. He went over Chance again, brought the thunder again, and got yet another 50.
Jones’ second dunk in the final earned himself yet another 50. He took a pass off the backboard, effortlessly went between the legs, and made something impossibly hard look way too easy.
Gordon needed a 50 to force a dunk-off, so he turned to Markelle Fultz for some help and left no doubt that this wasn’t going to be decided so easily. Fultz tossed a pass off the side of the backboard, Gordon grabbed it, brought it down to below his knee with the ball cradled in one hand, did a 360, and forced a dunk-off.
With his first dunk in the bonus round, Jones set the bar as high as it could go. He, too, grabbed a pass off of the side of the backboard and went between the legs, earning yet another 50.
Gordon responded by going to the Chance well once again. Chance held the ball over his head, Gordon leapt over him, went between his legs, and earned yet another 50.
Jones’ second slam in the extra session opened the door for Gordon to come out on top. The Heat high flyer extended his runway, jumped from just inside the free throw line, and threw down a windmill. As a result, he got a 48.
With an opportunity to win in sight, Gordon literally went big. He wanted some help from Shaquille O’Neal, but Shaq wasn’t quite big enough. Instead, Gordon turned to 7’5 Tacko Fall, who held the ball over his head. He elevated and threw down, but presumably because he did not quite get all the way over Fall, received a 47.
The response wasn’t too terribly popular — Gordon certainly did enough to win, and a good way to get people to cheer for you is to get Fall involved with literally anything — but Jones is a willing victor this year. Here’s to hoping we get to see Jones and Gordon go at it again next year in Indiana, and if Connaughton were to join them, well, we wouldn’t complain.