NY Sports Day

From Krypto-Nate to Fortu-Nate: Robinson Defends Dunk Title

Last year, it took morphing into a green-clad Krypto-Nate to beat Superman.

This year, New York Knicks’ guard Nate Robinson needed only to be Fortu-Nate.

Unlike past editions, this year’s NBA all-star slam dunk contest left much to be desired at American Airlines Center in Dallas, on Saturday night.

That was enough though, to help Robinson, the diminutive 5-foot-9 guard with the major hops, defend his slam dunk title from last year and become the first three-time winner in the 27-year history of the event.

In winning the title for as many times as he had game dunks this season, Robinson luckily didn’t need to do much to beat a very uninspired and uncreative field that included Toronto Raptors’ rookie Demar DeRozan, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Shannon Brown, and Gerald Wallace, of the Charlotte Bobcats.

Following one of the most imaginative and entertaining NBA slam dunk contests ever, in Phoenix last year, Robinson became the Dunk King for the second straight year if mostly, by default.

In fact, Robinson didn’t even have the best dunk of the night.

That belonged to the 6-foot-7 DeRozan, whose catch off of the left side of the backboard and finish with a powerful windmill dunk on his second attempt of the opening round, earned a score that matched his uniform number of 10 from all five judges, for the contest’s only perfect score of 50.

Unfortu-Nate-ly this year, there was no need for Robinson to duplicate being Nate The Great, as he did a year ago, when he donned a special green Knick uniform, green arm sleeve, and green sneakers, to leap over Orlando’s 6-foot-11 Dwight Howard, a self-proclaimed stuffing Superman, in an enjoyable spectacle of showmanship.

Instead, lacking star-power names like Lebron James, the rest of this year’s slate failed to demonstrate or operate in a creative state, thus helping to facilitate a victory for last year’s Krypto-Nate that was second-rate.

At any rate, it’s another slam dunk title that this year’s Fortu-Nate appreciates.

And, although his competition didn’t push him this year, we shouldn’t hate on Nate.

Early on, TNT commentator Kenny Smith, feeling that Robinson’s challengers were holding back, said that after last year, only “Robinson understands what the contest is all about” and that the rest of the field had “not taken their bungee chords off.”

That seemed to be the case after Brown and Wallace each made two rather routine dunks, earning each competitor a combined score of 78 and early, first-round exits, setting the stage for the final-round showdown between DeRozan and Robinson.

Lacking last year’s theatrics, Robinson reached the finals matter-of-factly with a fairly nice two-handed windmill dunk off a bounce for a score of 44, and slightly a nicer, mid-air, twisting throw-down off a bounce pass from teammate Danilo Gallinari, who fell just two points shy of advancing past the first round while competing in the first three-point shooting contest of his career, earlier in the night. That second dunk netted a score of 45 for Robinson, giving him a total of 89, three points less than DeRozan’s 92, after the first round.

Robinson tried to show a little more once the finals began, but he gave up after failing to convert on a between-the-legs attempt coming from behind the backboard and under the basket. He instead settled for an ordinary, two-hand dunk off a bounce (though, at Robinson’s height, any dunk of such average degree of difficulty seems to resonate with the crowd more than someone of DeRozan’s height).

DeRozan countered with a copy of the former Krypto-Nate’s winning dunk from last year, leaping over 6-foot-6 teammate Sonny Weems. Not bad, but Weems is nearly a half-foot shorter than Howard and unlike last year, there were no costumes nor any “show” to go with it.

Robinson then sealed the victory in his final attempt, throwing the ball off of the backboard, catching it, and finishing with a power reverse slam. Not to be completely devoid of flair, Robinson took pom-poms from a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader and waved them over his head. Amusing, but certainly not taking down a dunking Superman.

The biggest reason that dunk clinched Robinson’s victory was that DeRozan fittingly closed the weak contest with an anti-climactic ending. Rather than copying Julius Erving’s famous foul-line dunk (in the first-ever NBA slam dunk contest in 1984), DeRozan ran the length of the court only to take off from the semi-circle below the foul line, for a simple two-handed windmill dunk which left the crowd yawning rather yearning for more.

Smith’s colleague, Charles Barkley, a former NBA power dunker himself, at times, said before the deciding cell phone text vote from the television audience was announced, “Maybe nobody will win.”

That statement pretty much summed up the event.

Someone had to win though, and it was Robinson, by a narrow margin, garnering 51 percent of the fans’ vote.

Like DeRozan, Brown was competing in the event for the first time, while it was the second time Wallace (who lost in 2002) participated in the contest. For Robinson, it was his fourth trip, losing only in 2007, in Las Vegas.

Robinson’s victory gave the Knicks twice as many slam dunk titles (four) as NBA championships, tying the Atlanta Hawks for most by an NBA franchise. Atlanta and New York are the only teams to win more than two slam dunk titles.

That’s about as heartening to Knick fans as Robinson’s lackluster defense of his contrastingly compelling 2009 slam dunk title.

For now, that’ll have to do as Robinson’s Knicks prepare for their post-all-star break portion of the season at 19-32, six games out of the final playoff spot in the eastern conference.

Things could change by next year, but as of now, Robinson has no plans to go for a three-peat or even for a fourth overall title at any time in the future. “No more titles,” he said. “I’m finished. It’s the last one.”

Then again, Gallinari told Robinson after a Martin Luther King Day win over Detroit that he wasn’t interested in participating in this year’s three-point shootout before Robinson convinced the sharpshooter to make the trip to Dallas. Maybe next year, it’ll be Gallinari’s turn to change Robinson’s mind.

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