Saturday, June 3 2023
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When Ja Morant threw down another of his show-stopping slams on Saturday night against the Indiana Pacers, there was one immediate and wide-ranging response: can the Memphis Grizzlies star please sign up for the Slam Dunk Contest? Even other NBA players, including Donovan Mitchell, were adding their name to the petition. 

The field for this year’s edition, which is set to take place a month from now at All-Star Weekend 2023 in Salt Lake City, is not yet full. Portland Trail Blazers rookie Shaedon Sharpe has confirmed his involvement, while Houston Rockets forward KJ Martin and G-Leaguer Mac McClung are also in the mix. Morant would, of course, make a terrific final addition and raise the star power for the event in a way we haven’t seen in a long time. 

To this point he has been reluctant to get involved. He said in 2022 that he would need “a billion likes” on a tweet to consider it, while in 2021 his requirement was “a miillion dollars.” When Reggie Miller begged him to accept the challenge live on air during the 2022 All-Star Game, Morant laughed it off and said “I don’t think the 10 foot rim is high enough.” 

If he reconsiders his stance at any point, no one will complain, but as long as he keeps throwing down in-game jams like the one against the Pacers on Saturday night, he doesn’t need to do the Slam Dunk Contest. In fact, he may actually have set the bar too high for himself over the past few years with his daring flights to the rim. 

Take Saturday’s slam for example. He comes off the screen on the wing and makes a quick move to leave both defenders in the dust on the perimeter. Then, without even taking another dribble, he explodes into the paint where two more opponents are waiting for him. Jalen Smith was the only one of the pair brave (or foolish) enough to jump, but Morant cocked the ball way back behind his head to keep it out of Smith’s reach, floated sideways and rocked the rim with such ferocity that he was barely able to land on his feet. 

Everyone in the arena immediately lost it. The players on the Grizzlies bench ran halfway up the sideline and were falling all over each other in pure bliss; coaches on the Grizzlies staff had their hands on their head; Morant stopped and stared for a few seconds at his teammates, as if even he couldn’t believe that one; a fan behind the basket wearing a Pacers jersey started doing the “on his head” celebration even though the dunk was against his own team. 

Morant’s moment against the Pacers came out of nowhere — a common pick-and-roll turned all-time highlight. He had to make his way through and over the defense and had his home crowd cheering him on. What could he do at All-Star Weekend that would mean as much or inspire such surprise and pure joy? 

The Slam Dunk Contest is an awesome spectacle of athleticism and creativity, but it can’t match the emotional high of an outrageous in-game dunk, certainly not at this stage of its history. Morant, it seems, would rather save his moments of magic for games, and more power to him. 



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