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Conspiracy Theory: Dunk Contest Edition

For a guy who missed his entire rookie season with an injury, Blake Griffin has wasted little time in establishing himself as one of the elite players in the NBA. In his belated debut, the former Sooner star racked up 20 points, 14 rebounds and his very first shot in the league was an alley-oop dunk for the Clippers. Talk about making one's presence felt.

Since then, Blake's presence has only intensified. Television executives for networks that show NBA games have scrambled their lineup in an effort to get this guy on TV screens even though the team he plays for sucks. People who have no interest in the "other" L.A. team are wearing a red Clippers jerseys with Blake's #32 adorning it. ESPN's Bill Simmons, the biggest cheerleader for Kevin Durant being the best player in the league, abandoned K.D. for Griffin. Yet Griffin's biggest impact may be making the Clippers relevant, as many have decided to nickname him "The Blake Show," a direct shot at the team the Clips share a city and arena with.

For that reason, it is no surprise that the league made a point to showcase him during the recent All Star Weekend. They fudged his status as a second year pro so that he would play with the "Rookies" in the Rookie Game, assuring he could also participate next year. He was named as a reserve to the Western Conference all star team, and perhaps most importantly, they made him a participant in the weekend's biggest event, the Slam Dunk Contest.

Going even farther, they rigged the contest so he would win.

Most people reading this probably are upset at my suggesting that, especially because the local hero was the ultimate winner. The theatrical performance leading up to him JUMPING OVER A CAR to dunk was the highlight of the night--no doubt. The thing is, he probably shouldn't have even made it to the finals. His first two dunks, which received scores of 49 and 46, were given inflated scores. They were awesome dunks, sure, but if you grade on a curve of what everyone else did, they were pretty mundane. Of the scores, the first was really over the top. Had he made the first attempt he tried, a 360 windmill, the 49 would have been too low (50 being perfect), but he didn't. He ended up making a dunk quite a few players have made in a game.

Meanwhile, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka's scores suggested real shenanigans. His first dunk was the classic free throw line take off. Dwight Howard attempted it two years ago, ended up tossing the ball into the goal from three feet away, and scored perfect. Two of the judges, Dr. J and Brent Barry, won slam dunk contests by receiving a perfect score for completing this dunk. The thing is, Ibaka took off from further away than any of those three OR MICHAEL EFFING JORDAN, with his toe being completely behind the line. Replays showed everyone else who had tried this was as much as a full step past the line. Ibaka's score? A 45. Both Barry and Dr. J gave him a nine.

So why would the judges downgrade scores of some players and inflate the scores of others? Well, Griffin definitely was the most popular player in the contest, had the best reputation as a dunker in the competition, and most importantly, the judges knew what he had in store for the finals and wanted to see it.

Twitter was blowing up with rumors that Griffin was going to jump over a car that night, hours before the show was set to start. There were even people reporting the make and model of the car. If random people with no connections to the NBA knew what was coming, a panel of judges made up of NBA insiders had heard.

Oh, then there was one other thing...the league had already declared Griffin the winner an hour before the first round even began.

Some interesting facts listed in that link.

    • Subway had spent $3 million to market Griffin's appearance in the competition. That's about $3 million more than it spent on the other three participants.
    • Griffin originally had planned to jump over a larger, sportier luxury car. The NBA asked that he instead use the Kia Optima since Kia is a sponsor of the league, and this big moment was certain to create a major marketing campaign. Honestly, I don't really understand why this was good for Kia because the campaign now just says to me, "Look at our car! It's so tiny that a human can jump over it." But, whatever, obvioulsy they like the notoriety.
    • Nike had already planned a huge campaign, which kind of required them to be able to call Blake the champion.

Knowing all of this, it isn't really a surprise that those who performed before the predetermined champ were given lower scores. Until it was sure that Griffin could coast into the final round, where his showcase dunk was bound to win over the fan vote, the judges had to be cautious.

In the end, it doesn't really matter, except to fans of Serge Ibaka. Next year, he's going to dunk on a hear that judges? (That should be worth five extra points on a first round dunk.)

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