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6 Spectacularly Sad NBA Slam Dunk Contest Moments

From Blake Griffin’s sponsored slam to Birdman’s failed attempts at flight, these are the dunks that leave us depressed

Chris Andersen; NBA; Slam; Dunk; Contest; Slam Dunk Contest

DENVER - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Andersen #12 of the New Orleans Hornets attempts a dunk in the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Contest during 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend at Pepsi Center on February 19, 2005 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty

It's like the man Leo Tolstoy said: "All good dunk contest dunks are alike; each dunk contest fail is atrocious in its own way."

For every Vince Carter, every Jason Richardson, every Zach LaVine who seamlessly balances on the knife-edge between explosive athleticism and supple grace, who gives you the queasy, butterfly feeling of seeing a human touch the face of God and slam a basketball through it, there are dozens of J.R. Smiths, Richard Jeffersons and Gerald Wallaces – ho-hum but ultimately forgettable participants.

But then there are those rarest of birds, the massive, cringe-inducing, abominable dunk contest flameouts that yes, are each atrocious in their own way. And as we prepare for Saturday night's Verizon Slam Dunk extravaganza – sure to be the highest anyone not named Drake gets during NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto – here's a look back at 6 of the most spectacular failures in dunk contest history.

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DENVER - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Andersen #12 of the New Orleans Hornets attempts a dunk in the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Contest during 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend at Pepsi Center on February 19, 2005 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Paul George, 2012

Let's start off easy. Paul George is a hell of an athlete and an often-sublime dunker. His 360-windmill from 2014 was one of the season's best dunks. But this? This just doesn't make any sense. There was a deep fallow period for the contest stretching from Jason Richardson's back-to-back wins in '03 and '04 through Zach LaVine's triumphant crushing of the field last year, in which gimmick dunks rose to the forefront, along with a bunch of ill-fated innovations like pitting the conferences against each other and the disastrous Dunk Wheel in 2002.

While other gimmick dunks may have gone more conceptual (Jeremy Evans dunking over a painting of Jeremy Evans dunking over a painting springs to mind) or failed harder (Ben McLemore's excessively theatrical "Shaq-lemore"), George's Tron-esque dunk is unique because WE CAN'T EVEN SEE WHAT HE'S DOING. It reminds me of the time my brother and I taped glow-in-the-dark stars to a Frisbee so we could play at night and wound up with bruises and a lost Frisbee. By most accounts, the dunk was much more successful in the actual arena than on TV but let's face it: this is a contest where optics matter and the optics have to work on a screen in everyone's living room. But on the other hand, if it's only optics? Well…

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DENVER - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Andersen #12 of the New Orleans Hornets attempts a dunk in the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Contest during 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend at Pepsi Center on February 19, 2005 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Blake Griffin, 2011

When Dr. James Naismith invented basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891, he put the peach baskets at 10 feet because that's how high the railing of the gallery above the gym was. So there's nothing particularly magical about that height, but Naismith wanted it to be high enough that it would be unguardable and therefore reduce the physical violence of the sport. The slam dunk completely upends this idea, and gloriously so. It thumbs its nose at the physics the bulk of us have to obey. The dunk wouldn't be born for decades after the game itself was invented, but born with it was chaos, insurgency, a renegade spirit.

And then here comes Blake Griffin all these decades later, one of the most vicious, unforgiving in-game dunkers ever, and his crowning dunk contest performance is an overhyped Broadway musical. It's a garish fun-park dunk written by George Saunders, complete with a gospel choir singing R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" while Griffin throws down a decidedly average dunk over an Optima made by Kia™, official sponsor of the NBA. The broadcast even nearly misses the dunk itself, an alley-oop tossed by Baron Davis from inside the Kia™'s roomy interior through its optional power sunroof (MSRP $21,900). It all conspired to make Griffin's win feel fake as hell, a coronation as a new face of the league complete with branding. All that noise took away from two things: 1) That Griffin probably could have won the Dunk Contest without all the fooferall, and 2) as far as prop dunks go, JaVale McGee dunking on two hoops simultaneously was more impressive.

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DENVER - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Andersen #12 of the New Orleans Hornets attempts a dunk in the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Contest during 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend at Pepsi Center on February 19, 2005 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty

Michael Finley, 1997

Now we move on to the head-scratchers. Finley was a good-to-great dunker (check this facial on Karl Malone), but that also made him a classic example of a guy who just didn't know what to do with his hands when it came to the contest, as evidenced to by him blowing his first – and pretty simple – dunk. Then came his monstrosity in the second round. It's worth appreciating that his first try here was a simple self-alley-oop, without the cartwheel, but he didn't like the toss. So of course he decided to DOUBLE DOWN and add a floor routine. As with truly great dunks, truly terrible dunks have a kind of internal rhythm that amplifies how bad they are. Gerald Green on the break hangs in the air just a little longer than seems possible. DeAndre Jordan seems to hit the defender and keep rising for just an instant before smashing it down. Well, here Finley baffles us with what is either a really little kid's or a really old man's cartwheel then blows the dunk just as people start trying to decide whether to laugh or cry at the gymnastics. The crowd settles on laughter and even Finley can only clap his hands in good-natured frustration.

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DENVER - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Andersen #12 of the New Orleans Hornets attempts a dunk in the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Contest during 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend at Pepsi Center on February 19, 2005 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Antonio Harvey, 1995

Harvey – who went undrafted in 1993 but eventually signed with the Los Angeles Lakers – started strong in the contest, but things took a weird turn as the clock ticked down on the first round. A good dunk performance has a kind of crescendo to it, and it seemed Harvey was orchestrating it pretty well, rousing the crowd prior to his final dunk, the third of three he had to complete to move on. He had already missed one but, as the commentary notes, he had "plenty of time to recover." But he seems to be treating the clock like it was counting down to the end of a quarter, sizing up the defense and preparing for a big final play.

"If he misses this one," foretells our narrator, "he'll take himself right out of this."

Then with a hop he starts his taxi for takeoff, plants and pivots just below the foul line and looks like he's about to pull off something magical. But he misjudges his speed or his angle or the wind or something, and misses the hoop completely, clanging the ball off the backboard as time expires.

Had that been it, Harvey's failed dunk stood a good chance of disappearing into the ether, where missed or underwhelming dunks by Jerry Stackhouse and others go. But then they cut to Shaquille O'Neal's dumbfounded reaction, a look of such profound blankness and soul-crushing ennui it belongs in a Bergman film.

The slow-mo replay allows you to pinpoint the moment when he realizes in midair that he is completely screwed and Penny Hardaway, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning all look like they've just seen a dog get hit by a car.

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DENVER - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Andersen #12 of the New Orleans Hornets attempts a dunk in the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Contest during 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend at Pepsi Center on February 19, 2005 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Chris Andersen, 2005

Settle in, because now we're descending into the darkest depths of the dunk contest. Most clips highlighting an individual player's performance in the dunk contest are on the order of one-and-a-half to two minutes long. This is because dunks happen fast, usually. Even with multiple angles and slow-mo replays, it just doesn't take that long for the thing itself to happen. But the above clip of two "dunks" by Andersen lasts for FIVE MINUTES AND THIRTY-SIX SECONDS because it took him NINE TRIES to get the first one and then six for the second one, which felt like a comparative mercy.

Basically, Andersen is just out of his depth – as Kenny Smith sagely notes before he even begins, "He's missing a couple ice cubes in his tray." There's also the legend (possibly entirely apocryphal) that Andersen said, "It's time for the Birdman to fly" before he got up to dunk. But as the attempts drag on, the whole thing acquires a kind of Sisyphean beauty as it becomes clear that Andersen has no backup plan and that there's no time limit here. This is the dunk, and he's going to do it. In a way, it prefigures the tenacity and drive that got him back in the league after he was suspended for violating the league's anti-drug policy and eventually made him a core part of the Miami Heat's championship in 2013.

His second dunk is just icing on the cake. The genuinely inexplicable thing about it is why he chose J.R. Smith to be his assist man when he had Baron Davis on the team, who assisted Griffin on his winning dunk over that Kia™ Optima with driver- and passenger-side airbags. Or he could have picked Darrell Armstrong, which leads us to…

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DENVER - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Andersen #12 of the New Orleans Hornets attempts a dunk in the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Contest during 2005 NBA All-Star Weekend at Pepsi Center on February 19, 2005 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty

Darrell Armstrong, 1996

At 6-foot-1 (maybe), Armstrong had the "little guy" advantage going for him – an advantage that Spud Webb and Nate Robinson rode to dunk contest glory. It's just more impressive when a short dude gets up than when someone 6-foot-10 dunks it. But in the mid-Nineties, participants had to complete three dunks in 90 seconds to advance out of the first round, and it simply wore Armstrong out. Like Harvey, he starts strong with a reverse, but then he clanks two attempts and doesn't even get the ball near the hoop on the third. He throws himself the alley-oop – a good fallback dunk for a guy with small hands – but nope. So he reaches deep into his reserves and pulls out…a layup.

A goddamned layup.

Interesting fact: the word "welp" was invented that day

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