NBA event is no slam dunk for top stars

Shannon Brown of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks during a game in November 2009.

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Steve Chiotakis: The NBA's All Star festivities kick off this weekend in Dallas. So get ready for some high-flying basketball courtesy of the slam-dunk contest. But as Nancy Farghalli reports, the event is trying to find its place in a new landscape.


Nancy Farghalli: Last year, Laker guard Shannon Brown watched the dunk contest on TV. This year, he's in it, thanks to a reputation for defying gravity.

Announcer: Oh my goodness. The young fella decided to get on a trampoline!

The Lakers put together a highlight reel of Shannon Brown to get him into the dunk contest. And now, Nike is even developing a shoe for him to wear during the competition.

Brown doesn't mind the attention:

Shannon Brown: They have big expectations and high hopes for me to go out there and do some crazy stuff.

And so does the NBA. The dunk contest used to be the event of the season besides the finals. It was a platform to show off the NBA's superstars doing super human things. And of course, sell jerseys and shoes.

Brown: I definitely remember the dunk contest: Michael Jordan, and you know, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter, and you know, Tracy McGrady, guys like that. They had some pretty impressive dunks.

Like this one from a young Michael Jordan. He ran down the court and jumped from the free throw line and soared in the air.

Announcer: Here comes Michael Jordan. Flies and slams it.

Jordan won the slam-dunk contest twice in 80s.

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of Slam Magazine. He says star players today like Lebron James have bigger endorsements at an earlier age.

Lang Whitaker: For Jordan and Dominique, the dunk contest was a really good way to get exposure. But for the younger guys today, they're already on TV two, three, four times a week. There's games on cable, there's games on the Internet.

And Whitaker says the NBA's growing popularity means that big names don't need contests for exposure. The NBA has its own cable network. And last year, the league's national television ratings were up. So why keep a contest that's shunned by the league's biggest stars?

Whitaker says the NBA wants to protect its brand:

Whitaker: There's guys who have never played in the NBA who are known for dunking, and that's basically just via the Internet.

Whitaker says the NBA wants its players to be known as the world's premier dunkers.

I'm Nancy Farghalli for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Farghalli is an editor at Marketplace.

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