Originally written on The Daily Rival  |  Last updated 11/8/14

For the next few months, Sunday nights usually have me watching The Celebrity Apprentice (I don’t know why, either). I was never a fan of the original version of The Apprentice, which featured yuppies in suits vying to be a figurehead in the Trump organization, but I guess I’m drawn to the celebrity spin-off because I’m fascinated by the mix of egos and personalities of C-List celebrities under a high-pressure environment. However, every time I watch the show, I always think of how you have to be smart and have savvy to do well on it. There are no alliances. There are no juries. Your performance in the eyes of the Trumpster is the only thing that matters. If I’m somebody with a considerable ego and a lack of confidence in my abilities, then I’m steering clear of The Celebrity Apprentice. Somewhat bizarrely, I think the same applies to the current state of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

Saturday’s contest gave us an unsung field of Jeremy Evans, Paul George, Derrick Williams and Chase Budinger treating us to a forgettable display of slam-dunkery exacerbated by gimmicks such as the fan voting system and the “dunk intensity” meter. Evans ended up as your winner and had a fairly nifty two-ball alley-oop slam, but the rest of the competition with largely filled with banal and unremarkable slams. It was an ugly affair, and everyone who was watching with a Twitter account let the world know it. It was quite possibly the death of the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest happening before our eyes. Saturday’s showing instantly sparked debate on the future of the event, ranging from changing the format to scrapping the entire event all together.

If the dunk contest needs to be saved, it’s going to require star power. Big names. Big dunkers. Nothing less. This is nothing new, but it makes the most sense.

The dunk contest thrived with stars such as Dr. J, Michael Jordan and Dominque Wilkins competing. Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Blake Griffin have all obviously thrown their hats in the ring other years. Even people who weren’t stars but were widely regarded as top dunkers such as Jason Richardson, Nate Robinson and Isaiah Rider made the dunk contest compelling television.

Put together a field of any combination of past winners and popular high-flyers, including but not limited to LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Nate Robinson, Jason Richardson, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Josh Smith, etc., and you have yourself something pretty promising.

But it’s not going to happen. Most of the star players today are too scared to put their names and reputations on the line. They’re not confident in their ability to come up with enthralling dunks. And in LeBron’s case, he can’t hide behind Dwyane Wade. Anybody who participates runs the risk of losing, facing embarrassment and bruising their ego. And God forbid that happen in the NBA.

Don’t believe me? Then explain to me why the other events on All-Star Saturday Night have no problem being filled with stars. Just this last weekend: Kevin Durant and Kevin Love participated in the Three-Point Shootout; Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams, just to name a few for brevity’s sake, competed in the ever so aptly sponsored Taco Bell Skills Challenge.

Those events require skills the competitors already have. But the dunk contest requires something other than great leaping ability, and it’s a skill that’s not required to play basketball: creativity.

You lose in the three-point shootout, then it might not have been your night shooting. You lose in the skills challenge, you probably couldn’t complete that tricky bounce pass. These are forgivable failures. But in the dunk contest, if you aren’t clever enough, you run the risk of people thinking “That dunk was stupid.” And if you’re a massively popular player and have an equally massive self-importance, as do LeBron or Carmelo or whoever else, that would eat at your worse than actually losing.

That’s why I think we’ll never see a dunk contest packed with stars.

For all I care, the league can scrap the event and replace it with a game of SlamBall. At least those guys are fearless.

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