This past Saturday, a young Timberwolf spent his Valentine’s Day flying high in New York, doing his darnedest to help fans fall back in love with a mid-season tradition that has lost much of its past luster.
By most accounts, he succeeded.
Though the Timberwolves have been irrelevant so far this season/decade, Zach LaVine gave Minnesota basketball followers a reason to cheer this weekend. The 19-year-old rookie out of UCLA won the NBA’s 2015 Slam Dunk Contest, wowing the crowd with a quartet of nifty dunks.
In the opening round, the 6′ 5″ LaVine came out of the gates with purpose, wasting no time in thrilling onlookers at the Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Donning a ‘Tune Squad’ edition #23 Michael Jordan jersey from the movie Space Jam, the baby-faced rookie proceeded to throw down a between-the-legs, one-handed, reverse dunk that had him nearly at eye level with the rim. Lavine’s effort earned him a perfect 50 score from the judges.
For his second dunk in the opening round, LaVine repped his hometown team, changing into his #8 Timberwolves jersey. Though his outfit changed, the results did not. LaVine tallied another perfect 50 while dazzling spectators with a behind-the-back dunk that put his freakish leaping ability on clear display. He became the first player since Dwight Howard in 2009 to have multiple perfect scoring dunks in a single contest.
In the finals, LaVine squared off against the Orlando Magic’s Victor Oladipo, though their head-to-head battle proved to be anti-climatic given the first round fireworks. Oladipo failed to convert his first of two dunk attempts, and LaVine cruised to an easy 94-72 win.
While many complain the annual dunk contest has grown stale, Saturday’s competition — due largely to Zach LaVine’s performance — has been lauded as one of the most entertaining in recent memory. It reminded me a bit of Isaiah “don’t-call-me-JR” Rider’s “East Bay Funk Dunk” circa 1994. (Every T-Wolves fan over the age of 30 knows what I’m talking about. Here is the link for posterity.)
Let’s hope LaVine’s exhibition success translates into some positive energy (and some wins) for the Wolves during the second half of the regular season — when the games count.
Image courtesy of: YouTube screengrab