Sunday, February 18, 2024

Jaylen Brown finishes runner-up in NBA Slam Dunk Contest debut

Jaylen Brown wanted to bring "star power" back to the NBA Slam Dunk Contest at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Saturday night and possibly walk out a winner.

However, the Celtics All-Star finished runner-up to the reigning and now two-time dunk champion Mac McClung of Orlando's G League affiliate team (Osceola Magic).

Despite Brown coming up short in the final round, each dunk that he performed in his slam dunk contest debut paid homage or had a certain meaning behind it, according to the veteran wing.

One of Brown's tribute dunks was to his friend and a native of Dorchester (Boston neighborhood) Terrence Clarke, who passed away in a car crash at the age of 19 back in 2021.

Brown wore Clarke's Brewster Academy high school jersey for the first attempt of the final round before going up for a 360-degree, windmill dunk while the LED glass court displayed the NBA Draft prospect's image -- earning him a score of 48.6 out of a possible 50 from the judges.

Brown and Clarke developed a close relationship in the years before the teenager's tragic death, as the Celtics star would attend his high school games regularly.
"Terrence was like my little bro," Brown told reporters. "Definitely a Boston connection. I wanted to have a purpose in everything that I was doing. I wanted everything to have a message behind it, and I think that's what I did tonight."
For his initial dunk in the first round, Brown paid tribute to former Slam Dunk Contest winner Dominique Wilkins (one of the night's judges), by bringing out someone wearing the Atlanta Hawks legend's jersey while telling Brown to do the windmill dunk made famous by Wilkins -- earning himself a 48.8 score in his debut performance.
"I felt like the court was a little slippery," Brown said of his first dunk. "I wish I could have really done what I planned to do in my head or what I practiced to do. I still think it came out. The message got sent. I had fun while I was doing it, so I can live with those results."
On the second dunk of the first round, Brown brought out Celtics teammate Jayson Tatum and YouTube star Kai Cenat. Tatum threw a lob above Cenat's head, who was sitting in a chair a few feet from the hoop, with Brown dunking the ball. Following the slam, Brown covered his eyes in a homage to Dee Brown -- who was the first C's player to win the competition in 1991 with a no-look dunk.

Brown was booed by the Indiana crowd, as the LED glass court displayed the TD Garden parquet after the dunk that earned him a score of 47.6, sending him to the final round.

To cap off his participation following the tribute dunk to Clarke, Brown leaped over Cavaliers star and close friend Donovan Mitchell while doing a windmill with his non-dominant hand, which was covered with a sparkling glove -- receiving a score of 49.2 for that final dunk, that many believed was a subtle shot to the naysayers that claim Brown has no left hand and or was a tribute to Gary, Indiana native; the late Michael Jackson (or even possibly both).

The final dunk, while creative, was not enough for Brown to walk away with the trophy as the first All-Star to win the Slam Dunk Contest since John Wall in 2014.

McClung held on to the crown by earning the only 50 of the night when he jumped over Shaquille O'Neal on his final dunk to become the first back-to-back champ since Zach LaVine in 2016.

When Brown was asked if he enjoyed the experience of part-taking in his first-ever dunk contest and if he had accomplished everything he wanted to -- outside of winning the competition -- the Celtics star seemed content regardless of results.
"For sure," Brown said. "I thought I had fun. I think that was what the ultimate thing was to go out and have fun. I accomplished that. It was an honor.

"At least I can say I did it at one point in my career, and I can live with that."
While it remains to be seen if more stars will want to participate in future dunk contests, Brown told reporters last week "It'll be fun," when asked about part-taking in the event as an All-Star -- the first to do so since DeAndre Jordan in 2017.
"It takes some energy to go out there and do tricks and perform," Brown said when asked why he thought All-Stars have avoided the dunk contest. "On any given night, you've still got to go and perform for your team.

"I think ultimately this media era, some players are afraid to make it into a meme or anything like that. Like I wanted to come out and have fun with it, and that's what I did."
Ultimately, Brown also didn't rule out doing the contest again next year when All-Star Weekend will take place in San Francisco.
"We'll see," Brown said of next year's event. "I'll take it day-by-day. Today was fun. Regardless of the result, I feel like I was close, but it was fun nonetheless to get out there and have some fun, have some of my friends come out there. I thought we had a good time."
You can catch Brown and of course Tatum at the 2024 NBA All-Star Game tonight to wrap up the most exciting weekend of the season. TNT has the tip-off at 8:00 pm ET.

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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