Even with no Zach Lavine, Gerald Green, and (still) LeBron James, Sunday's gravity-defying group is rather intriguing. This is Victor Oladipo's second time competing, following a runner-up finish in 2015. Rookies Dennis Smith, Jr. and Donovan Mitchell (Gordon's substitute) will take out their in-game anger on the rims during All-Star Weekend. And it's no secret that Larry Nance, Jr. is trying to bring honor to his father's name.
But did you know that the 2018 dunk contest is somehow linked to its earlier stagings? We're not just reaching here to make things interesting—each participant has a loose connection to the past, particularly the first two mountings, in one way or another.
Dennis Smith, Jr. (Dallas Mavericks)
Remember? Michael Finley (1997)
Dallas didn't have a representative until 1995 in Tony Dumas, who finished dead last due to three botched attempts in the first round. Michael Finley reached the finals in the year after the next one, only to lose to Kobe Bryant. Finley might be the closest comparison to Smith, whose explosiveness makes up for his shooting. DSJ may not have a direct connection to the early days of the affair, but he does carry the most popular surname in dunk contest history—Otis (1988, 1991), Kenny (1990, 1991, 1993), JR (2005, 2009), and Josh (2005 champion, 2006) would be proud.
Donvan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)
Remember? Darrell Griffith (1984)
Mitchell capably filled the superstar void left by Gordon Hayward in Utah, just like how Griffith took over from Pete Maravich when he was drafted in 1980. Both are 20-point scorers as freshmen, thanks to their impressive range and athleticism. All the "Spider" has to do is win Rookie of the Year to seal the deal. "Dr. Dunkenstein" was among the participants of the inaugural event, but didn't bring home the hardware in the consecutive years that he joined. Although unlike his predecessor, who was picked second, Donovan was selected 13th overall, so who knows?
Victor Oladipo (Indiana Pacers)
Remember? Terrence Stansbury (1985)
Aside from the penchant for 360 dunks and Stansbury's team when he first entered the competition, the similarities end there. For three straight years (the last as a the Seattle Supersonics), the progenitor of the "Statue of Liberty" slam consistently placed third in the dunk contest before being out of the league (6.3 ppg). Meanwhile, Oladipo is just realizing his potential (24.4 ppg 5.3 rpg 4.1 apg 2.1 spg) as the face of a young Pacer franchise. Here's hoping he'll have a better showing than the reigning (yet underwhelming) champion from Indiana (Sorry, Glen Robinson III).
Larry Nance, Jr.
Remember? Larry Nance, Sr. (1984 champion)
There's no other way to put it: this was the Kid from Akron's destiny, much like his recent arrival in Cleveland. The older Nance was crowned as the first official NBA dunk king, beating legendary aerial artists Julius Erving (ABA champ) and Dominique Wilkins, back when Larry Jr. still wasn't born. Everyone has been waiting for him to follow in his father's footsteps since he was drafted in 2015, more so when he started unleashing his full set of in-game jams. The son gets the chance to repeat history and live up to his name, at least in the All-Star showcase.