Houston • A black sheet shrouded the easel. “What is under there?” everyone wondered. Former Jazz center Mark Eaton and Darryl Dawkins sat in courtside seats at the Toyota Center and traded guesses.
Who was under there?
“Jordan?” Eaton and Dawkins wondered to one another.
Jeremy Evans, the lightly known, infrequently played Jazz reserve would not win this Slam Dunk Contest. He would not become the fourth player — a group that includes Michael Jordan — to win in back-to-back years at the popular All-Star Weekend event. In a contest whose winner was determined by popular vote, Toronto guard Terrence Ross won with 58 percent. But even those who ultimately voted against Evans must have found themselves struck by the fragility of the scene.
“What is under there?” they surely wondered.
Two years earlier, Blake Griffin jumped over a car. Touch a car with your toe, it does not move. Bang your knee on a window, and the window likely wins. But a mystery piece of art, supported by three willowy legs — why, a cheer from the upper level might blow it over.
Evans had to be perfect. This dunk, whatever it would prove to be, would be in the detail.
Spoiler: He dunked over it. Because what would this story be if he didn’t? He got a running start from halfcourt, took three dribbles, flew spread eagle over the easel and finished the dunk with a left-handed windmill. After he came down, he walked to the front of the easel and pulled off the sheet.
Moments before he dunked, Evans had grabbed a microphone and said, “I feel like dunking is an art.”
He explained that he draws. And he paints. The shy Arkansas native takes sketch pads on road trips. He has drawn a detailed rendering of the Salt Lake LDS Temple. And for a week and a half, he followed the advice of Jazz player development assistant Johnnie Bryant, and returned from road trips and practices to quietly work on a piece that he told few people about.
He painted a dark background, and then twin strips to represent video boards. He made the crowd red, because the Toyota Center is the home of the Rockets.
Then he began to draw a body. At first, it could have well been Jordan. The long brown arms and legs. The separation between the man and the court. But then he filled in the details. A long blue ribbon striped the side of a white jersey. Yellow piping hugged each side of the strip. The No. 40.
And then, he painted an easel, shrouded by a black sheet.
For years, players have dunked over other players. Last year, Evans dunked over teammate Gordon Hayward. Earlier in the contest he dunked over and grabbed a ball from a seated Eaton on his way to a reverse dunk. On his final dunk, he would leap over Dallas Mavericks guard Dahntay Jones.
But, by god, Jeremy Evans was going to become the first player to dunk over himself.
However, some details couldn’t be filled in prior to leaving for Houston on Thursday. Evans’ shoes, for example. He hadn’t known which pair he would wear. And the ball. Don’t they use a special ball in the dunk contest? So he packed his paints and brushes and shipped the unfinished work to the edge of Texas.
After a late-night practice on Thursday, Evans tucked one of the red and white balls away and took it back to his hotel to serve as his model.
“I just finished it last night,” he confessed after the competition, with the painting propped behind him.
It, too, will travel back to Salt Lake City on Sunday, and in one way or another will benefit a charity.
Despite being the defending champion, Evans entered Saturday’s event once again as an underdog. After losing, he said, “I actually felt better after that contest than I did last year.”
He was certainly more creative. He pulled the 7-foot-4 Eaton out of the crowd just hours after asking him if he might be willing to participate. Eaton, whose one All-Star appearance was in 1989 in Houston, sat on a green block and did his part, although he and Evans had never practiced the actual dunk.
“I really hadn’t had the experience of someone flying over the top of me before in my life,” said Eaton, who was already in Houston for retired player events.
And while Ross won after dunking in a Vince Carter jersey and then over a ball boy, few performances were more talked about than Evans and his painting.
After revealing an image of himself performing the very dunk he had just executed, Evans was handed a silver marker. He scribbled onto the upper left corner and stepped back, leaving his special signature on another Slam Dunk Contest.