New Orleans • For Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, the pinnacle of an event that rewards those who get highest came in 2000.
That’s when Vince Carter took the Slam Dunk Contest by storm, flushing a reverse windmill 360, an alley-oop that he took through his legs, and a jam that left him dangling from the rim by his elbow.
"He was doing dunks we’d never seen before," George said.
On Saturday night, George and five other players will be part of another dunk contest first. Players will no longer compete individually, instead forming two teams for a two-round competition.
"After they see what’s going to happen, how the dunks are going to turn out, everybody’s going to like it," said Toronto’s Terrence Ross, the league’s reigning dunk champ, who has heard groans from fans.
The first round will be a 90-second freestyle session, in which dunkers can throw down as many times as they want. Then players from the two sides will go head to head, with judges eliminating losers until a team has won three individual battles.
"I think it makes it more fun," said Portland point guard Damian Lillard. "It’s a little bit less pressure on each individual dunker."
The inclusion of Lillard, George and Washington’s John Wall is significant. It’s the first time in 26 years the competition has featured three current All-Stars.
"It’s better for the league," George said. "It’s better for the fans. At the end of the day, that’s what they come down to see, the All-Stars being involved, the superstars being involved in these events. When I had a chance to do it, I was all for it. I wanted to give back to my fans."
Dunkers on Friday wouldn’t give away their plans.
"We’re all going to have fun with it. We’re all going to be part of one another’s dunks," George said.
"I got something. I have a dunk that should be pretty nice," Ross said without offering up any other clues.
Like his fellow contestants, Ross says the change will be for the best. "It’s going to be a lot more fun," he said. "Last year we had great dunkers, but we were all doing our own things. Now we’ll all have a chance to work together and do some things nobody’s ever seen."
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