Out of nowhere: Jazz's Jeremy Evans jumps to NBA dunk title
Orlando, Fla. • In the season of NBA dream stories and Linsanity, Jeremy Evans opened another chapter of magic.
The second-year Jazz forward dunked two balls over teammate and close friend Gordon Hayward, paid tribute to Hall of Fame big man Karl Malone with his final slam, then shocked Jazz Nation and himself by winning a fan-only vote to capture the 2012 NBA All-Star slam-dunk contest Saturday at Amway Center.
Evans became the first player in franchise history to win the title.
San Antonio's Tony Parker won the Skills Challenge, while Minnesota's Kevin Love outshot Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant to capture the 3-point title.
Minutes after Evans' name was announced as champion during a worldwide media broadcast, the skinny, humble 24-year old from small-town Crossett, Ark., was signing autographs with young children and taking smiling photos with arena concession workers. Soon, Evans was riding to the top of Amway, being interviewed live on NBA TV and balancing total shock with pure adrenaline.
His first thought upon hearing TNT analyst Cheryl Miller say his name once the final vote was in?
"I was just, like, no way this is possible," Evans said. "But she did say it and it was live, so I felt like I was still dreaming."
It was real, and he'd done it. Evans had won 29 percent of more than 3 million text-message votes, leaping over Indiana's Paul George, Houston's Chase Budinger and Minnesota's Derrick Williams to claim the title.
Days of obsessively studying past dunk contests on YouTube had paid off. Evans' late Thursday trip to a near-empty Amway and a journey Friday with Hayward to a local 24-Hour Fitness gym that lasted until 3 a.m. were in the rearview. The Human Pogo Stick, The Elevator, the little-used Jazz forward who'd been a last-minute addition to the contest he'd long dreamed of flying in, was suddenly the people's champ.
"Man, it's just amazing for me to come here [and win] because I wasn't supposed to be here," said Evans, whose dunks were watched in-person by everyone from his mother and grandfather to his brother and high school basketball coach.
Evans was granted entry to the contest only because New York rookie Iman Shumpert exited due to injury. Had Shumpert taken the court and teamed with Knicks rookie sensation Jeremy Lin to leap over a couch, as originally planned the 2012 dunk crown likely would've ended up in NYC.
But Evans had spent six weeks riding a growing wave of grass-roots support from Jazz fans, teammates and the organization, highlighted with a #LetJeremyDunk Twitter campaign. And an idea that publicly first took shape when Utah players such as Hayward and Earl Watson asked a reporter what they needed to do to get Evans involved in the contest ended with The Human Pogo Stick lifting a bright, shiny, silver ball as the 2012 champ.
Now, Evans' once little-known name joins a list that includes NBA dunk legends Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, and he'll forever follow the Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin in the league's record book.
"[It's] always overwhelming in a good way, especially when you win," Evans said. "But I think I can handle it."
Evans beat out prop-heavy dunks by George, who turned out Amway's lights to glow in the dark, and Williams, who rode onto the court riding a motorcycle with the Timberwolves' mascot, then leapt over the bike.
The Elevator also jumped over his own misstep. His first slam was too prop-reliant, featuring a simple dunk captured by an iCam. But when Evans leapt over Hayward who was sitting in a straight-backed chair and threw two balls through the hoop, momentum began to swing: three of Twitter's top-10 trending topics soon referenced the long-armed Jazz forward.
Evans remained prop-heavy for his final dunk, having entered the contest knowing creativity was key to capturing public attention. But while it wasn't his best slam of the night let alone his top throwdown in a Utah uniform the presentation was perfect.
Evans' initial idea for his finale was to leap over a United States postal worker, tear a package off the backboard that contained a Malone No. 32 jersey, then complete an ensuing slam honoring the Mailman.
Evans still honored the Jazz legend, who's recently been at the center of a public dispute with Jazz CEO Greg Miller. But Evans turned a friendly connection with Orlando center Dwight Howard into dunk-contest gold, when Superman reached out to comedian Kevin Hart.
Hart walked onto the court dressed as a postman, proclaiming he had a special delivery. Inside his pack: Malone's famed No. 32. Evans draped the huge throwback over his light frame, ran along the hardwood, then leapt over Hart for a strong slam.
Soon, the votes were pouring in. Weeks after being pushed by just Jazz fans, Evans was the people's choice. He couldn't believe it. He could barely speak. But he really was wearing the NBA's dunk contest crown.
"People didn't really know who I was before this," Evans said. "But after [Saturday], hopefully they know my name."