Gordon makes history but ‘Airplane Mode’ prevails

By Yousef Nasser
Medill Reports

Aaron Gordon made history, but it was Derrick Jones Jr. who came home with the hardware on his 23rd birthday in one of the most electrifying NBA Slam Dunk Contests of all time.

Gordon, who entered the contest with three perfect scores in his two previous dunk contest appearances, reeled off five consecutive perfect scores to begin the contest, which has never been done. In the process, Gordon passed Zach LaVine (7) and Michael Jordan (6) for the most perfect scores in the history of the Slam Dunk Contest. Despite Gordon’s historic performance, Jones was able to keep pace with Gordon, and ultimately prevail in a controversial decision by the judging panel

“I’m happy that I was able to be a part of this and showcase my talents,” Jones said. “Just show the world that I am the best dunker in the NBA.”

After scoring a 46 in the opening round, Jones punched his ticket to the final round with a reverse 360 that earned him a 50.

From there, he and Gordon put on a show for the ages, going head-to-head with a scintillating sequence of dunks. In the final round, the two combined for six consecutive perfect scores.

That set the stage for what would be Jones’ final dunk. The man known as “Airplane Mode” sprinted from halfcourt, taking off from just inside the free-throw line and throwing down a windmill dunk. He received a 48.

“When I got that 48, it was tough because that was a dunk that I was doing since high school, and I know that’s 50-worthy,” Jones said. “There’s no way I should have got a 48.”

Would it be enough? All Jones could do was watch as Gordon took the court for his final dunk of the evening. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, Gordon summoned 7-foot-5 Boston Celtics center Tacko Fall from the group of NBA players gathered by the court and asked him to stand under the basket. Earlier in the day, Gordon had mentioned that he was “going to take a chance” on a couple of his dunks. His risk did not pay off.

Gordon was able to clear Fall and complete the dunk. However, the judges, perhaps spoiled by Gordon’s masterful performance throughout the evening, did not reward his daring exploit. Gordon received two 10s and three nines for a score of 47. After the contest, Gordon was bemused by the judges’ scoring of his final dunk.

“Jumping over somebody 7’5″ and dunking is no easy feat,” Gordon said. “Come on man. What are we doing?”

For Gordon, tonight’s contest was eerily similar to the 2016 NBA Slam Dunk Contest in which he and LaVine went toe-to-toe with a similarly dazzling display of dunks, only for Gordon to lose in a hotly debated outcome. Despite his frustration of losing this year’s contest, Gordon paid respect to Jones.

“He’s a leaper,” Gordon said of Jones. “He gets up, great dunker obviously. You got to be great to win a Dunk Contest.”

Undoubtedly a great dunker in his right, one would understand if Gordon felt he had unfinished business in the NBA Dunk Contest. However, after the contest, Gordon indicated that he’s had enough.

“No, it’s a wrap, bro,” Gordon said. “It’s a wrap. I feel like I should have two trophies, you know what I mean? It’s over for that.”

Jones, on the other hand, said that he plans on defending his title next year if he gets the call.

“As a kid, I told my father I was going to win one, and I got it,” Jones. said. “So I’m going to get another one next year.”

Photo at top: Aaron Gordon leaps over Tacko Fall in his final dunk of the 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. (J.A. Adande/MEDILL)