The slam dunk contest is arguably NBA All-Star weekend’s most outstanding event. From Michael Jordan to Dominique Wilkins and Vince Carter, you’ll never remember who won the actual game, but you’ll for sure never forget the insanely athletic dunks these athletes unveil annually (which you’ll then try—and fail miserably—to reenact on the playground).
This year is no exception. Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic hopes to retain his 2016 title, and he’s joined by Glenn Robinson III (of the Indiana Pacers) and Lob City’s very own DeAndre Jordan. The fourth contestant, though, is the one you should actively root for—Derrick Jones Jr, who has played just 11 minutes for the Phoenix Suns this season.
Just 19 years old, Jones might just be the league’s most athletic player. Fresh out of UNLV, where the highly-ranked prospect had an inconsistent freshman season, Jones suits up for the North Arizona Suns, Phoenix’s NBDL affiliate, and he is the first ever current player from the D-League to compete in an All-Star weekend. And his addition to the event isn’t a charity case: Jones has insane hops.
The 6-foot-7 Jones appears to hover in mid-air, continually coasting upwards until whichever arm cradling the basketball viciously accelerates and slams the ball through the rim. His legs’ fast-twitch muscles function like a trampoline, propelling the guard off the ground in a nanosecond, and with just a head nod from a teammate, Jones grabs, flushes a pass, and runs back on defense in the same time it takes most to set up a possession.
And did we mention he is just 19 years old? That alone should have you cheering for Jones this weekend, but if that isn’t impressive enough, just know that this will be Jones’ moment to shine, so he’ll be guaranteed to pull out all the stops that others—whether for fear of embarrassment or injury—won’t even dare try.
Britni de la Cretaz of Rolling Stone profiled the history of the slam dunk contest, with this amazing anecdote of how the event went from athletic feats of glory to primetime entertainment:
The 2000s started on an upswing: the 2000 contest saw perhaps the best single performance of all time by Vince Carter. Maybe the best part of the video below from Carter’s unrivaled performance are the reactions of the all-stars in the crowd, all of them with camcorders fixed squarely on the court. Kevin Garnett falls backwards like he’s been literally blown out of his seat; Shaquille O’Neal can’t seem to pick his jaw up off the floor. They are witnessing history, superhuman feats of athleticism, and they know it.