NEW ORLEANS -- Too bad John Wall's mother couldn't be here. She was with him when he signed his $80 million extension and it moved him to tears. She was the first person he called when he learned he made the All-Star Game for the first time and told her "we made it." Saturday, with Frances Pulley in a hospital, Wall led the East team to the victory in the new format and brought home the individual honor as slam-dunk champion.
Wall was right. He was made for this competition despite not practicing until Thursday. Still, Wall claimed that he made all of his most difficult dunks on the first try and that appeared to be true.
"Somebody sent me a YouTube link on my Twitter that said 27 dunks that haven't been done in the NBA dunk contest," Wall said of his creative process. "The first one was that one. It seemed hard but for me it came out to be easy. It worked out in my favor."
"That one" was the the clincher Wall used in his individual matchup with Ben McLemore (Kings). It blew away the judges, jumping over G-Man, the Wizards' mascot who held the ball atop his head, pulling the ball down as low as he could between his legs and still throwing it down with power. It was the perfect combination of finesse, difficult and power and led one of the three judges, Magic Johnson, to declare that Wall had single-handedly "brought the dunk contest back."
The competition was different this time, with a freestyle round as the six-player field was separated by conference and competed against each other. Wall was joined by Paul George (Pacers) and Terrence Ross (Raptors). They bested the West with Damian Lillard (Blazers), Harrison Barnes (Warriors) and McLemore.
Because the East won, they were able to determine the order for the battle round. The loser of the head-to-head dunk battle was eliminated and the first team to win three battles won the competition.
Wall was matched with McLemore and then fans voted on the individual winner. Wall celebrated his dunk with George, doing the Nae Nae dance. It was the perfect cap to the evening. McLemore jumped over 7-foot tall Shaquille O'Neal sitting in a throne but it took two tries. Wall succeeded the first time.
"It was only my second time doing it," Wall said of the dunk. "My first time was on Thursday."
He thinks the new format will encourage more marquee players to participate in the future.
"A lot of people will like to get into it because it takes a lot of pressure off you," Wall said. "You don't have to have so many dunks set up for yourself. ... It's a lot easier and an easier chance for you to win. Why not go out there and have fun? It was a great opportunity for me at my first All-Star to go out there and show what I can do."