Just as the NBA dropped the slam dunk contest from its All-Star weekend, the American Basketball League is using it for the first time.
The women’s league always believed it would fly, so it seems only fitting that its players should get a chance to do the same.
When Sylvia Crawley and other hopefuls take off today, what happens once they rise above the rim will determine how the ABL’s first slam dunk contest is remembered.
“A lot of people have said leagues for women can’t survive in this country because the game is not played above the rim,” said Crawley, who was the pre-event favorite. “This will show that it can be. That a lot of us are capable of playing up there.”
The 6-foot-5 forward for the Colorado Xplosion is still formulating her strategy. While she concedes she’s planning to attempt a blindfold dunk in the finals, any routine is almost certain to include a “regular” slam.
“That alone could win it,” Crawley said. “You just don’t know.”
Each contestant attempted three dunks, with the option of replacing one, in Saturday’s preliminaries. The finalists - Crawley, Seattle’s Linda Godby and New England’s Kara Wolters - will perform two dunks with judging based on creativity, style and power.
Each finalist made two dunks apiece Saturday, and all told eight of 15 were completed successfully in competition among five players. Crawley totaled 94 points, Godby 78, and Wolters 60.
“People ask, ‘Well what if they go out there and miss a lot of shots,”’ said Tracey Williams, the ABL’s vice president for player personnel and basketball operations.
“Well, we don’t want our players thinking that way. You can’t tell me men haven’t gone out there and missed a few, too… . There is no fear of failure. It’s going to be exciting to see what happens.”
The nationally-televised finals will be held at halftime of the ABL All-Star game at the Disney sports complex. The winner will earn $5,000.
But as important as the contest has been to attracting attention to this weekend’s activities, which also include a 3-point shootout, the main attraction is still the product that will be showcased in the All-Star game itself.
Atlanta’s Teresa Edwards, Philadelphia’s Dawn Staley, New England’s Carolyn Jones and Katie Smith of Columbus headline the Eastern Conference roster. The West, meanwhile, features San Jose’s Jennifer Azzi, Seattle’s Shalonda Enis and Colorado’s Tari Phillips, who grew up in nearby Orlando and was the most valuable player in the league’s inaugural All-Star game last year.
Naturally, Phillips is excited about playing before about 100 friends and relatives. She also envisions the dunk contest serving as a springboard for the first slam in a regular-season game.
“I think it’ll open a lot of eyes, and show people how versatile the players in this league are,” she said. “Just because we don’t do it all the time doesn’t mean we can’t.”