NEW ORLEANS – Before leapfrogging the Wizards’ muscular blue mascot G-Man and throwing down a show-stopping reverse dunk, John Wall got all of the encouragement he needed to become the franchise’s first dunk champion when he talked to his mother, Frances Pulley, on Face Time by phone. Pulley was unable to join her son in New Orleans for All-Star Weekend with her weakened health forcing her to watch from a hospital bed in North Carolina.
Her absence made Wall uneasy but also provided inspiration for an electrifying performance that could propel him to new heights of stardom. Wall made sure to acknowledge Pulley after he won dunker of the night and led the Eastern Conference team – which also featured Toronto’s Terrence Ross and Indiana’s Paul George – to victory.
I “did it for my mom that’s in the hospital sick right now,” Wall said.
In a revamped contest that left fans confused and craving more, a confident Wall wanted to join the pantheon of great dunkers by executing a slam that had never been seen before. He claims that the idea to snatch the ball from G-Man, double pump and flush came from Twitter, of all places.
“Somebody sent me a YouTube link on my Twitter and said 27 dunks that haven’t been done in the NBA dunk contest. And the first one was that one, and it seemed hard, but for me it came out to be easy. So it worked out in my favor,” Wall said.
Wall practiced the dunk on Thursday, throwing it down on his first attempt and determining that it would be a crowd pleaser. Wall had several dunks in his arsenal, including a whirling, behind-the-back, left-to-right handoff dunk that he has pulled out in exhibition games. He also threw down a 360-degree dunk in a regular season win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I think there’s some ideas out there. It’s just that dunks are very hard to do,” Wall said. “You just got to trust yourself and go out there and try to master it.”
But Wall didn’t have to show off his entire arsenal with a new format in which three team members of the Eastern Conference team and Western Conference team had to share 90 seconds and impress the judges to determine which group would go second in the battle round. Wall expects to the new setup will attract more big name players to participate.
“First round was just to get the crowd into it and get ourselves warmed up, and the battle round you got to win,” Wall said. “The new format I think a lot of people will like to get into it because it takes a lot of pressure off you. You don’t have to have some dunks set up yourself and you don’t have to go every round thinking, well, if I don’t make this, I don’t make that, I can’t move on to the next round. So I think it’s a lot easier and an easier chance for you to win. “
Ross, the defending champion, George and Wall had a perfect symmetry as they reeled off dunks like a layup line. The trio connected for an impressive dunk in which Ross threw the ball off the backboard, Wall got the carom and threw it off the shot clock and George caught it and threw down a windmill.
In the battle round, Ross, George and Wall completely outclassed the Western Conference trio of Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes and Ben McLemore. Ross took the ball from rapper Drake, then brought it between his legs for a dunk. George pulled off 360-degree, between-the-legs dunk that probably would’ve propelled him to victory had it not taken several attempts.
Wall actually had the toughest individual battle going up against McLemore. McLemore walked out with a robe, then brought out Shaquille O’Neal to sit on a throne for him to hurdle. The fans got on their feet as McLemore jumped over O’Neal, legs spread wide, and dunked.
The crowd remained standing room as Wall walked on the court as the final dunker. NBA players seated courtside all got up, expecting Wall to produce something special. Wall raised his hands to encourage some more noise and didn’t disappoint. Afterward, Wall danced with George and G-Man, chest-bumped Ross and slapped five with rapper Drake.
“It was only my second time doing it,” Wall said. “So I just felt comfortable with myself and I knew it was a dunk that hasn’t been done before. And I knew it was the main thing with coming up with the creativity, and it worked out in my favor.“
Wall hopes to defend his title next year in New York and that he’ll have Pulley with him next time.