By Tom Withers
Saturday, February 16, 2008; 11:50 PM
NEW ORLEANS -- Look, up in the sky! It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Dwight Howard -- super slam dunk champion. A red cape trailing behind him, Orlando's man of steel made like Superman and won perhaps the best dunk contest, definitely the most creative, in NBA history to close a memorable All-Star Saturday.
Using a variety of props as well as teammate Jameer Nelson, Howard scored perfect 50s from judges on his first two dunks before the contest was turned over to fan voting for the first time in the final round.
Fans, too, picked the 6-foot-11 Howard, who dispelled an old dunking myth: Big men can fly high.
"It's really for the big men," Howard said. "Everybody always says, big men can't jump and big men don't look good dunking. I just tried to add a little bit of my personality. With me being so tall, I knew it was going to be tough. I tried to play to the crowd and have fun."
In any other year, Minnesota's Gerald Green would have easily walked away with his second straight dunking crown, but he was upstaged by the amazingly athletic Howard, whose performance has to rank up there with anything Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter or even tiny Spud Webb ever did above the basket.
The dunk contest, bland for so many years as the game's high risers seemed to run out of ideas, was freshened up by some of the most creative aerial assaults in memory.
Howard, Green, Toronto's Jamario Moon and Memphis' Rudy Gay all used tape, ladders, teammates and even a tasty dessert to show their stuff.
"I think the dunk contest is back," said Howard, who was disappointed when he failed to make it out of the first round last year. "I don't think people want to see the same old dunks. They want to see something else, see some spice."
Howard started things off with a dunk he has been practicing for two years. Standing on the baseline, he tossed the ball off the reverse side of the backboard, caught it with both hands, and after peering through the glass at the rim, dunked left-handed.
The crowd roared and a celebrity panel of judges including Magic Johnson, Karl Malone as well as Dominique Wilkins, Julius Erving and Darryl Dawkins _ three of the game's most famed dunkers _ all gave him perfect 10s.
Not to be outdone, Green tried to blow the field away. Literally.
After Timberwolves teammate Rashad McCants climbed up and placed a cupcake with a single candle in it on the back of the rim, Green soared in and puffed out the flame before throwing down a nasty left-hander.
"At first I thought he was going to take the cupcake, eat it and then dunk it," Howard said. "I thought he would have won with that."
In the second round, McCants sat on the top step of the ladder and handed the ball off to a rising Green, who crushed another dunk.
That's when Howard stripped off his blue Magic jersey to reveal an "S" on his chest. As the crowd stood, he tied the cape around his massive shoulders.
"I didn't have time to get the telephone booth," he quipped.
Nelson placed a piece of tape to mark Howard's take-off spot, and after a running start from near mid-court, the Magic's main man took off just inside the free-throw line and fired down the ball with authority.
In the final round, Green performed two acrobatic dunks, one in only green socks after removing his sneakers. But neither of those could top Howard's last two efforts.
First, Howard bounced the ball off the floor, tapped it left-handed off the backboard and dunked with his right hand. For Howard's finale, Nelson affixed a miniature Orlando backboard next to the rim and balanced a ball on it.
Howard flew in from the right side, picked the ball off cleanly and slammed it in. He then only had to wait for fans to text message a result that seemed to be a no-brainer. Howard won in a landslide, receiving 78 percent of the vote.
Earlier, Jason Kapono showed nobody's close to him from long distance.
The NBA's best 3-point shooter this season, the Toronto forward with the silky touch won his second straight 3-point Shootout, tying a 22-year-old record with a final round of 25.
Kapono missed his first two shots in the last round before dropping 10 straight. By the time he approached the last rack of balls, Kapono had already clinched the win and didn't have to fire up another shot.
But he knocked down a few more anyway, matching three-time winner Craig Hodges' mark of 25 set in 1986. When his final shot swished through, Kapono, who made all five money balls _ worth two points apiece _ and went 20-for-25 in the last round, slapped high-fives with other All-Stars and hugged Raptors teammate Chris Bosh.
Kapono wasn't sure what he'll do with his second shiny trophy.
"I'm thinking in the bathroom or something," he said. "Maybe every time I take a shower or I go in and brush my teeth I'll start my day out staring at this beautiful trophy."
Cleveland's Daniel Gibson, who made 11 3-pointers in Friday night's rookie challenge finished second. He scored 17 points in the final round, finishing three points ahead of Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, who replaced the injured Bryant.
Kapono almost didn't get out of the first round. He was in danger of elimination as he approached the last rack but came through in the clutch by sinking five straight shots to advance.
In the Skills Challenge, Utah's Deron Williams was flawless and fast.
With a nearly perfect run through an obstacle course of dribbling, passing and shooting, the Jazz point guard defeated New Orleans playmaker Chris Paul in the final round.
Williams blazed up, down and around the floor of the New Orleans Arena in 25.5 seconds, a new record for the six-year-old event. Cheered on by his home crowd, Paul, who completed the circuit in 29.9 seconds in the first round, finished in 31.2 seconds for second place.
In the night's first event, San Antonio's Becky Hammon, David Robinson and Tim Duncan won the Shooting Stars competition. It featured three-person teams consisting of an NBA player, a WNBA player and a former NBA great from the same city. Contestants had to make six shots with the final one a heave from mid-court.