Aaron Gordon just had perhaps the greatest Slam Dunk Contest ever to not result in a victory. The Orlando Magic forward scored a perfect 50 on his first five dunks in an event that is normally designed for only four. But ties with Derrick Jones Jr. of the Miami Heat forced the event to go on longer than scheduled. Gordon ultimately lost after his sixth and final dunk, but apparently that was not what the judges wanted.
According to Ramona Shelburne and Malika Andrews of ESPN, the judges had initially planned for the final round to end in a tie. One judge, however, went rogue in the scoring process and gave the victory to Jones. This was stated by multiple judges at the Slam Dunk Contest.
“We thought it was going to be tied. We were like, ‘This is a tie!'” Common, a musician and one of the judges, told Shelburne. “But somebody didn’t do it right. I don’t know who it is.”
Another judge, Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker, confirmed that this was indeed the plan, instructing Shelburne to “check the scorecard.”
So who was the culprit? It’s unclear for the moment. Common and Parker both gave Gordon a score of 10 on his final dunk, and their comments to Shelburne make it hard to believe that either of them was responsible. That leaves Dwyane Wade, Chadwick Boseman and Scottie Pippen as the possible responsible parties.
Wade appears to be the obvious candidate on paper. He and Jones played together for the Heat last season, so his motive in handing the trophy to Jones appears clear.
So what would have happened if the tie had gone on as planned? The AP’s Tim Reynolds reported that the NBA would have eventually shut the contest down and forced the judges to vote on a winner. Who they would have picked in that setting is unknowable at this point, but such a solution clearly would have made more sense than allowing one judge to swing the outcome as appears to have been the case in reality.
Gordon was clearly displeased with the outcome. He told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that he believes that he should have two Slam Dunk Contest trophies (the other from a loss to Zach LaVine in 2016), and that he does not plan to participate in the event again. Whether he should have won or not is a matter of opinion, but the process that led to his loss clearly wasn’t what the majority of the judges intended.