Now dunking for the Knicks: James White
Next weekend, the New York Knicks will have a significant contingent on hand to participate in the N.B.A.'s All Star weekend.
There's Carmelo Anthony, of course, starting for the Eastern Conference. Tyson Chandler earned his first game appearance; he'll be coming off the bench. Steve Novak, last season's leader in three-point field goal percentage (and third this year) is in the three-point contest.
All three are key members of this Knicks team, beloved by the fans.
And then there's James White, participant in the slam dunk contest. Not only is White not part of the regular rotation for the Knicks, but he might be the least-accomplished player ever to take part in the dunk contest itself, which dates back to 1984. White has played just 377 minutes, total, in his N.B.A. career, stretching over three seasons (and a number more overseas).
He'd certainly be the most obscure winner. The first five contests were populated by N.B.A. royalty. Larry Nance, a three-time all star whose number was retired by the Cleveland Cavaliers, won the first contest in 1984, edging out players like Julius Erving, Domonique Wilkins and a young Clyde Drexler.
Wilkins won the following year, then came Spud Webb, whose 5'7" height shouldn't obscure his real talent as a point guard and two-time all star. In 1987 and 1988, a man named Michael Jordan won.
The first non-star to win the contest was Kenny Walker, who managed the feat in 1989. But Walker, compared to White, had a Michael Jordan-like resume. Walker didn't live up to his projections as the fifth overall pick in the 1986 draft; he was merely the first of many scoring complements to Patrick Ewing who failed to fill the role adequately. But he was still a rotation member on several Knicks playoff teams, making 161 career starts by age 30. White has eight career starts, six this year.
Then came another win by Wilkins in 1990, followed by the Celtics' Dee Brown in 1991, who went on to have a solid career as a point guard, and Cedric Ceballos of the Phoenix Suns in 1992, an elite scoring small forward.
The closest precedent to White might by Harold Miner, who won in 1993 and 1995, while making only 47 career starts over four seasons. But Miner was highly-touted out of college, earning the "Baby Jordan" nickname and getting selected with the 12th overall pick in the 1992 N.B.A. draft. Knee injuries ultimately slowed Miner and prematurely ended his career.
Other '90s winners included Brent Barry, the longtime N.B.A. shooting guard and two-time N.B.A. champion, Isiah Rider, the shooting guard who averaged at least 13.6 points per game in each of his first seven seasons, and a young Kobe Bryant.
Over the past decade-plus, the star power has largely disappeared from the event. Still, usually the winners are at least rotation members for their teams, as 2001's winner Desmond Mason was for Seattle, or 2007 winner Gerald Green was for Boston. Jason Richardson started every game he played in both his 2002 and 2003 winning seasons, while Nate Robinson was a rare bit of fun for the 2005-06 Knicks the year he won the contest.
And stars still managed to grab the glory, whether in 2000 with Toronto's Vince Carter, 2008 with Orlando's Dwight Howard, or 2011 with Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Jeremy Evans, last season's winner, already had a 463-minute rookie season behind him when he was picked to replace Iman Shumpert in the contest. Unlike White, he was a young, raw participant.
White, at 30, has already said this will be his last dunk contest. He's no raw, untested athlete; he's been to plenty of places, here and overseas.
If he didn't manage to find regular playing time on the Knicks during the period several of the team's guards were injured, it isn't clear that he ever will. But White wasn't a great bet to even return to the league after an absence of four years. Rooting for White next weekend isn't about hoping a young ingenue can show promise; it is whether the man who went viral on YouTube with his overseas dunk exploits can use that talent one more time to etch his name, improbably, alongside some of the league's greatest.