Dwight Howard: Up, Up, and Away

The world has seen some great Slam Dunk Contests in the past, such as the Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins rivalry in 1988, or Vince Carter going between the legs in 2000, and now Orlando's Dwight Howard must be added to the list of all time greats after his performance at the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest in New Orleans.

Never before has a player had a perfect score throughout the entire event, but Howard scored 50 points on both of his first dunks, and then was voted the Slam Dunk Champion by the world, knocking off defending champion Gerald Green, earning 78% of the fan votes.

It wasn't that Howard's dunks were far and away better than anything we have seen from Jordan or Carter, but never has anyone been as creative and consistent throughout the entire contest as Howard was on Saturday night. Gerald Green, who finished in second place, put up a good show, but even his nifty "birthday cake" dunk, in which he blew out the light on a cupcake stationed on the back of the rim, couldn't top Howard.

"People like to see that. They don't want to see the same old dunk. People want something with some spice," Howard said. "This year all the guys tried to bring some spice to the dunk contest."

There was definitely a nice kick to all of Howard's dunks, as each one offered something unique and spectacular. What set Howard apart from fellow opponents Gerald Green, Jamario Moon and Rudy Gay, was that he understood the subtle nuances of the event, as he didn't show his best stuff too early (like Green and Moon), and used appropriate and easily visible props.

Dunk 1: Howard got things going with a bang, tallying a perfect 50 points with his first dunk. Standing out of bounds behind the backboard , Howard through the ball gently off the back of the glass, grabbed it with two hands, wind-milled the ball and threw it down with his left hand, while still having his head on the backside of the backboard.
Dwight Howard Dunk 1 (Bryan Bedder/Getty)
Dunk 2: This was perhaps the most memorable dunk of the night. Howard pulled his shirt off to reveal the Superman "S", and then Orlando Magic teammate Jameer Nelson placed a Superman cape on his back. Dwight then ran around the court for a minute with his arms extended, pretending to be the superhero. Nelson stood behind the hoop, as Dwight took off from just two feet inside the free throw line. While in the air, Nelson threw Howard the ball, and with arms and legs extended (nearly parallel to the ground), Howard caught it cleanly and was up so high that he literally chucked the ball into the hoop instead of dunking it.
Dwight Howard Dunk 2 (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Dunk 3: Next, Howard provided more originality as he bounced the ball off the ground with one hand, the punched it off the glass with his left hand and while still in the air, he grabbed the deflecting ball with his right hand and nailed the jam.
Dwight Howard Dunk 3 (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Dunk 4: The final dunk looked like it was originally planned for the 12-foot hoop, which Howard was not allowed to use. Nelson stuck a miniature suction cupped hoop onto the bottom right of the backboard and then placed the ball in it. Coming from the right baseline, Howard jogged over, grabbed the ball and did a windmill dunk to seal the victory.
Dwight Howard Dunk 4 (Eric Gay/AP)

Howard had a variety of motivating factors heading into the contest. Last year, he had a phenomenal dunk in which he slapped the backboard with hi s left hand, placed a sticker on it, and then dunked the ball with his right hand. When Nelson measured the sticker, it was revealed to be 12 and a half feet high, but that didn't impress the judges and Howard was eliminated. Aside from avenging his early elimination, Howard also wanted to show that big men could dunk too.

"It means a lot to me. This one was really for the big men," Howard said. "People say big men don't look good dunking. I really wanted to win it for all the big men. I love dunking - 90 percent of my shots are dunks."

After watching Howard dominate the dunk contest, he definitely made a statement about big men being able to dunk, but he also validated himself as one of the premier players in the league, not just due to his talent but his charisma and character as well.