John Collins’ Dunk Contest Failure Was Historically Accurate

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 16: John Collins #20 of the Atlanta Hawks goes up for a dunk during the AT&T Slam Dunk as part of the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend at Spectrum Center on February 16, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
John Collins broke a plane, just like the Wright Brothers.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Dunk contests are freewheeling events, but there’s one rule that should be taken seriously: If you’re going to use a prop, don’t break the prop. Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins went afoul of this edict during Saturday’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest when he attempted to leap over a scale model of the Wright brothers’ Wright Flyer and wound up breaking two large sections off the plane.

All-Star Weekend is in Charlotte, North Carolina, so the dunk was a nod to Kitty Hawk and the state’s aviation tradition. (Collins’ homage to flight also included men dressed as the Tuskegee Airmen who stood around the model plane.) The judges gave the attempt a score of 42 (out of 50), which, considering grade inflation in modern dunk contests, might as well have been a zero. Collins scored too low to qualify for the final round, and he seemed quite upset about it.

(It should be noted that Collins’ first dunk, which was was actually pretty cool, only earned a 40 from the judges for some reason.)

Any time you dress up in a scarf and flight cap to leap over a scale model of an aircraft, you’re taking a risk. Collins put himself out there, and plenty of jokes were made at his expense.

But Collins deserves credit, and not just for his endearingly misguided sense of showmanship. Make fun of him all you want, but his dunk was an accurate representation of the Wright brothers’ first successes with powered flight on December 17, 1903. On their final attempt of that day, Wilbur Wright piloted the aircraft 852 feet—by far the farthest it had flown—before coming to a rough, uncontrolled landing. “The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken,” Orville reported. The piece of the model plane situated closest to the hoop that Collins snapped off with his foot? That was the rudder.

Much like Collins, the Wright Brothers’ experience in North Carolina was far from perfect. After that final flight attempt, a gust of wind rolled the plane “over and over” and damaged both the Wright Flyer and a photographer who became entangled inside the aircraft’s body. “The ribs in the surfaces of the machine were broken, the motor injured and the chain guides badly bent,” Orville wrote. “All possibility of further fights with it for that year were at an end.” Had the Dunk Contest judges been present, they would have awarded the brothers a 42 for their efforts.