The NBA Must Host a Gigantic Dunk Contest to Entertain Us During the Coronavirus Pandemic

LeBron James dunking, with a surgical mask superimposed on his face
We need this. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

Millions of Americans are enduring their first full week of self-isolation. Due to the federal government’s shambolic response to the coronavirus pandemic, this milestone is certain to be the first of many. As difficult as the boredom may be now, it’s only going to get worse. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver understands this. On Wednesday, he spoke with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols about the league’s plans, and he cited “the impact on the national psyche of having no sports programming on television.” No kidding, man!

According to Silver, the NBA is looking into putting on an event that can be held in the midst of a deadly outbreak. “People are stuck at home, and I think they need a diversion,” he said. “Are there conditions in which a group of players could compete—maybe it’s for a giant fundraiser or just the collective good of the people—where you take a subset of players, and is there a protocol where they can be tested and quarantined and isolated in some way, and they could compete against one another?” The definitive answer to your question, Mr. Silver, is yes, and I know exactly what to do: hold a massive slam dunk contest.

The nation needs windmills, 360s, and ferocious tomahawks more than ever before. We also need widespread COVID-19 testing, but that doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon. Our only recourse is to stay at home, and infectious disease experts and epidemiologists overwhelmingly recommend that there be a showcase of devastating jams to help keep us occupied. (Note: I have not discussed this with any infectious disease experts or epidemiologists, but I assume they’re all on board with this scintillating, rim-shaking action.)

We’re going to have plenty of time on our hands, so the normal dunk contest format should be expanded into an extensive telethon. There could be a 30-dunker bracket, with one player representing each NBA team.

Dunk contests are uniquely well-suited for quarantine. NBA players seem to be the only people in America getting tested for COVID-19, so we’ll have a good idea of who can and can’t participate. Leaping over people will be prohibited due to social distancing (you’re welcome, Tacko Fall), and, if that isn’t antiseptic enough, they can dunk in totally separate gyms.

Not only is this a chance to bring the nation together, it will also let the NBA redeem itself for February’s rigged dunk contest. There will be an unquestioned winner because the entire country (minus Dwyane Wade) will be able to vote on the dunks from the comfort of their self-quarantine.

Extreme times call for extreme entertainment. For years, LeBron James teased fans with the possibility that he would participate in a dunk contest, but he pulled himself out of the running and disappointed us each and every time. There’s no way he’d say no to the biggest charity event in history, right? I mean, it’s a pandemic—what else does he have to do?

What else does anyone in the NBA have to do? (Except recover from COVID-19, where applicable.) The league’s stars have more free time to practice and invent amazing new dunks. These would become the first great works of art of the pandemic. Let’s see King Lear throw it between his legs from the foul line.

As Congress debates stimulus packages, the NBA has the ability to boost the economy with the most-watched television event in world history. Nothing will ever top the ratings for a LeBron vs. Zion Williamson coronavirus dunk-off. Eat shit, M.A.S.H. finale!

The world is terribly bleak and scary at the moment. Still, we have a choice: either become broken, or break some backboards. You know what to do, Commissioner Silver.

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