LeBron’s move to Lakers started with 2004 high school dunk contest

Published 7:58 am Thursday, July 5, 2018

LeBron James is a Laker. It seems fitting. Every NBA megastar, it seems, needs a stint with the Lakers at some point in the latter stages of their career. Los Angeles is to NBA players what Boca Raton is to regular retirees.

How did we reach this point, fans wonder? Why didn’t LeBron stay with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, where he has an easy path to the NBA Finals?

I blame Candace Parker, and one of the greatest sports travesties of the 21st century — the 2004 McDonald’s All-America slam dunk contest.

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The field was loaded. Among those competing were future NBA stars Rudy Gay, Josh Smith and J.R. Smith. The two Smiths were both first-round draft picks that year, Gay was a lottery pick in 2006, and Josh Smith won the NBA dunk contest in 2005.

They were joined by Parker, who was the first woman invited to participate in the high school dunk contest. She went on to lead Tennessee to two national titles in 2007 and 2008. In college she was one of the best the game has ever seen. In the dunk contest, she was overmatched.

Parker’s dunks were all slow, basic, one-handed jams where the ball barely cleared the rim. She added some flash to her final dunk by covering her eyes on her approach, but if any of the other competitors had performed the same dunks they’d have been booed off the court.

Meanwhile, the others put on a show. There were more windmills than Holland, more 360s than the Spirograph factory.

Thanks to their simplicity, Parker made all of her dunks and racked up a decent score. Naturally, with the degree of difficulty ratcheted up, the guys missed a few and that lowered their scores. That allowed Parker to win despite doing dunks that rated a negative-5 on the difficulty scale.

To this day, I believe the fix was in. As long as Parker didn’t blow out her ACL, she was winning that thing from the start. It’s one of the infamous sports decisions of all-time, right up there with the 1972 Olympics gold medal basketball game and the WWE’s Montreal Screwjob.

So how does this tie in to LeBron and the Lakers, you ask? That’s easy.

My theory is that J.R. Smith snapped that night. He’s been a solid NBA player for 13 seasons, but also a notorious head case. His on-court shenanigans culminated in the botched ending of Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, which convinced LeBron he could never win with this Cavaliers team and that it was time to head to the West Coast.

All because of a judging disgrace 14 years ago that set the wheels in motion.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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