TORONTO – After outlasting Aaron Gordon in what many believe was the best slam dunk contest in All-Star weekend history Saturday night, Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine posted a touching tribute to the late Flip Saunders on social media.
Saunders, the Wolves president and coach, died suddenly from Hodgkin's lymphoma only days before the season started. Saunders drafted LaVine 13th overall two years ago despite the young guard playing only one season as a bench player at UCLA.
On Instagram and Twitter, LaVine posted a photo of his dunk championship trophy resting on a black Wolves jersey. The name "FLIP" was written across the back and LaVine's No. 8 was rotated horizontally to mimic an infinity sign.
"I dedicate this dunk contest and the trophy to my late coach, Flip Saunders and the Saunders family," LaVine wrote. "He's the one that always believed in me and drafted me! We all loved Flip and his memory will love on forever!"
LaVine and Orlando's Gordon went back and forth in their showdown. LaVine pulled off a between-the-legs dunk from the free-throw line on the second tiebreaker to take home his second consecutive dunk contest trophy, joining Michael Jordan, Jason Richardson and Nate Robinson as players to pull off that feat.
LaVine said he had never tried the dunk before, but he had already used all four of the dunks he planned to do when fellow contestant Will Barton told him to try it.
He pulled it off, putting an emphatic punctuation on a contest that instantly drew comparisons to the showdown between Jordan and Dominique Wilkins in 1988.
"I just think that was the best contest," LaVine said. "There was some stuff that's never been done before. I don't want to get into the greats — Mike, they're in a different breath. If you really look at it as a whole, we were doing dunks that professional dunkers take four or five tries to do and we were doing it on the first try. It was ridiculous, man."
The night started as a coronation when on his first dunk LaVine grabbed the ball off the bounce, wrapped the ball around his back before cupping it with his right hand and threw it down. But once the contest was whittled to two contestants, Gordon put on a show every bit LaVine's equal.
"If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50," Gordon said. "We would have been here all night. I didn't know it was going to be like that."
Said LaVine: "He ... did some crazy, ridiculous dunks. I'm just glad I got the last laugh."
The door finally opened for LaVine when Gordon was awarded a 47 on his fourth dunk of the second round.
"Zach's an incredible dunker," Gordon said. "He went through the legs from the free-throw line. That is insane. So off that dunk, you've got to give it to him. That's why the trophy's with him and not with me."