The 2022 NBA Slam Dunk Contest features four newcomers to the contest, which brings both some excitement and uncertainty, as there isn’t a past contestant or champion fans have seen on that stage before.
Rockets rookie guard Jalen Green is the favorite coming in, but Knicks sophomore Obi Toppin isn’t far behind on the oddsmakers list as the high-flying foward out of New York has become a fan favorite at the Garden for his exploits above the rim. For Toppin, it’s an opportunity to shine on Saturday night’s biggest stage and carve out a place in All-Star Weekend lore with a spectacular performance, but no matter the outcome he is thrilled to be experiencing all All-Star has to offer.
While at Mountain Dew’s The Block activation in Cleveland, we got to sit down with Toppin to see how he was feeling about the dunk contest later that night, embracing his role on the Knicks, and what’s next in his improvement on the court.
How’s All-Star Weekend treating you, man?
Man, it’s amazing. Like I always say, like for me to be in this position is a blessing.
You get to do the dunk contest tonight and that is the marquee event of Saturday night. What does it mean to you to be in that event and get the chance to put on for the fans and get to show your stuff here?
It’s amazing. Like I said, like it’s a blessing that I’m here. I’m not gonna take it for granted. I’ve been practicing these dunks that hasn’t been seen in the dunk contest yet so, just gonna go out here, have fun, soak in the moment and just get a win.
I was gonna ask what the prep work is like for the dunk contest, cause at this point you just can’t go out there and wing it, right?
Right, yeah. Nah, nah, nah, you can’t wing it. You definitely got to practice some dunks, cause you gotta wow the crowd. You got to get in tune with the crowd, and I feel like with the dunks that I have I feel like I’m going to do that.
What are some of your favorite dunk contest performances from the past?
Definitely Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon. I feel like when Nate Rob was in the dunk contest — New York, he was with New York — I felt like that was a good one, too. I’m trying to think of other ones I’ve seen. I mean, I watched highlights when Jordan was in there, jumpin from the free throw line and stuff like that, Dr. J, it’s been a lot of good dunk contests. Hopefully, I can surprise people this year.
And being here and getting to partner with Dew and do some stuff for the fans. What is it like to get to do this kind of stuff and interact with fans at All-Star?
To have the opportunity to be here, like it’s amazing. Being here with all these great entertainers, like Druski and basketball players, A’ja, Collin [Sexton] was here. I seen Luke [Kennard], Tyrese Maxey, like there’s a lot of great people here who love to have fun and I’m blessed to be in this position.
For you as a player, what would you say from year one to year two has been the area of growth that you’re most proud of on the court so far?
Ah, I probably say like I’ve been putting in a lot of work and I had a lot of great people around me who help me get the time to put these works in. So like, I felt like I know my role on my team. I know what my role is, and I just go out there and have fun. Like I said, it’s a blessing that I’m in this position that I’m in and I’m not taking it for granted.
Yeah, and part of that role is bringing that energy, which seems to be something that you really embrace. Why is that important to you to try and make sure that when you come in the game, you’re bringing that life and making sure that the energy level stays high?
I feel like bringing the energy is important just because it’s like bringing the life to a party. Like you need that one person to bring spark to a team. Like you need somebody to rally the guys up, because when they’re up, like we’re good, right? You always want to be happy. You can’t be upset in the leauge, because you in the top — like it’s not even, I don’t even know the percentage, but not a lot of people are here. A lot of people pray to be in this position. So just going every day happy and just have fun and do what you do.
Something it seems you’ve made a concerted effort in this year is attacking the basket more. Was that just some where you looked at what you did last year and said I can do more if get to the rim and attack a little more?
Yeah, I felt like I had great coaches, like Thibs is a big person in that. Like he talked to me about that. Kenny Payne, like our whole coaching staff talks to me and basically was telling me different areas I can work on this summer. And one area was attacking the basket with my athleticism and using my athleticism. So like speaking with Thibs like he said we need to put you in pick-and-rolls, we need to get you downhill getting to the basket and use your athleticism. So having them around me, having them talk to me about that helped me tremendously for this year.
Lastly, as a player when you know what your role is and you’re trying to perfect what you do in that, but also knowing that maybe you have more to offer. How do you balance that in the work you put in to know that when the next opportunity that comes and when the role expands, that you’re ready for that?
This is only my second year in the league. Like I have a lot of work to go and a lot of work to do. So like I know what I’m really good at right now, and I’m gonna stick with that. But then when it’s time for me to show different things while I’m working on those things, like shooting the ball, dribbling the ball, playing defense, different things like that, like I know I’m working on that every single day. So one day I can be the best defender, one day I can be a really good shooter — I ain’t gonna be the best shooter, Stephen Curry got that [laughs]. So just me putting in my work and hopefully getting getting to the goals I want to get to.