In the bellows of the American Airlines Center, Donnie Nelson leans back in his chair with a disheveled look on his face. The Mavericks face a tough uphill climb in the second half of the season and Donnie must make the right move to put them over the top. He pulls out a small, ornate key, unlocks a file cabinet and retrieves a slender manilla envelope. Donnie has found this envelope of names to be useful in years past. He thumbs through a few names in the envelope—Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter, DeShawn Stevenson, Gerald Green—before finally landing on David Lee. Donnie breathes deep, nods to himself and makes the call. As he hangs up the phone, Donnie eyes the envelope lying on the edge of the desk. It reads: former McDonald's All-American Dunk Contest Winners.
The McDonald's All-American dunk contest, especially during the early 00s, is an intimate setting. The best high school players from around the country gather for their own All-Star weekend with a 3-point contest, exhibition game and, of course, kids dunking. Back in the day, the weekend served as a coming-out party of sorts for the best high school players in the dunk contest. Before the age limit, the McDonald's All-American game gave the casual fan their only look at a highly touted draft prospect. A sacred element surrounds the weekend, which is why I must address a grievance that has gone overlooked for far too long. David Lee won the 2001 McDonald's All-American dunk contest over James White and it was a failure of American democracy.
If you're not familiar with the dunk stylings of James "Flight" White, take a few minutes to indulge. Both he and Lee were All-Americans in 2001 bound for the University of Florida. But before arriving in Gatorland, the two had to settle a dispute over who was the fairest dunker in all the land. The contest format was a little unconventional: judges still ranked on a scale of 10, but seven judges sat behind the table instead of the usual five. The two extra judges provided a little more variance to the scoring.
The first round consisted of bad dunks by mostly forgotten basketball players (hi T.J. Ford). Lee and White qualified for the final round with two other contestants. Each had three dunks to decide the winner. This is where the debauchery begins.
Lee starts with a nice eastbay dunk off the bounce. He's built up a little confidence from his first round showing and the crowd is behind him somewhat. Outside of Lee and White, the dunks were an abject horror show, so this one scores a very nice 69.
This Lee dunk is adorable. It's adorable up until the point you realize that he scored a 68.
This is the most "12 year olds lower the rim to seven feet to dunk" dunk possible. Lee, ever the showman, scored a 68 on this dunk bringing his grand total to 205 points.
James nearly decapitates himself on the net while bring the ball down by his knees, but these judges have hearts of stone. He gets a 66.
According to Section 5 Rule 7 of the basketball handbook, everyone must go home. This contest of dunks is over. There was only one space odyssey in 2001 and it was James White with this perfect 70.
These callous judges gave him a 68 for this beautiful windmill dunk. White became a victim of his own greatness. It was the rare windmill that had full extension and rotation. White lost by one point to David Lee.
James White won the popular vote, but David Lee won the electoral college. These judges placed a cruel fate upon Flight White. Maybe if he had worn the crown that evening, he would be the one in Donnie Nelson's manila envelope wearing a Maverick uniform today.