LOS ANGELES — With a gospel choir at midcourt encouraging him to fly, Blake Griffin soared over a car and threw down a two-handed dunk.
The rookie’s remarkable leap won the slam dunk contest, and it also drove home the clear point of All-Star Saturday: The Clippers’ rising star is just at the beginning of one thrilling ride.
Griffin easily cleared the hood of the 2011 Kia Optima and caught a pass from teammate Baron Davis out of the sunroof while the berobed Crenshaw Select Choir sang “I Believe I Can Fly,” winning the 26th NBA dunk contest in iconic style before his hometown fans.
“There’s a little pressure on us to really put on a show, but I thought those guys all did a great job,” said Griffin, who beat Washington’s Javale McGee in the final.
Griffin grew up watching and rewatching every dunk contest on videotape with his brother in Oklahoma, studying the event’s evolution. He said the car dunk was his idea from the very start – a perfect way to show off his combination of raw athleticism and Hollywood flair.
“When they first came to me … they said there were no rules,” Griffin said. “I was like, ‘So I can jump over a car? Yeah? Oh, maybe I have to do it now.’ I figured I could probably clear it, and Baron came up with the choir.”
The move could have petrified the Clippers, with the star-crossed franchise’s epic history of bad luck – even with Griffin, who missed all of last season after breaking his kneecap in the final preseason game before what was supposed to be the No. 1 pick’s rookie campaign.
Griffin has become internationally famous for his incredible dunks, but a leap over a car? Sounds like a Clipper Curse moment just waiting to happen.
Clippers owner Donald Sterling was in attendance, perhaps watching between the fingers of the hand over his eyes.
“I could have clipped my foot, I guess,” Griffin said. “That’s what I was afraid of – just clip my foot on the side and smash my face into the car. Fortunately, it worked out.”
Griffin barely made it out of the first round after missing several attempts at his second dunk of the first round. But with an entire building solidly behind him, McGee and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan – a Los Angeles native – really didn’t stand a chance despite their own creative dunks at Staples Center.
McGee earned a 99 with two spectacularly inventive slams in the first round, but kicked himself for using a three-ball stunt earlier than he intended after Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka did something similar to what he had planned for the first round.
“Definitely, he came prepared with a car,” said the 7-foot McGee, who scored a perfect 50 by dunking on two baskets simultaneously in his first attempt. “Nothing is going to beat that, unless I bring a plane out or something.”
Earlier, Miami’s James Jones held off Boston teammates Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to win his first 3-point shootout, and Golden State’s Stephen Curry won the Skills Challenge.
But Saturday was all about Griffin, who started the contest with a 360-degree spin dunk before converting a bounce pass off the side of the backboard to finish the first round.
The first rookie All-Star in eight years then brought back an impossibly difficult favorite with his first dunk of the final, sticking his arm into the hoop and hanging from it by his elbow, just as Vince Carter did while winning the 2000 contest.
And when fans saw a car driving out of the arena tunnel, they waved the checkered flag on this race.
Griffin is in the midst of the busiest All-Star weekend for anybody in the NBA’s recent history. He scored 14 points in Friday’s Rookie Challenge, and he stayed in the dunk contest even after getting chosen for the West squad in Sunday’s main event.
All four dunkers distinguished themselves in Hollywood, showing planning and invention in what’s sometimes a slapdash event.
Ibaka took the court amid several banners for NBA Africa and promptly threw down a Dr. J-style long-jump dunk from the free throw line. Ibaka retrieved a stuffed toy off the rim with his mouth while throwing down his second dunk.
“My first dunk was from the free throw line and it was good,” Ibaka said. “The second one, nobody did it before in the NBA. … (But) it’s amazing to see Blake Griffin do a show like he did. He did a great job.”
McGee brought out a second basket standard attached to a forklift, placing right next to the regular backboard. After several misses, he managed to throw down a left-handed dunk while tossing the other ball off the board to himself for a right-handed jam.
McGee joined Griffin in the second round by dunking three balls on the same leap, slapping home a pass for the third jam. DeRozan couldn’t make the final round despite an impressive second dunk in which he threw a pass to himself off the backboard for a windmill reverse jam.
After Griffin’s elbow dunk in the final, McGee floated underneath the rim and threw down an impossibly twisting jam from the other side.
That’s when Griffin rolled out his wheels.
McGee made another difficult dunk in his final attempt, but Griffin received 68 percent of the fan voting that determines the final result.
Griffin chuckled when asked whether he’ll defend his title next year in Orlando.
“We’ll see. I have to come up with something else,” he said. “Maybe a boat next year.”
Earlier, the Heat finally beat the Celtics at something this season, thanks to Jones’ smooth shooting stroke.
Jones, an eight-year veteran who rarely shoots inside the 3-point line, made five straight shots late in the final round with his ground-bound style. Pierce was the defending champion, and Allen recently became the NBA’s career leader in 3-pointers.
“Those guys were cheering for me, rooting for me,” said Jones, whose new-look Heat have lost three straight this season to the Celtics. “We know we’ve had our struggles against the Celtics in the past, but today the Heat came out on top, so I’m excited about that.”