While on his way to winning the NBA Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday night in Charlotte, Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Hamidou Diallo showed the swagger and poise of a seasoned veteran.
“It’s the New York in me,” said Diallo, with a smile.
The LeFrak City, Queens native’s most memorable dunk of the competition saw the 6-5 guard soar over 7-1 Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, finishing with his arm in the cylinder up to his elbow — an ode to 2000 dunk champion Vince Carter. He had to practice the slam without the four-time NBA champion and current Inside the NBA analyst, finding alternate ways to prepare.
“We tried a bunch of things,” Diallo said. “We tried having people stand, putting basketballs on top of them, just to make sure I could clear the shot, so it was tough.”
Diallo, who defeated New York Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. in the final round, said he never let the fear of missing the dunk over a man of Shaq’s size creep into his mind.
“I’m thinking [of the] best-case scenario, which is make it, [and] get the crowd going, and get 50.”
The dunk, which he produced during the first round of the contest, did secure a perfect score of 50 from the judges and help him cruise into the finals. In a nod to Shaq, Diallo tore open his jersey to reveal the iconic Superman ‘S’ underneath.
Before calling upon O’Neal, Diallo was aided by teammate Russell Westbrook for his first slam of the night, a dunk they only practiced once that earned a 48. “Russ knew from our last game in New Orleans,” Diallo said. “We tried it after shoot-around. We only did it one time, and after that, it was like, all right, this is what we’re going to do for my first dunk.”
Diallo noted that the idea to bound over Shaq didn’t come easy.
"It took quite a while," he said. "I mean, it was definitely a long thought process."
Diallo hinted at participating in the competition again in the future, when asked about which dunk ideas he didn’t try.
“I had a couple of dunks that didn’t make the cut, but maybe I should save them for when I compete in this again," he said. "It was just great being out there, great competing with those guys. All those guys are great dunkers. Just had a nice time out there.”