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He Got (Nate) Robbed: The Oral History of the 2006 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

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Where were you when Andre Iguodala got his 2006 NBA Dunk Contest championship snatched away?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Someday in the not-too-distant future, the Sixers will be sending their entire roster to participate in All-Star Weekend events. As the franchise builds toward that day, we're left to reflect on moments past that fade with each passing year. One that's hard to forget is Andre Iguodala's display and subsequent snub at the 2006 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

Iguodala, then in the midst of his sophomore season and a few years shy of his big-money extension, was still in the good graces of Philadelphia as the other AI's sidekick. One day prior, he turned in an MVP effort during the annual Rookie-Sophomore showcase, powering the second-year players to a win with 30 points. Charles Barkley jokingly opined that Iguodala scored so much because, "he's trying to get it out of his system before he goes back to Philly [and plays with Allen Iverson]."

His in-game affinity for dunks and alley-oop finishes earned him a spot in a decent dunk field featuring reigning champion Josh Smith (still young enough to shrug off his shot selection), Hakim Warrick ("He's got a chance because he's been resting up all season"), and Nate Robinson, the token short man. The words that follow are a recollection of that evening.

Kobe Surprise

The First Round

The contest got underway without much of a clear favorite. TNT's crew was high on Warrick's athletic ability, banking on him using the national stage to finally earn some shine at the professional level. Smith won the contest the year before, but Robinson -- likely recipient of the usual "short guy bonus points" -- and Iguodala were given more of a chance than the Hawks forward.

That looked wise after the first round of dunks. Smith made an odd decision to place a piece of masking tape well before the free-throw line, seemingly indicating his take-off point. When his launch pad was decidedly further forward, the peanut gallery let him have it.

Charles Barkley (Remedial math student, Turner Sports): Maybe he's cross-eyed -- he didn't jump from the white tape.

Kenny Smith (Dunk Contest Supervillian, Turner Sports): I guess the tape was just to let us know he was going to jump from there another time. Come on Josh, it's championship night, he won it [the year before].

Anthony Capelli (So So Def Records): Most anti-climatic moment of my life at this point. It would eventually be topped in a few years when I lost my virginity. Would love to hear the conversation he had after trying to explain the point of the tape to Nate Robinson. This dunk contest needs a 30 for 30.

Robinson emerged from the first series of dunks with 49 points, surging ahead of the field early. It's important to note that the panel of judges was a skewed group -- Kenny Smith represented the guards, Clyde Drexler was dunk royalty and Rudy Tomjanovich, Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone made up the over-represented big-man group.

Still, after the second round there seemed to be no debate as to who was going to eventually take home the crown. Iguodala cleared photographers out from behind the basket and prepared to make history with an off-the-back glass, one-handed reverse.

Matt Carey (Gary Harris enthusiast): It was the ultra-rare time where a miss actually brings more anticipation, to where everyone is like "Wait, he's doing what?" Kobe's face after Iggy doesn't hit it on the first try was an exact replica of my face.

Michael Levin (Editor Emeritus, Liberty Ballers): Best dunk contest dunk I've ever seen. It was 2006, so my reaction to it was probably Chamillionaire-esque.

Jake Fischer (Boston Globe): The fact that Iggy even got Allen Iverson to pass the ball should have instantly won the title.

Roy Burton (Host, The BS Line): With the exception of Vince Carter's Elbow Dunk, there has never been a better dunk in a competition than Iggy's second slam.

We've seen just about every dunk recycled over the years -- East Bay, anyone? No one has tried to replicate Iggy's masterpiece because it's SO [redacted] HARD TO DO. Effortlessly dunking the basketball while simultaneously trying to avoid a concussion is a feat unlike any other.

Shamus Clancy, Philadelphia Daily News: What does it say about this franchise that my most distinct memory of the team in between the '01 Finals and 'Dre's free throws against the Bulls in the '12 playoffs is from some random contest? It's the greatest post-Vinsanity Dunk Contest moment.

Steve Kerr (Warriors Head Coach): I think Iguodala's dunk was the most underrated dunk I've ever seen in the contest's history.

Allen Iverson (Practice protester): He came up with it. He just said, "Throw the ball off the backboard, I'll do the rest."

Levin: The 2008 Phillies were still two years and a David Bell trade away from ending the 1983 drought. This was to be our championship. Finally, I'd live to see a winner in Philadelphia. I had no idea everything was about to go so horribly, pint-sizedly wrong.

Dunk off

The Finals

Iguodala's perfect 50 on the second dunk launched him into the final, where he would go head-to-head with crowd favorite Robinson. Maybe more like head-to-waist.

Robinson's first dunk was an interpretation of a couple standbys, an off-the-backboard pass into a through the legs windmill. The problem with Robinson's flush was the volume of attempts it took to get there -- almost three minutes transpired between him picking the ball up and his finally completed attempt.


Tanner Steidel (President, Ja Rule Fan Club): Where was the time-limit/attempt maximum rule? People like to be conspiracy theorists about every outcome ever in the NFL, but nobody takes a second glance to this atrocity? The rule conveniently disappears the year the one guy who can benefit the most from it being gone participates?

Kyle Neubeck (Dunk Contest Truther): Setting aside how many times he got to keep trying, how did he not lose points for scaling it back halfway through his 50 attempts? He ended up nixing the backboard pass and just going through the legs. Was I supposed to be impressed that he was unable to finish what he started?

Carey: I almost expected one of the seven footers to come out and lift him up to the rim so he could dunk it. Come to think of it, had this happened, I would have supported Nate's victory.

Levin: Nate tried this dunk and failed 133 times in a row. I'm surprised a TNT network executive didn't force them into a commercial break like on RAW during a Juventud Guerrera/Funaki match after a particularly devastating frogsplash to both parties. The entire run of the television show LOST came and went.

Carey: When Nate kept missing, the reaction felt like when you're trying to encourage a small child. I think people were fooled by Nate's size into thinking that he was actually a child, and thus needed nothing but positive feedback.

Magic Johnson (Proving Carey's point): We're all happy for him that he made it, he would have been crushed if he didn't make it.

Unlike his fellow competitor, Iguodala brought the 50-point funk in a timeframe shorter than Mike Jones' 2006 classic 'Back Then'. After going behind-the-back in midair and throwing down a windmill, TNT's Kevin Harlan declared '"It's done," while Barkley was so convinced of his victory that he transitioned into talking about Damon Jones' wardrobe -- a particularly loud red suit.

With nowhere else to turn, Robinson pulled out what would end up being his trump card. Summoning former champion Spud Webb from the crowd, Robinson received a puzzling 50 for jumping over the shortest man to ever win the Dunk Contest.

Barkley: I [wasn't] sure they're going to give him a lot of love for jumping over another short guy.

Levin: 'Watch as I eat this whole raisin in one bite!' I remain disgusted.

Clancy: A guy who only made it this far because of his height is joined by another guy who only won the dunk contest because he makes Iverson look like Sim Bhullar. The crowd and judges have already been turned and are rooting for the guy who's the size of a Sixers ball boy. Our dear Andre has become the heel.

Burton: The fix was clearly in for lil' Nate. After the Chris Andersen Incident from the year before, there's no way Nate Robinson should have received a 44 for his first dunk in the finals. Besides, after the behind-the-backboard dunk, how can you honestly give any other slam a 10?

Iguodala looked to close out the contest with a through-the-legs reverse, a safe play that wasn't going to lose him the contest. Here's where things really took a turn -- after repeatedly declaring that it didn't matter how many times Robinson missed his last attempt, the TNT crew (which included judge Smith) crowed about "opening the door" for Robinson.

In a more egregious display, Smith initially reached for a "9" card, which would have given the victory to the Sixers swingman. Instead, after looking down at his fellow judges and doing some quick mental math, Smith rescinded his score and put up the "8 card", producing a dramatic tie.

Steidel: The NBA's version of Survivor Series 97 right here. And I won't rest until both events are rectified.

Levin: I could kill Kenny Smith. With my bare hands, I could kill Kenny Smith.

We got robbed

The Dunk-Off

Despite all momentum being on his side, Robinson turned in another ghastly performance in the overtime session, missing 13 attempts and throwing his setup pass off the screen more than once. After finally, painfully completing the through-the-legs pass punctuated by an ordinary finish, 47 points went to the Knicks sprite.

Fischer: The ridiculous through the legs pass in the dunk-off literally put my younger brother to sleep. It was past his bedtime, but still.

Levin: A fucking jump pass. I couldn't watch this anymore. I went to the same place to cry as I did in the Eagles/Patriots Super Bowl, thus missing the Greg Lewis touchdown.

Clancy: If you attempt a dunk more than three times, it's over. Boom, you're out. Iguodala could've come up with a dunk that had him launching through the roof of the arena off a flying pirate ship captained by Pat Croce if he had 14 tries.

For his final attempt, Iguodala went baseline, stuffing home a through-the-legs, under-the-rim finish that should have been enough to win. He sauntered toward the cavalcade of players on the sideline, dapping A.I. and getting ready to celebrate his victory when the scores rolled in. The judges struck again -- an unnamed judge pulled back a "10" card, leaving him one point shy of Robinson's final round score.

Boos cascaded from the crowd; the same people pulling for Robinson all night were outraged at the transparent match fixing taking place on the hardwood. It was over; everyone lost on that day.

Kobe stank face

The Aftermath

The NBA's darkest moment would lead to a sea of changes in the format. A timer would be implemented in future contests, eliminating the possibility for someone to capitalize through sheer volume of attempts. Robinson's futility was so great that he forever altered the competition -- some legacy for a winner.

Iguodala, assumed to be a contender for the dunk crown for years to come, would never again step foot in the contest. He maintained radio silence on the event for years, preferring not to interject with his opinion on the heist. It took almost six years to pry the truth from him, enclosed in an one-off tweet.

It was a tragedy that stuck with him for a long time, and likely still does. He wasn't the only one who carries haunting memories from that fateful evening.

Capelli: The entire ending was bullshit.

Levin: Nate Robinson doesn't win this if he's not wearing a Knicks jersey. Fuck New York. Fuck short people. Fuck Kenny Smith. I'm glad KJ [McDaniels] didn't do the dunk contest, because I never want another Sixer to do it until the NBA admits that this was a travesty. I'm out. Get the damn camera out my face, man.

Carey: My ultimate lasting memory from this dunk contest, besides THE DUNK, was Iverson yelling "We got robbed." Because we did get robbed. We all got robbed.

Clancy: "Now, no matter what your size, you know you can play in the NBA!" I'm four inches taller than Nate and I am an all-time bad pickup basketball player, the homeless man's Spencer Hawes on a half-court blacktop. This was all a sham, and not even a good sham like God Shammgod or my own name.

Fischer: Iggy's OT dunk was better than anything Robinson did all night... and it still got a 46. Justice needs to be served.

Burton: The 2006 NBA Slam Dunk Contest was the worst travesty that I had ever witnessed in the world of sports. That, of course, was before Roman Reigns won the Royal Rumble last month.

Steidel: I refuse to re-watch that disgrace of a dunk contest which, in reality, was just a whoever can jump the highest contest. Is Nate's vertical greater than Dre's? I don't know, but his jumping ability was the only reason he got the trophy. One viewing of it in Mikey Hamane's basement is enough for me.

Dave Reuter (Gentleman, Scholar): Do I remember where I was during the '06 Dunk Contest? Yeah, I remember.

There was an open seat at the bar next to an older gentleman. His name was Robert, but his close friends called him Ted. By the end of the night, I, too, would call him Ted. The bar was showing the Slam Dunk Contest. We watched, talked. He shared stories of Bernard King. I shared stories from the latest episode of Larry King. We talked about love, life, family, the job market.

We played a game of Risk. Ted taught me how to fish, and change a tire. I taught Ted how to feel young again. We were just two friends, old friends, best friends even, wishing the night would never end. Grandpa Ted and me.

After nine and half hours, Ted and I settled up with the barkeep, shook hands and went our separate ways. Nate Robinson was still on the TV, still trying to dunk a basketball.