After three years in the league, another childhood dream has come true for Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons.
The 21-year-old from Bradenton, Florida is heading to Atlanta this weekend to participate in the 2021 All-Star weekend.
Simons is one of three players to participate in this year’s Slam Dunk Contest.
He will be joined by Cassius Stanley of the Indiana Pacers and Obi Toppin of the New York Knicks as the three compete and show off their hops, athleticism, and creativeness Sunday evening.
The participants were announced Tuesday.
Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported Tuesday that New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson will not participate this year.
The dunk contest is scheduled for Halftime of the All-Star Game. And it’s something that has had Simons smiling about for days.
“First when I found out I was kind of in shock,” Simons said ahead of Wednesday’s home game against the Warriors. “I didn’t really expect to get selected for it. I was just excited to be in the competition that I watched growing up.”
While the dunk competition is normally the big headliner for All-Star Saturday Night during traditional All-Star Weekends, the pandemic has changed the format this year.
Sunday, the Skills Competition and Three-Point Contest will take place before the game with the Slam Dunk Contest serving as halftime entertainment.
Trail Blazers forward Derrick Jones Jr., who won the competition last year while with the Heat, has given Simons a few words of advice.
“Derrick’s been telling me just, ‘you’re going to have fun, have fun with it, and the one thing is – to make sure you make your dunk the first time’ -- that’s the one thing he’s emphasized to me.”
Here are the most recent Slam Dunk Champs:
- 2020 -- Derrick Jones Jr. with the Miami Heat
- 2019 -- Hamidou Diallo with the Thunder
- 2018 -- Donovan Mitchell with the Jazz
- 2017 -- Glenn Robinson III with the Pacers
- 2016 -- Zach LaVine with the Timberwolves
- 2015 -- Zach LaVine with the Timberwolves)
- 2014 -- John Wall with Wizards
Growing up, Simons looked to Vince Carter’s between-the-legs dunk as the Holy Grail of dunks.
“I saw Vince Carter do it for the first time growing up,” Simons said. “I would just go home and work on it on my mini hoop… He inspired me to want to do that dunk.”
Other influencers on Simons’ dunking ways were Dwight Howard and Tracy McGrady; which makes sense growing up just down the road from him in Orlando.
But as Simons spoke about his excitement to get this opportunity, he wouldn’t give any hints on what type of slams he has up his sleeve for this weekend.
“I’m going to keep it a secret.”
The third-year guard says he's going to be excited and nervous, but he can’t wait for Sunday.
“But hopefully that makes me jump higher,” Simons said with a smile.
As for what his teammates have told him in preparation for the big day, they want to make sure he understands that he needs to make his first or second dunk, or it’s going to be an uphill battle to get high marks from the judges.
His teammates also want to see unique Ant dunks.
“Just try to do something that nobody else has done before. That’s what I’ve been trying to think of – just do something that somebody has never seen or somebody’s never done,” Simons added.
This week, Simons has also been studying previous contests while making sure to get time in to work on his dunks.
And he says, he is still considering using “some kind of prop” and some involvement from his teammates who will be in attendance with Damian Lillard participating in his sixth All-Star game and Robert Covington participating in the Skills Challenge.
Ant is ready to take flight and now the entire NBA will get a chance to see what the Blazers have seen for years.