THE WAY I DID IT, BY BRENT BARRY
"I had lunch with Charles Barkley before going over to the Alamodome in San Antonio," says Barry (right), who won the slam-dunk contest in 1996. "If you want good luck, have lunch with Chuck. Just don't watch him eat."
"I kept my warm-up top on. I was going to take it off to show a T-shirt that read WHITE MEN CAN JUMP, but at the last minute I decided that would be too much. When people ask why I had my warm-up on, I say I was cold."
"I didn't let the one-dunker-at-a-time format get me down. It stinks. They should make it like a layup line. Everyone at mid-court, going one by one. After three minutes the judges pick the two best guys and they dunk off. You'd have more fun that way. Guys would loosen up."
"I stayed humble. That weekend I got checked for my I.D. at the hotel at least a half-dozen times by the same security guy. After I won the dunk competition on Saturday, he still checked me! I enjoyed that, I really did."
TIPS FROM THE TOPS
Start slow "Open up strong, but make sure you go for a dunk you can make. Set the stage for yourself. Then, pull out the big-time stuff at the end."
—Desmond Mason, 2001 champ
Start fast "I wanted to make sure I had a lead. I liked the intimidation factor—that you come out and do these dunks and people say, 'Whoa, what can he possibly do next?'"
—Vince Carter, 2000 champ
Wing it "My first year I didn't prepare a whole lot, and just worked off the crowd and won it. Last year I had all this stuff planned and none of it worked out."
—Josh Smith, 2005 champ
Prepare "It has to be done ahead of time. Last year I got Spud Webb [the 1986 winner, to work with me] in the practice gym for 20 minutes before the contest."
—Nate Robinson (left), 2006 champ
Talk to Arenas "Gilbert comes up with crazy ideas. He wanted me to do a dunk nobody else could do. He would say something outrageous, and I would try to do it my own way. I got a lot of my ideas from him."
—Jason Richardson, 2002 and '03 champ
Warm-ups don't matter "I could barely dunk in practice. But you get out in front of the fans, you get that adrenaline going and you jump a lot higher."
—Fred Jones, 2004 champ
Know your limits "My hands have since grown, but at the time I couldn't palm the ball. I couldn't do stuff that Mike [Jordan] and Doc [Dr. J] and those guys used to do. I couldn't take off from the free throw line. I just had to cup the ball and do what I had been doing since high school."
—Kobe Bryant, 1997 champ
Save trash-talking for the game "Just shut up and make your dunks. That's my motto."
MASTER CLASS WITH LARRY BIRD
If you're Larry Bird—who won the three-point shootout three times—remind people Bird famously walked into the locker room before the 1986 contest and said, "Which one of you guys is going to finish second?'"
Adjust your shot "It's more of a set shot. I'd used more legs in a game. Even on spot-ups in a game, I would sort of leap forward, but not there."
Settle in "If I got through the first round, I thought I was going to win it. The first round is toughest because it's loud in there and there's a lot of anticipation. The further I went, the more rhythm I had and it was easier."
Cash in on the money balls [worth two points instead of one] "You've got to make it. I made about all of them."
Get a feel for the clock "My fourth contest, I couldn't believe I didn't get around there quick enough. [He left four balls in the rack.] I guess my concentration wasn't good enough, because that's uncalled for."
TIPS FROM THE TOPS
Find peace and quiet "You're going from one place to the next all weekend, and cameras are in the locker room all the time. I try to sneak away into the training room and hide."
—Dirk Nowitzki, 2006 champ
The money ball feels weird "Last year it was a different material, and it was heavier, so you had to shoot it a little harder."
—Quentin Richardson, 2005 champ
A teammate motivates you "I shoot threes with Jet [Mavs guard Jason Terry] after practice all the time. In last year's contest we had a bet, and we talked smack. We say we bet, but nobody ever pays."
GOLDEN RULES FOR THE SKILLS CHALLENGE
The hardest of the eight tasks is the jumper from the top of the key "Last year I missed five or six, and I was out. Get on a cold streak and it'll cost you."
—Steve Nash, 2005 champ
Don't hurry your passes ... "The passing stations are key. The bounce pass, the baseball pass and the chest pass—you've got to spend a lot of your time making the appropriate pass."
—Baron Davis, 2004 champ
... but fly through the cones "I'd tell anyone to rush through the cones. You can even get cones out [at home] and practice."
—Jason Kidd, 2003 champ
Do not, under any circumstances, finish last "There are four guys. If you place in the top three, you're cool. The fourth one, you don't want to be. Chris Paul placed last [in '06]"—actually it was Nash, but don't tell Dwyane Wade—"We've talked trash to him all year."
—Wade (left), 2006 champ
ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES (SIGN)
ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES (SHOWGIRLS)
ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES
ANDY HAYT (BIRD)
SUE OGROCKI/AP (WADE)
ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (ROBINSON)
BARRY GOSSAGE/NBA/ALLSPORT (BARRY)