Howard soars like Superman to win Slam Dunk title

( dpa )- Last year, he couldn't get off the ground in the opening round, but Dwight Howard did a great impersonation of Superman to fly away with the 2008 Slam Dunk title on NBA All-Star Saturday night. Taking creativity to another level, Howard rocked the rim, dazzled the New Orleans Arena crowd and left the celebrity judges impressed in beating out defending champion Gerald Green of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Though he appeared to be the clear-cut winner, it was confirmed minutes later by fans from around the world, who gave the Orlando Magic centre 78 per cent of their text-messaged votes. "I really wanted to win it because everybody said I couldn't do it, and I believe in myself and I believe I could do it," Howard said. "That's all I was saying in my head . ' I'm going to win the dunk contest.'" "I just came out with some exciting dunks that my teammates helped me with." Besides beating Green, Howard took down high-flyers Jamario Moon of the Toronto Raptors and the Memphis Grizzlies' Rudy Gay, in an extraordinary display of power and originality, rarely exhibited in a 6-foot-11 shot-blocking giant. "Dwight Howard was exciting, he had imagination and he brought drama to it, said LA Lakers all-time great Magic Johnson, who served as one of five judges . "He took it back to the old school dunkers of Michael Jordan, Dr. J (Julius Erving), Vince Carter. Dwight Howard did his thing." For the second year in a row, Green was creative enough to defend his title, but Howard was better. "I completed all my dunks, but what I seen from Dwight was stuff I never seen before," Green said. "I was very impressed." In his first two dunks, Howard used teammates and props to score a perfect 50 from former NBA greats turned judges, Erving, Darryl Dawkins, Dominque Wilkins, Karl Malone and Johnson. However in his next dunk, Howard ripped off his jersey and under it was a blue one with the familiar "S" emblazoned on the front a la Superman. Along with a red cape, the giant took to flight from mid-court and powered down a dunk that brought down the house. "I came up with the idea to take off from as far as I can and just try to fly." Howard explained. Said former NBA star-turned TV analyst Kenny Smith: "That was one of the top three dunks of all-time." Green never lacked creativity either, especially on his second trip to the basket, he called, "The Birthday Cake." After placing a cupcake with a single candle in it on the back of the rim, Green soared to the basket, and blew out the candle while throwing down the left-handed dunk. That was before the mild-mannered Howard turned into Superman. Green tried to stay close when he removed his sneakers and in a green pair of socks, threw down a dunk. But it couldn't top Howard's display on a night he fell to Superman. Long-distance sharpshooter Jason Kapono set the stage for Howard in record-tying fashion to win his second consecutive Three-Point Shootout crown. The league's top three-point shooter from the Toronto Raptors scored 25 points in his final round on 10-of-12 shooting, including two "money balls" worth two points apiece, matching Craig Hodges' 22-year old record. Cleveland's Daniel Gibson, who nailed 11 3-pointers in Friday night's Rookie Challenge event, finished second with 17 points in the final round. On his way to defending the crown, Kapono eliminated New Orleans Hornets' home-town hero and two-time champion Peja Stojakovic, two-time league MVP Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns and reigning-league MVP Dirk Nowitzi, a late replacement for injured LA Lakers star Kobe Bryant. If Deron Williams was nervous, he never let on as the speedy Utah Jazz point guard raced around the New Orleans Arena in record setting time of 25.5 seconds in the final round - nearly six seconds better than home town favourite Chris Paul - to easily win the Skills Challenge. "This is my first time in the competition and these guys have been in it before, so I was a little nervous," Williams said. Two-time defending champion Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat (53.9 seconds) and New Jersey Nets' Jason Kidd (39.7 seconds) were eliminated in the first round of the league's version of an obstacle course consisting of dribbling, passing and shooting. Team San Antonio tipped off the festive fan favourite night as Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Becky Hammon won the Shooting Stars competition for the second time in the last three years. With seven-footers Duncan and Robinson uncharacteristically draining mid-court shots, the Texas trio defeated Team Chicago, consisting of Chris Duhon, B.J. Armstrong and Candice Dupree with a time of 35.8 seconds. Last year's winner, Team Detroit with Chauncey Billups, Bill Laimbeer and Swin Cash fell in the first round.

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