As one of the most fearless posterizers in the NBA, just about every basketball fan would love to see Ja Morant enter the Dunk Contest. But the Grizzlies star point guard is completely cool watching it from home this year. And chances are with the way he talks about it, we may never see him in it. Kind of like how LeBron James has famously declined to participate in it over his 18 years despite millions of pleas from dunk enthusiasts.
“I haven’t thought about it, but since you brung it up I’m pretty sure people have been begging LeBron and asking him the same way I’m getting asked,” says Morant.
Oh, they have, although the pleas aren’t quite as intense now that he’s 36 compared to a decade ago. James never appearing in a Dunk Contest has arguably only added to his aura since we were never subjected to LeBron missing a bunch of silly slams in a meaningless contest. A vicious in-game dunker, James smartly avoided the extra wear and tear that comes with preparing and appearing in a Dunk Contest because NBA championships are way more memorable.
That’s basically Morant’s mindset. We all know the kind of bounce he possesses, the ferocious dunks he can throw down. But as the Grizzlies fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, Morant is way more concerned with staying healthy for the second half of the season than putting on a show during halftime of Sunday’s All-Star Game. While minds can certainly change, it doesn’t sound like it’s something that’s ever going to interest him so we can cool it with asking him about the Dunk Contest.
“As far as right now, it’s a no for me. It’s a lot of guys who are capable of putting on a show in that Dunk Contest,” says Morant.
We caught up with the 2020 NBA Rookie of the Year by phone last week to talk about the Grizzlies season, why there’s weirdly only 12 All-Star slots instead of 14, and his new spot for BODYARMOR.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
A couple of weeks ago you said you’re beginning to get back to feeling like yourself. You’ve have a few big games since then so I’m wondering if you feel like you’re fully back to being Ja Morant?
I can’t put a timetable on it, but as the season keeps going and we continue to play games I’m feeling more comfortable out there playing, especially coming back from injury—whether it’s getting back to shape or being fully healthy. I understand it’s a process. I definitely feel better than I first came back from injury.
Is there a specific sign that will allow you to know you’re fully back or more just a feeling you’re going to have in a random game?
I always think it’s just a random sign that I’m feeling like I’m in a groove and rhythm. I feel like it just depends on how the game’s going and how I’m playing.
Well, you had that awesome game against New Orleans where you went for 28 and threw down that dunk that got a funny reaction out of Zion Williamson. You’re one of the best posterizers in the league. I’m curious what’s your favorite dunk through your first two seasons?
Favorite dunk would probably be the one over Aron Baynes against Phoenix. It was late in the game, which kind of sealed the deal for us to win the game. Also I felt like the degree of difficulty—going left, but dunking coming back right—that’s something I didn’t know I would’ve done.
Is there anything that would make you change your mind about doing the Dunk Contest in the future because you know we’d all love to see you in it?
Nah, as of right now I don’t think nothing [laughs] would make me change my mind.
If you keep saying no you’re going to mirror LeBron James—we’ve all fantasized about what he could’ve done in the Dunk Contest, but maybe refusing to do it adds to his aura. Have you ever thought about that parallel?
I haven’t thought about it, but since you brung it up I’m pretty sure people have been begging LeBron and asking him the same way I’m getting asked. As far as right now, it’s a no for me. It’s a lot of guys who are capable of putting on a show in that Dunk Contest.
Any snubs on the All-Star squads that really surprised you?
I feel like the guys who made the All-Star team are very worthy. Obviously there’s not enough slots for everybody. We can’t control who gets picked and all of that. But congrats to all the All-Stars this season.
Does it make any sense why the NBA still has All-Star rosters set at 12 while you guys have a minimum of 14 players every night?
[Laughs] Another thing I can’t control. I guess it’s a league rule or something they believe in. As far as that goes, I guess it’s going to be 12 players until they change it.
You’ve said you don’t like to speak on your game, yet you’re one of the best young players in the NBA. Why don’t you like talking about game?
Because I always know I can get better. I’m never satisfied. As far as speaking on my game—people saying you’re one of the top players in this league, etc.—I know I can still get better in areas of my game. With that and me being humble, what I had to go through to actually get to this point, are the reasons why I don’t speak on my game.
How closely have you been following what’s going on with NBA Top Shot because you have a card—the Aron Baynes dunk—that previously went for $100,000?
I haven’t. I just actually seen NBA players and people tweet about it. I actually had one mention, I think in a tweet about my card.
There was a report recently that LeBron might put together an album featuring all his friends in the music industry. If you could executive produce an album and get whoever you wanted on there who would you pick?
That’s a tough question. I’m definitely picking Lil Baby. I might throw some Jay-Z on there. Some Drake. Gotta put Moneybagg on there. NBA YoungBoy, Lil Durk, those guys for sure. Probably throw Nipsey on there. That’s probably some of the people that would be on the album.
So what can we expect from this new BODYARMOR Edge ad?
I’m excited to be part of the first ever ad a campaign for BODYARMOR Edge and I’m also excited to see how BODYARMOR continues to transform the sports drink category with new drinks athletes want and need.
And you took an equity partnership with the company rather than just being a paid spokesman. Why did you choose to go that route because it’s not the typical one for a young athlete?
It was just something that I felt like was kind of best for me. I’m a big fan of BODYARMOR and also appreciate them offering me that opportunity and believing in me. I feel like we have that same mindset of trying to be the best that we can be. As far as that route, I just felt like it was the better option for me.