Obi Toppin: The Untold Truth Of The NBA Dunk Contest Participant

Some of the best basketball moments during the NBA All-Star Weekend happen at the Slam Dunk contest — an event that celebrates that exhilarating moment when a player propels his body into the air and poises the ball along the rim before slamming it in a fluid motion through the hoop. “This is one of the most entertaining aspects of the sport and where being over six feet tall really comes in handy,” according to Rookie Road. “Though it’s easier for taller players to make a slam dunk, shorter players often use their jumping ability to reach the rim and slam the ball through the hoop.” 

New York Knicks rookie forward Obi Toppin, on February 26, became the first announced competitor for the 2021 NBA Dunk contest, scheduled for halftime during the March 7 All-Star Game. At 6 feet, 9 inches, he certainly has the size advantage required. “Toppin’s in-game dunking ability combined with the surprising rise of the Knicks this season makes this selection a no-brainer for the NBA,” said The Knicks Wall. “It also says something that the neophyte was the first-named contestant.”

Despite recent success, Toppin was a bit of a late bloomer

Toppin, as the eighth overall pick of the 2020 draft, became known for his frequent dunks during his college days at Dayton — something he continued in the NBA, according to CBS Sports, which reported that a third of his shots this season were slam dunks. 

A Brooklyn native, Toppin played basketball in high school but never stood out as a star until college. Instead of cementing a relationship with a team during secondary school, Toppin played for several places in two different states. He started with Florida’s Heritage High School in Palm Bay and then Melbourne Central Catholic High School.

For junior year, he returned to New York to Ossining High School where he averaged 20.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, three assists, and three steals, according to Sportcasting. For the first time in 10 years, the team captured a conference title.

Despite the success, Toppin received no Division I offers, but after receiving a scholarship, did a post-graduate year at Mt. Zion Preparatory School in Baltimore, Maryland. The award was a stroke of luck, the school’s head coach knew his godfather and came to see him play. “Most top NBA Draft prospects never consider prep school — they’re given scholarship offers by the time they’re able to drive. Toppin took the long road. He was never ranked by any of the major recruiting services, and only started to come on after the early signing period,” reported SB Nation.

Basketball runs in the family

While early success evaded Toppin, he understood what it took to become a professional player. His father, Obadiah Toppin, played college b-ball for the Globe Institute of Technology and later as a professional in the Dominican Republic and for the Brooklyn Kings in the U.S. Basketball League. He earned a reputation as a skilled dunker, even getting the nickname “Dunker’s Delight.” “He’s best known as a member of the Court Kingz, a once-popular streetball team that sold out gyms while touring the nation,” according to The Undefeated.

His son benefitted from watching so much of the sport during his childhood as well as a late-in-life growth spurt of about 4 inches, which helped Toppin achieve his status. At Mt. Zion, the new, supersized version of himself fiercely impacted the court, where he averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. The college basketball world finally noticed him, and he chose the University of Dayton in Ohio over schools like Georgetown and Texas A&M, according to Sportscasting

Challenges kept him moving forward — his first year at the school, the 2017-2018 season, he redshirted after it was determined he was academically ineligible. So during practices, Toppin played on the scout team. That year he won the Dayton Spirit Award despite his status as an inactive player.

A college career finally makes Toppin a star

It was during a three-game run at the 2019 Maui Invitational where Toppin started to show his potential. He scored 67 points during the tournament, achieving 19 of 25 two-point shots and 21 rebounds, according to Forbes, who reported that ESPN analyst Jay Bilas “praised Toppin’s development and floor presence.” 

His team didn’t beat the Kansas University Jayhawks, who ultimately received the title of champ, but Toppin’s reputation soared. As Bleacher Report pointed out, after the tournament, “he was a diamond on display at Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue. The week of the Maui Invitational, Google searches for his name spiked dramatically. Everyone wanted to know who Toppin was, where he’d come from, and if he could be a Player of the Year contender and an NBA draft lottery pick.”

He made up for lost time during his last two years in Dayton, ending his career as a senior with 1,096 scored points — a rate that puts him in 39th place for the school’s history, according to the Dayton Daily News. He also left with a school dunking record: 190. See some of his best plays on YouTube.

Then there are the awards, with Toppin winning the 2020 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and the Karl Malone Award, among other tributes.

A top NBA draft pick goes home

Toppin spent his 2020 draft day with his parents, his former team member and good friend Jalen Crutcher, and his Dayton head coach Anthony Grant and assistant coach Ricardo Greer, according to the Dayton Daily News. His brother, Jacob, a player for the Kentucky Wildcats, streamed in from an iPad.

When the Knicks chose him as the No. 8 pick, his eyes welled up. “I’m from New York,” he said to the media site. “That’s why it’s important. Me repping my city, it’s amazing. A lot of people would love to be in this position.”

What Toppin’s future holds is yet to be determined. Toppin’s calf injury in the 2020-2021 season made him miss his first 10 games, reported Empire Sports Media. Some, like Fansided, speculate that his rookie year could be better. “Toppin has shown in his rookie year that he’s a great vertical athlete and a capable 3 point shooter, but he’s struggled mightily to create offense for himself and generate easy points,” it stated. “He’s facing significantly better defenders than he faced while playing at Dayton … he’s [also] playing in an offensive system that is completely different than what he played in during his collegiate campaign.”

Others have adopted a wait-and-see attitude and want to see how he develops as a player. The Knicks Wall, for instance, wrote, “Toppin should be given more time because we’re not quite sure what he is yet.” 

A slam dunk winner?

Perhaps, though, Toppin’s addition to the Slam Dunk contest will serve him well. As Posting and Toasting pointed out, “He’s yet to showcase the all-around offensive arsenal he was assigned on draft night, but there is one thing Toppin has definitely done. That’s display the ability to dunk.” 

The slam dunk is a celebrated move, and if any strategy will sweeten a reputation or even a game, this will. A good dunk with its aggressive punch revs up fans and the team, looks good on camera and in social media, and is hard to defend since the bulk of the action occurs close to the rim. It became part of the All-Star game weekend in 1984, held in Denver, Colorado, according to The annual event (except for the years 1998 and 1999) has featured basketball icons such as Michael Jordan (1987 and 1988 victor) and Nate Robinson — the biggest all-time winner (in 2006, 2009, 2010). Perhaps, Toppin’s name will be added to this list?

Toppin can remember the first time he did the move, the summer before his senior year in high school. “It was pure relief,” Toppin said to Bleacher Report  “And then it was excitement. It had taken so long. That’s why I still dunk every time I can now… It’s still such an amazing feeling every time.”

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