basketball Edit

Pt. 1: The Risk Pat Connaughton Took In The NBA Dunk Contest

Leading up to 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend in Chicago, Bucks shooting guard and former Notre Dame standout Pat Connaughton knew he wanted to involve Milwaukee’s biggest stars. He solicited the assistance of his Bucks teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich — both recent MVPs in their mid-to-late 20s — and then began to envision what type of dunk he would do as he jumped over both superstars.

As he imagined the possibilities, Connaughton also became aware of the risk he was taking by involving Antetokounmpo and Yelich.

“I was concerned about the entire state of Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee disliking me because I jumped over two MVPs and God forbid something to happen to either of the two,” Connaughton said with a laugh. “I would have never been able to set foot in the city again.

"Going into the competition, I wanted to make sure I was damn certain that not only could I complete the dunk, but that their health and safety was of the utmost importance.”

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Former Notre Dame men's basketball player Pat Connaughton in competing in the 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, where he dunked over Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich and Buck teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo (Photo Courtesy of the NBA)..
Former Notre Dame men's basketball player Pat Connaughton in competing in the 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, where he dunked over Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich and Buck teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo (Photo Courtesy of the NBA)..

The problem? Neither of the MVPs were available for Connaughton to practice on, so he found a variety of people who were of similar heights to the 6-3 Yelich and the 6-11 Atetokounmpo and began to work on the dunks by jumping over them. But that also meant the first opportunity he had to jump over either player was in front of a soldout United Center Arena and millions of fans watching on TV.

Both dunks were executed to perfection on the first attempt — a facet he said was very important to him — but for his first dunk, which he did over Yelich, he decided to make a statement with his outfit.

Connaughton dressed as Billy Hoyle, actor Woody Harrelson’s character from the film White Men Can’t Jump and wore a tie-dye hat backward to go along with matching beach shorts and a white T-shirt. This outfit is most similar to the one Hoyle is wearing when he throws down for the first time at the end of the movie.

This is also a reference to a stereotype that has been present throughout Connaughton’s playing career. Because of the color of his skin, many underate his athletic abilities. Some even ignore the 44-inch vertical jump he posted at the NBA Combine in 2015, the third-highest of all time.

“I was born in ‘93 and it came out in ‘92, but it’s a movie I had seen hundreds of times,” Connaughton said. “It was a cool movie to watch, but I also felt that especially in today’s day in age, stereotypes are such a big part of our culture, which is unfortunate. But if you can embrace it and you can try to disprove it, play into it and have some fun with it, you can try to inspire some kids.

“The stereotype is literally white men can’t jump.”

While he certainly has God-given talent, Connaughton says he had to work hard to jump as high as he does. When he was in the seventh grade, he made it his goal to be able to dunk before he finished middle school, which he accomplished by working his legs constantly.

During summers in high school, he didn't have to work for his dad on construction sites and focus on athletics as long as he put in as much time and effort into sports as he would a full-time job.

That same work ethic has carried Connaughton throughout his career as a student-athlete at Notre Dame and as professional.

As a right-handed pitcher with a 96 mph fastball, most assumed he’d play baseball after the Baltimore Orioles drafted him in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft and signed him for a bonus of $428,000 (which the Orioles reportedly never attempted to get back).

Instead, he chose to go back to Notre Dame for his senior year, get his degree from the Mendoza College of Business, lead the men's basketball program to an ACC Tournament Championship and to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament and then follow his passion and pursue basketball instead.

He was the No. 41 overall pick by the Brooklyn Nets in the 2015 NBA Draft but his rights were traded to the Portland Trailblazers that night.

Since Connaughton has carved out a lucrative five-year career for himself thus far with no signs of slowing down, and he’s the only former Notre Dame Men’s Basketball player on a current NBA roster.

Connaughton spent his first three seasons in the NBA with the Trailblazers, appearing in 155 games and starting six.

As a free agent in 2018, he signed a two-year contract with the Bucks worth $3,364,050. In Milwaukee, he’s averaged six points and 4.3 rebounds per game and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

In the dunk contest, Connaughton received a score of 45 for his first slam and a 50 for his second, which involved him jumping over Atetokounmpo while also tapping the ball against the backboard before dunking it. Unfortunately, his scores weren’t good enough to get him to the second and final round, which lead to fans and media personalities on the internet claiming Connaughton was robbed.

He says he’s open to competing in the dunk contest next year, assuming he’s invited. But while he may be disappointed in the result, the University of Notre Dame and it’s head men’s basketball coach Mike Brey sees Connaughton’s participation in the dunk contest as a major accomplishment.

“Certainly, he represents our program so well and he’s just loved in that league,” Brey said. “I don’t know how many NBA guys talk about his personality and everything he’s doing. He’s as good as any businessman in the league. I loved his creativity in the dunk contest.”

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