Robinson defends; King James passes

Updated: January 18, 2010, 11:36 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Nate Robinson says he'll be defending his slam dunk title at All-Star Weekend because he's required to do so under NBA rules.

In actuality, he isn't.

LeBron James won't be trying to unseat the champion, and it's not clear why he changed his mind.

Robinson
Robinson
James
James

Less than a month before the NBA holds its signature event, Robinson threw a potential monkey wrench into the All-Star festivities when he declared Monday he'll be participating in the dunk contest because "the champion has to go back."

"The NBA, they asked me: 'Do you want to do it?' And at first I wasn't sure. This is my fourth time doing it, so I know people probably get sick of seeing me dunk, but like I said, the champion's got to go back," Robinson said after scoring 27 points to lead the New York Knicks to a 99-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday.

"And I guess, hopefully, I mean if I don't win it, it'll be good because I don't want to go back no more. But if I do [win], and they want me to go back again, I guess so. Keep going until I lose," Robinson said.

But Robinson's information was incorrect.

"He was asked to come back and defend his title, and he agreed to do so. There is not a rule saying he has to," NBA spokesman Mark Broussard said.

The NBA's collective bargaining agreement requires players to compete in All-Star Saturday events only if they have been selected as All-Stars, or chosen to compete in the Rookie-Sophomore Game.

Players voted in as All-Stars by the fans, or selected by the coaches or the commissioner, can decline to participate in the dunk contest. But they are compelled to participate in any of the other Saturday events, including the 3-point shootout and the skills competition, that the NBA asks them to be a part of.

That rule, from Article XXI of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, is the reason why the NBA cannot force James to be in the dunk contest.

A year ago, on All-Star Weekend, James said: "Right now I'm preliminarily putting my name in the 2010 contest Saturday night. LeBron James is saying in 2010, in Dallas Stadium, [preliminarily] he will compete."

But his name was conspicuously missing when the list of participants (Robinson, Gerald Wallace, Shannon Brown and the winner of a dunk-in between Eric Gordon and DeMar DeRozan) was announced Monday.

"I was hoping so," Robinson said of James' possible participation. "It would be good for the fans and the NBA, pretty cool to get him and some other big names in it, but those guys are All-Stars, they don't need to waste their time doing dunks and stuff like that. They're right where they need to be, which is All-Stars playing Sunday."

Brown, on the other hand, is thrilled to be included.

"I'm super excited," he told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin. "I'd like to say thank you to everybody that campaigned for me, everybody that voted for me, everybody that had my back this whole time. It's going to be something to watch. It's going to be a great time.

"I'm headed to the drawing board now. I got a couple ideas in my head. I'm not going to give them away."

Robinson won the dunk contest at All-Star weekend in Phoenix last year, three years after he won his inaugural dunk contest in Houston in 2006. He said he would not revisit the Kryptonite dunk ("that ship has sailed") that earned him the title over Dwight Howard last year, and he said he would lobby for his friend Terrence Williams of the New Jersey Nets to be included should any of the participants withdraw.

Robinson also was under the mistaken impression that the 3-point shootout winner was required to defend his title.

"It's in the rulebook," he said. "You win, you go back. Every year."

One other factor could impact Robinson' participation in this year's dunk contest -- especially after he discovers that his presence is not required. ESPN.com learned Monday that the National Basketball Players Association filed an official grievance on Robinson's behalf Friday to protest the $25,000 fine that was levied against him after his agent, Aaron Goodwin, publicly stated last month that Robinson wished to be traded.

Robinson would not answer directly when he was asked exactly who had told him that his participation was mandatory. He said he decided to compete "a couple days ago."

"It's a dunk contest, it's all fun and games, mostly for kids," Robinson said. "Now they want me back, and hopefully I can go in and be the first one ever to win three. That's my goal, to be the first one ever to win three dunk contests, so it's time to get back to practicing."

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.