LOS ANGELES - In a concrete tunnel beneath the stands at Staples Center, two workers fussed over a silver car, cleaning and waxing, getting it ready to be wheeled onto the arena's floor.
The NBA dunk contest was still an hour or so away, but a rumor had already made the rounds: Someone was going to park that car in front of the basket and jump over it.
“We heard that,” one of the workers said. “It’s going to be Blake Griffin, right?”
With the Crenshaw Choir singing “I Believe I Can Fly” at midcourt, the Clippers rookie comfortably cleared the car’s hood and took an alley-oop pass from teammate Baron Davis popping out of the sunroof.
His thunderous finish earned a 68 percent approval from fans voting online and by text, giving him the dunk contest title.
“When they first came to me they said there were no rules,” Griffin said. “I was like, ‘So I can jump over a car? Yeah? Oh, maybe I have to do it now.’ I figured I could probably clear it, and Baron came up with the choir.”
Add another memorable moment to an All-Star weekend that has become a Griffin lovefest, the local star also appearing in the rookie game Friday and in today’s main event.
“He jumped over a car,” said Minnesota’s Kevin Love, shaking his head. “You don’t see that too often.”
Griffin said members of the Clippers organization nervously watched him practice the dunk over the car.
“I could have clipped my foot, I guess,” Griffin said. “That’s what I was afraid of — just clip my foot on the side and smash my face into the car. Fortunately, it worked out.”
No one knew what to expect this time, if only because the competition featured four new faces: Griffin, JaVale McGee of the Washington Wizards, DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors and Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But All-Star Saturday was a showcase for Griffin, who started the contest with an irresistible 360-degree spin dunk before converting a bounce pass off the side of the backboard in the first round.
The first rookie All-Star in eight years then brought back a difficult favorite with his first dunk of the final, sticking his arm into the hoop and hanging from it by his elbow, just as Vince Carter did while winning the 2000 contest.
And when fans saw the car driving out of the arena tunnel, this contest already seemed to be over.
McGee, lost despite dunking balls into adjacent baskets on one leap, and then dunking three balls at once. Ibaka lost even though he dunked a ball while grabbing a stuffed animal off the rim with his teeth.
“Nothing’s going to beat a car unless I bring out a plane or something,” McGee said.
McGee got creative in the first round, ordering a second basket standard attached to a forklift and placed right next to the hoop. After several misses, he managed to throw down a left-handed dunk while tossing the other ball off the backboard to himself for a right-handed jam, earning a perfect 50.
Immediately after winning the contest, Griffin told the crowd, “I want to dedicate to this to my best friend who passed away.”
He is giving the winning trophy to the parents of Wilson Holloway, an Oklahoma high school teammate who died Wednesday of cancer.
Miami’s James Jones held off Boston teammates Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to win his first 3-point shootout, and Golden State’s Stephen Curry won the Skills Challenge. Pierce was the defending champion, and Allen recently became the career leader in 3-pointers.