I’m not sure in what hypothetical world your life would depend on a 3-point contest. Maybe you’re wired to an explosive Pop-A-Shot machine that will detonate if your contestant doesn’t make 20 of 25 shots. Maybe a nuclear missile is about to be fired from a hole 18 inches in diameter, and you have one minute to plug the hole with as many basketballs as possible. Just imagine it’s all on the line.
Which 3-point contest winner would you pick if your life depended on it? We narrowed the field to 10 — five of the six multiple-time winners (sorry, Jeff Hornacek, no current coaching of the Knicks can be trusted) along with Steve Kerr, Ray Allen, Quentin Richardson, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
“Q-Rich?” you say. Well, you’ll just have to read the rest, now, won’t you?
1988 Larry Bird
Larry Legend walked into the locker room before the inaugural 3-point shootout in 1986 and asked his fellow contestants, “Which one of you guys is going to finish second?” Two years later, after winning the first two competitions, he said, “I didn’t have to say anything. They all knew who was going to win.”
This time, Bird didn’t even bother to take off his warmups. “It keeps me warm, so why take it off?” he told reporters at the time. “The other guys know I’m the favorite, so it gets easier every year.”
Sure enough, needing nine points to win with two racks to go in the final round, he swept the first and — after missing two to start the final rack — knocked down two straight to tie Dale Ellis. After releasing the money ball, he pointed skyward and walked away even before the winning shot found the net.
Asked about his his inspiration afterwards, Bird pointed to the $12,500 winner’s check. Money.
1991 Craig Hodges
My second-favorite Craig Hodges 3-point shootout moment came in 1993, when the NBA allowed the three-time defending champion to participate in the contest even though he was a free agent who hadn’t played all season (and wouldn’t ever return), and he just wore a jersey that said NBA on it.
But Hodges’ best moment came in 1991. Having already won the year before and posted the top score in the first round, he started the semifinals by hitting 19 straight — still the record for consecutive 3’s in the shootout by six. It was a ludicrous display of shooting that gave us hope for a perfect round.
Even his first miss — the money ball on the penultimate rack — was on line. He made the first two on the final rack to break his own record for most shots made in a round (still standing at 21) and missed his final three attempts, falling one point shy of the single-round scoring record he set in 1986 (25).
They should still let the dude compete in a free-agent NBA jersey every year for this performance.
1994 Mark Price
The 1994 shootout field was stacked, including six of the 41 players in NBA history with a career 3-point percentage of 40 percent or better (Price, Steve Kerr, Dale Ellis, Dell Curry, Dana Barros and B.J. Armstrong). Still, Price entered a heavy favorite after knocking off Hodges and company a year earlier.
He survived the first round before heating up in the semifinals. Or, as Charles Barkley put it during the broadcast, “He heat up, and then he caught fire.” Price made 13 of his first 15 shots and 17 total in the second round. He followed by making 20 of 25 shots in the finals — the most ever in a championship round, despite missing his final three shots. Price finished shooting 74 percent in the final two rounds.
Imagine being so good at making 3’s that you can open up your own shooting lab to fix NBA jumpers.
1997 Steve Kerr
Kerr lost the three previous 3-point shootouts. It got so bad that, after he escaped the first round and got off to a slow start in the ’97 semis, the broadcast crew called him the Susan Lucci of the contest.
Even as Kerr knocked down five straight at the top of the key, the crew was critiquing his shot, and Julius Erving went so far as to say, “He’s also small, and I think the later rounds hurt him.” So, Kerr proceeded to sink all five of his shots on the final rack to finish the semifinals with 21 points, and then bested that performance in the championship round, knocking off defending champ Tim Legler.
2001 Ray Allen
Ray Allen entered six 3-point shootouts and only won one, and even then he barely beat Peja Stojakovic in both rounds of the competition. But it’s blasphemy not to include Jesus Shuttlesworth, owner of the sweeting stroke in NBA history, among the options to save your life in a 3-point contest.
2003 Peja Stojakovic
The Croatian marksman made up for one of the ugliest 3-point contest wins ever the year before — a 9-5 victory over Wesley Person in the finals — to submit one of the most impressive start-to-finish runs in the competition’s history, scoring 19, 20 and 22 points in the three rounds, respectively. When he was through, Kevin Harlan said both, “He’s an assassin,” and, “He was a flamethrower.”
2005 Quentin Richardson
Just kidding. I didn’t remember Quentin Richardson winning a 3-point contest, either. He shot around league average during the 2004-05 season (35.8 percent) and began the final round with an airball. He had just eight through his first 16 shots, and then made his final nine shots to finish off Kyle Korver.
But if you like playing Russian roulette, Q-Rich is your guy. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence.
2008 Jason Kapono
Kapono looked like he was born to play at UCLA. The dude played with sweet, sweet surfer hair, and he was cool as ice in the shootout. He won his first two in 2007 and 2008, scoring 24 and 25 points in the finals, respectively, taking out Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Mike Miller and Stojakovic in the process.
Outside of Hodges, Kapono is the only other player to make 19 or more shots in a round twice. Both of Kapono’s fireworks displays came in the finals. His 24-point effort tied Price’s championship round record in 2007, and his 25-point showing on 20-of-25 shooting broke it a year later. What a clutch bro.
2015 Stephen Curry
Curry is well on his way to being the undisputed greatest shooter who ever lived, and he was approaching the height of his powers in 2015, when he made a league-record 286 3-pointers during his first MVP season — a mark he shattered upon making 402 in his unanimous MVP campaign a year later.
In the final round, Curry made 13 straight — from the second ball of the middle rack through the first four on the final money ball rack — to finish with a record 27 points, holding off fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson and the rest of a group he called “definitely the best field that’s ever been in a 3-point shootout” (Kyrie Irving, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver, Marco Belinelli, J.J. Redick and James Harden).
2016 Klay Thompson
Thompson repaid the favor the following year, going toe-to-toe with his Splash Bro. He made 17 of his first 21 shots to get out of the first round, and then after Curry posted a 23-spot in the finals, Klay put on a display. With just 13 points through the first two balls of the second-to-last rack, he made his final eight shots, including six straight money balls, to knock off Curry and tie his record of 27 points.
I’m going with Bird. I’m comfortable putting my life in the hands of a dude who will walk into a room full of NBA players, ask who’s finishing second and not even bother to take off his jacket to beat them.
Let us know who you got in the comment section or on Twitter.
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