The NBA announced its slate of participants in All-Star Saturday Night festivities, with former slam dunk champion Dwight Howard as well as the reigning champions in the 3-point and skills contests -- Joe Harris and Jayson Tatum, respectively -- headlining the fields.
The events will take place on Feb. 15 at the United Center in Chicago.
Howard, who won the slam dunk contest in 2008 and last participated in 2009, leads a field that includes a pair of high-flying former runner-ups in the event -- Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who finished second in a legendary showdown with Zach LaVine at the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto, and Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr., who lost to Glenn Robinson III in 2017.
Howard's inclusion came as a surprise -- and after, at least according to the Los Angeles Lakers center, he lobbied the NBA to allow him to take part in the competition for the first time in more than a decade.
"I reached out myself and told them I wanted to be in it, so it was like, 'Oh, really?' I was like, 'Yeah,'" Howard said last month. "So here it is. I think I'm the oldest dunker in the dunk contest ever."
The fourth dunker in the field will be Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton, who is a strong athlete himself, having been drafted by the Baltimore Orioles as a pitcher out of Notre Dame, where he played both baseball and basketball.
Given it is the first time the dunk contest will be in Chicago since 1988, when Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins squared off in arguably the greatest battle in the history of the competition, there was a groundswell of support for Gordon to go up against LaVine, the leading scorer for the Chicago Bulls, again this year.
LaVine, however, insisted he would take part in the dunk contest only if he was named to the All-Star team itself. And, after he wasn't, he was listed as one of the participants in the 3-point contest Tuesday.
"I feel like I don't got a lot more to prove with [the slam dunk contest]," LaVine told reporters Tuesday. "The 3-point contest is something I've been wanting to do. I just think it will be fun. Obviously, I want to do something for Chicago during All-Star Weekend. Get ready to shoot some more 3s."
"If I had made it, I would've wanted to put on a big-time show for the crowd. I would've tried to do all three of them, the All-Star Game, dunk contest and 3-point contest," he added. "It didn't happen. I have to reevaluate where my legs are, where the team is, where my mind is and do the 3-point contest."
LaVine will be going up against a star-studded field that includes Harris, who won the event by beating hometown star Stephen Curry last year in Charlotte; All-Star selections Damian Lillard and Trae Young; and sharpshooters Davis Bertans, Buddy Hield, Duncan Robinson and Devonte Graham -- all of whom are among the top nine in 3-pointers made in the league this season.
This year's contest also will mark a significant change in how it plays out for the first time, with the addition of two extra deeper shots, as well as adding another 10 seconds to the time allowed to complete it, sending it from 60 to 70 seconds.
While LaVine is playing for the hometown team, two of the skills challenge participants -- Derrick Rose and Patrick Beverley -- both hail from Chicago and are past champions in the event. Rose, who starred for the Bulls early in his career, including earning the NBA's MVP award in 2011, won the skills challenge as a rookie in 2009. Beverley, meanwhile, won it in 2015.
Spencer Dinwiddie won the event in 2018, while the other four participants -- Khris Middleton, Pascal Siakam, Domantas Sabonis and Bam Adebayo -- all were selected to play in this year's All-Star Game.