Clippers power forward Blake Griffin easily clears the hood of a car as he… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
In a concrete tunnel beneath the stands at Staples Center, two workers fussed over a silver sports 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 made the rounds: Someone was going to park that car in front of the basket and jump over it, sailing all the way to the rim.
"We heard that," one of the workers said. "It's going to be Blake Griffin, right?"
With a 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% approval from fans voting online and by text, giving him the title Saturday night.
"They told me there were no rules," he said. "I was like, so I can jump over a car?"
Add another memorable moment to an All-Star weekend that has become a Griffin love fest, the local star also appearing in the rookie game Friday and in Sunday's main event.
The dunk competition has a history of dazzling gimmicks. Gerald Green blew out the candle in a cupcake on the back of the rim, Dwight Howard wore a Superman cape and the diminutive Nate Robinson turned Howard into a human prop, jumping over him to win the following year.
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.
McGee showed some early inventiveness, arranging baskets side-by-side for a double-dunk. Later he dunked three basketballs through one hoop.
Ibaka used his teeth to grab a small stuffed toy off the front of the rim while dunking at the same time.
There were no such theatrics from Griffin, not at first. But a pair of thunderous shots put him into the final, setting up bigger things.
The 6-10 forward had entered the contest as the favorite for two reasons.
His 137 dunks this season rank second to former dunk champion Howard.
Also, there was the voting. Judges decide the finalists, then fans take over.
"He's got the home-court advantage," LeBron James said the day before. "That's why I decided not to do it."
The second-place finisher, McGee, could not outdo the local crowd. Or the roughly 3,200 pounds of steel and rubber. "He definitely came prepared with the car," McGee said.
According to Griffin, Davis had been a co-conspirator from the start, helping craft the routine and coming up with the idea for the choir.
"It all came together pretty nicely," he said. "He was big and gave me some good ideas."
Said DeRozan: "Maybe next year somebody's going to drive a truck in here."
Earlier in the evening, Miami's James Jones won the three-point contest in a mild upset over Boston's Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
Pierce, the defending champion, was roundly booed when he flashed over the scoreboard to announce the start of the competition. Then he barely got out of the first round, sinking three straight shots in the last seconds to advance with Allen, the league's all-time three-point shooter, and Jones.
In other competitions, Stephen Curry of Golden State won the skills challenge, defeating former UCLA guard Russell Westbrook, now with the Thunder, in the final.
Al Horford, television analyst Steve Smith and WNBA player Coco Miller, competing as Team Atlanta, won the shooting stars contest final over Team Texas.