On this day in history, MJ won the best dunk contest ever


The Slam Dunk contest is one of the most anticipated events of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend.

Ironically, it’s also the portion of the weekend that features the fewest star players.

The scheduled contestants for this year’s event are Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Dallas rookie Dennis Smith Jr., Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Larry Nance Jr. of the Lakers — not exactly the marquee names of the NBA.

While the list of past Slam Dunk champions includes future Hall of Famers such as Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter, it’s also littered with names of long-forgotten players like Harold Miner, Fred Jones, Jeremy Evans and Terrence Ross.

It wasn’t that long after the Slam Dunk contest made its NBA debut in 1984 that superstars began looking at the event as nothing more than an injury risk not worth taking. That’s why longtime NBA fans always have fond memories of the first few years of the event.

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One of the last of those Slam Dunk classics took place Feb. 6, 1988, in Chicago. The field of six participants had been narrowed down to two of the premier dunkers of their time — Atlanta’s Dominique Wilkins and Chicago’s Michael Jordan.

Jordan was not only the hometown favorite, he was the event’s defending champion. But it was Wilkins who appeared poised to win the title.

Wilkins recorded perfect scores of 50 on his first two dunk attempts, while Jordan trailed by three after posted an opening score of 50 on his first dunk, followed by a 47 on his second.

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A score of 48 or higher on his third dunk would seal the title for Wilkins, and it appeared he nailed it with a two-handed windmill-style slam along the left baseline. Granted, it was similar in style to the windmill slam he had executed on his second dunk, which came along the right baseline, but the height and power Wilkins generated on his final attempt seemed to put an exclamation point on the dunk title.

But somehow, the judges gave Wilkins a score of only 45 on his final attempt, leaving the door open for Jordan. He needed a score of 48 to tie, and 49 to win.

Jordan’s third attempt would prove to be one of the most memorable images of his stellar career, and he said he got the inspiration from someone he saw in the stands.

“I was trying to think of something to improvise,” Jordan said. “Then I saw the man, Dr. J., who got it all started.”

Dr. J, of course, was Julius Erving, one of the first to bring an artistic element to dunking, and champion of the first-ever Slam Dunk contest, which was held at halftime of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game

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Jordan started his final dunk from almost the opposite end of the floor, sped down the court and launched himself from just inside the free-throw line. With the ball high above his head in his right hand, he seemed to defy gravity, even doing a little kick with his legs as if he were engaging in a midflight celebratory dance.

In the blink of an eye, Jordan thrust the ball through the hoop, and the crowd at Chicago Stadium erupted. There was no doubt Jordan had not only done something magical, he had also clinched his second straight Slam Dunk title. And indeed, the judges agreed, giving him another perfect score of 50.

Wilkins said the 45 he received for his last dunk seemed suspicious.

“It’s always tough to win in someone else’s hometown,” said Wilkins. “I don’t think the judges appreciated my last dunk. That was hard. Show me five guys who can get up that high and then wind it with two hands.”

Even Jordan admitted he was stunned to see how low the judges scored Wilkins’ last attempt.

“I was shocked when he got a 45, but that gave me some leeway,” Jordan said, who thus needed only a 48 to tie. “I’d have given him a 49 or 50.”

While the dunks may have gotten more creative in the years since MJ and ‘Nique wowed the crowd in 1988, the chance to see future Hall of Famers battle it out in the Slam Dunk finals is almost certainly a thing of the past.

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Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. A native of Milwaukee, he currently resides in Phoenix.
Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. He has more than 20 years of experience in print and broadcast journalism. A native of Milwaukee, he has resided in Phoenix since 2012.
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