I think that we all can agree that the Slam Dunk contest was…let me be kind here, something that filled up TNT’s coverage for about an hour Saturday night. I think we all agree that the event needs to be upgraded. The problems are Vince Carter, Jason Richardson and JR Rider did things that had never been seen before and it really hard for the up and comers the last few years to top that. Then Dwight Howard (before the whining) added so much ingenuity and flair with dunks and the presentation, it was fun to watch and you could see that he put the time and effort into putting on a show. He even carried the show on to the next year and added Nate Robinson to the mix. “Krypto-Nate” played off Dwight and won the next year. In between those periods of time, the dunk contest was just boring. The players weren’t stars and they couldn’t grab the crowd like in the past. Last night was one of those nights. John Wall won the title last night. Ask me how, I don’t know. He did have the best dunk but the format watered his victory down a little. Let’s take it back to the old school when stars competed and realized that their participation was important to the league (Listening LeBron? the practicing thing was cool, but I know guys on the street that can do that in gyms.) Let’s go back to the greatest competition of all time in 1988. It was in the old Chicago Stadium. We just know it as Michael vs. Nique.
The 1988 dunk-contest had what this era needs…star power. Check out the list, it is the greatest collection ever. The defending champ Michael Jordan. Former winners Spud Webb (1986) and Dominique Wilkins (1985). Clyde ‘The Glide” Drexler and Jerome Kersey who had appeared in competitions before. Otis Smith who actually got out the first round. Greg “Cadillac” Anderson rounded out the seven man field. I want everyone to realize how historic this is. You have three former winners (Jordan, Webb and Wilkins) two known game dunkers that are always in the hunt (Kersey and Drexler). Can you name seven players today that actually want that competition? Then how many former champions would actually want to compete and take the challenge of wanting to beat the best? Remember Wilkins BEAT Jordan in 1985 so Jordan wanted to settle the score. Understand this was before YouTube and the internet as we know it today. It was writers, and video tape. But what set things off was the poster. Remember how many posters were distributed based on that one competition alone?
Michael Jordan was a bad boy back at this time but he wasn’t at the iconic “Come Fly With Me” VCR tape moment yet. (Raise your hand if you STILL have the tape.) He hadn’t got to the global stage yet. Dominique put the Atlanta Hawks franchise on the map. The “Human Highlight Film” built the “Highlight Factory”. These two were the iconic rivals to where the standard is held to today. It’s star vs. star. Guard vs. Forward. Smooth athleticism vs. Power. Both of these guys wanted to be known as the best dunker in the world. Both had one championship apiece. This one would break the tie.
No contest before or since could have a set up in the final round like 1988. Jordan who was in front of his home crowd needed a 49 to tie Dominique Wilkins. Wilkins was assaulting the rim with his trademark windmill dunks, while Jordan made “kissing the rim” famous with his glide almost leaning to the side dunks. Here’s where things got iffy. Before the famous free throw line classic from Jordan. Dominique was given a 45 on his last dunk. Jordan took off from the free throw line and got a 50. As for people complaining about the repetitive dunks from Wilkins and even more ridiculous foot inside the line from Jordan. Here’s a thought. You try it. Understand these two guys had multiple dunks in the final round, not one or two. These two guys knew something else…BETTER NOT MISS! We’ve seen in the past contestants hold up commercial breaks waiting to get one dunk down.
There will be no other competition like this one. Vince Carter’s amazing night doesn’t hold up because he killed everybody. No one was close. These two were equals but had totally different styles. That made it great. These two players careers were different after the competition. Jordan became a marketing machine that exists to this day. The 90’s dynasty came soon after that. Dominque was traded a few years later to the L.A. Clippers and started a journeyman career. Now who do I think took the 1988 Slam Dunk competition.
Dominique Wilkins won this competition. I rooted for Jordan back then too. But as I got older and watched the video as an adult. The NBA needed Jordan to win, plus if that man had lost in his own stadium, there would have been no game because the building would have burned down. Never forget David Stern was on his global expansion start-up at the time and he needed an icon. Think he made the right choice?