Looking back at my memories of All-Star Weekends past, there have been a ton of great moments, but none stand out more than the best Dunk Contest ever. Whenever we talk dunk contests here at NBA.com headquarters, it’s the first that comes to mind. ‘Nique’s off-the-glass hammer, Jordan’s Kiss The Rim Reverse, Clyde copying everything Jordan did... It’s the strongest basketball memory of my youth, maybe even stronger than winning the fourth-grade championship in my original Sky Jordans.
I was a Jordan fan. A huge one. I had his jersey, his basketball cards, his posters, his shoes and his Wheaties boxes. Yes, his Wheaties boxes.
After watching him dominate the competition the year before and knowing that Dominique was coming back, I knew I was going to see something special that night in ’88. In addition to Jordan (’87 champ) and Wilkins (’85 champ), the field also included the ’86 champ, Spud Webb and the ’87 runner-up, Jerome Kersey. You can pretty much guarantee that this will never happen again. I had the VCR ready.
The site was old Chicago Stadium. The crowd had already been treated to an overtime Legends Game and the best Three-Point Shootout moment ever, Larry Bird holding his finger up and walking off the floor as his winning shot was still in the air (a moment to be immortalized on Jan. 25).
Jordan and Dominique easily dismissed the rest of the field in the first two rounds, neither receiving a score less than 47. Spud and Kersey were disappointments and Clyde Drexler got to the semis by just doing Jordan’s dunks with less flair and less air.
Jordan seemed to hesitate before every dunk, unsure of what he was going to do next, or maybe just playing to the crowd. He had them (and maybe the judges) on his side. You could tell that Dominique knew it and that it motivated him. He was deliberate. No hesitation, no emotion. Just athleticism and power. He played the villain well.
Dominique’s first dunk of the finals was maybe the best dunk of the night. His head was as high as the rim and his body was several feet away. I remember not being that impressed when I saw it the first time (the view from behind him), but then staring dumbfounded upon seeing the slow-motion replay (from the side).
Jordan’s double-clutch reverse that followed was more power than you’re used to seeing from him. Wilkins’ windmill from the right baseline was pure Dominique.
Jordan... a two-handed rock the cradle dunk from the right... poetry in motion... 47... What?
I was as pissed as that guy in the stands waving his arms at the judges and when ‘Nique threw down the two-handed windmill, I though it was over… 45… ROBBED! Michael has a shot.
He hesitated again, dribbling around the court for a while. As a fan, you wanted to see something new, but then he started to back up. He had started off the second round with a free-throw line dunk, receiving a 50. So he was going back to what worked. He started down the runway, stepped just in front of the free-throw line, took off and... missed the dunk.
That wasn’t supposed to happen.
Jordan did not miss the second try though, and although he had done the free-throw line dunk before, you had to love the flair that he did it with, cocking the ball back in mid-air and kicking his feet out to the sides. Watching it in slow motion inspires everyone who ever played or watched the game of basketball. It was a beautiful sight.
As a fan, I was happy that he won and I really don't think he deserved to lose at all, but there was a feeling that Dominique got the short end of the judging. Either way, it was an unbelievable show put on by two of the best dunkers (and best players for that matter) that we have ever seen. Neither of them would participate in a Dunk Contest again. There was no need. They gave us everything that night in Chicago.
And I still have the tape.