Wolves Flashback: Rider's Rise



Wolves Flashback: Rider's Rise


Jonah Ballow
Wolves Editor/Writer

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In 1976, the game of basketball was redefined when some of the world's greatest athletes utilized their superior talent to damage opponents through the air with the ultimate weapon -- the slam dunk. Thanks to Julius Erving, David Thompson, and the other notable ABA pioneers, a forum was created for these high flyers to dazzle fans on a yearly basis.

1984 marked the reintroduction of the Slam Dunk Contest that originally took place in a suitable spot, the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado. Over the years, Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan lifted the All-Star Weekend event to new heights with 1-on-1 battles in front of sellout crowds. However, the superstar players drifted away from the contest and the league focused on showcasing a younger generation of dunkers and rising stars.

Throughout each decade, a marquee player became a household name behind a memorable dunk contest performance or signature jam that separated them from the pack. The 90s started with the Human Highlight Film winning the dunk contest in Miami, followed by Dee Brown's arm-over-the-eyes dunk and his unforgettable moment when he "pumped up" his Reebok Pumps. The Suns Cedric Ceballos brought another level of creativity by using a blindfold to win the 1992 Dunk Contest. Harold Miner quickly gained popularity in 1993 with a dominating appearance and was even tagged with the nickname, "Baby Jordan."

Miner was poised to become one of the greatest dunk contest participants of all-time with a bright future and a knack for throwing down Taylor-made dunk contest jams during the midseason competition. However, the Wolves drafted a brash, high flying, and ultra-athletic shooting guard out of UNLV that would immediately threaten Miner's attempt at dunk contest supremacy. Isaiah Rider boldly predicted he would win the dunk contest following Minnesota's decision to make him the No. 5 overall pick and the Oakland native was presented with a golden opportunity at the Target Center in 1994.

Minneapolis welcomed a plethora of celebrities and the top NBA superstars for one weekend jam-packed with high profile events. Without an All-Star, the Wolves were only represented by Rider, who dropped eight points and grabbed eight boards in 21 minutes of action in the Rookie Game before attempting to become the slam dunk king. The anticipation for the main attraction continued to build as fans eagerly awaited Rider's first launch.

Current Wolves television play-by-play announcer Tom Hanneman covered the festivities as a reporter for NBA Radio and describes the thought process for local fans, "Even though he was a rookie, a lot of people felt he had a really good chance of winning this thing. It meant something. It didn't for a long time after but that year, that night; it meant a lot to Timberwolves fans."

Rules changes mixed up the 94' event as each participant had 90 seconds to make as many dunks as he wanted in a routine. The finals featured the three best scores and each player had two dunks to impress the esteemed panel of judges that included: Erving, Maurice Lucas, George Gervin, Paul Silas, and Calvin Murphy. Robert Pack, Allan Houston, Antonio Davis, James Robinson, and Shawn Kemp formed the competition for Rider while Miner missed his chance to repeat with an injury.

Lackluster first round routines from Pack, Robinson, and Houston left the fans craving for fireworks. Rider stepped on to the Target Center floor, raised his hands in the air to engage the hometown crowd and then unleashed an electric first dunk. Sporting the old school blue Wolves uniform, Rider tossed the ball high into the air, sprinted to the bounce and crushed a two-handed power jam that effectively launched the fans out of their seats. After missing two dunks in the routine, the former UNLV standout smoothly executed a Jordan-esque cradle dunk, a windmill off the bounce, and then for good measure, he chucked the ball off the backboard and threw down a one-handed flush.

Charles Barkley worked the sidelines for the TNT broadcast during several All-Star weekends before eventually retiring and becoming a full-time NBA analyst. The Chuckster quickly grabbed the reactions from his fellow stars on the sidelines, "He played the crowd for all it was worth boy, but he's got some ups," David Robinson laughed.

Not shying away from a pat on the back, 85' and 90' Dunk Contest champion Wilkins added, "He reminds me of myself when I was younger. He looked good."

Rider moved to the top of the first round leader board with a score of 46.8. Hanneman remembers, "The power and the fluidness that he exhibited early in the contest -- yeah, there was a great sense of pride in that building that this kid may do it."

Pack, Kemp, and Rider moved to the final round with each dunker having two chances to snatch the coveted title. Denver's point guard Pack received a 43. 8 on his first attempt and Kemp hit the back of the rim for his first dunk.

Rider walked to the baseline, moved cameramen, the scoreboard on the floor, and right in front of Scottie Pippen, the 6-5 sky walker placed the rock through his legs with his left hand to right hand in mid air and completed a mind-blowing dunk.

The immediate reaction from Barkley, "Oh my god. That might be the best dunk I've ever seen. That was awesome."

Remarkably, the judges only gave Rider a 49 but the fans, celebrities, and All-Stars in attendance were clearly eating out of the palm of his hand.

Hanneman provides some context, "It's one of those moments when you knew the competition was over immediately. It was unlike anything anyone had seen before and he played it perfectly safe by saving his best for last It sent this place into orbit. It really was incredible."

Kemp missed his final attempt and Rider was presented with the 1994 Dunk Contest trophy in front of the massive Minnesota crowd. Rider named the winning jam the, "East Bay Funk Dunk" and a joyful memory was created for the Wolves franchise.

The "East Bay Funk Dunk" became an iconic part of the storied dunk contest history and morphed into several variations throughout the following years. Contestants began to use the in-between the legs dunk in their own style, which is a true sign of its value to the dunk contest. For Rider, the aerial assault put him on the NBA map and placed that brilliant image of his dunk on posters around the country.
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