Top Moments: Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins duel in 1988 dunk contest
Michael Jordan scores a perfect 50 on his free-throw line dunk to defeat Dominique Wilkins.
NBA.com takes a look back at the top moments that define the history of the NBA.
It was the ultimate face-off. It had been three years since Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins squared off in the All-Star Slam Dunk Contest. In the first matchup of the high-flying duo in 1985, Dominique edged out the Bulls rookie to win his first dunk title. Injuries prohibited the rematch of the two superstars in 1986 (Jordan) and 1987 (Wilkins).
This time around, Jordan had the homecourt advantage in the battle of the league’s top two leading scorers. The 1988 All-Star Weekend was being held in Chicago Stadium, home of some of Michael’s most spectacular dunks.
“Expectations in Chicago are out of this world,” commented Wilkins.
The duo withstood competition from 1986 champion Spud Webb, Houston’s Otis Smith and Portland’s high-flying Clyde Drexler to set the stage for the final showdown.
Michael and Dominique would not disappoint the packed Chicago Stadium crowd of 18,403 fans, taking turns showcasing some of the event’s finest and fanciest dunks ever seen. The two combined to record four out of six perfect scores of 50 in the final round.
With a combination of power and finesse, the “Human Highlight Film” took a comfortable lead heading into the fourth and final dunk after earning two straight scores of 50 points. But Dominique’s final two-handed windmill jam scored a modest 45, setting the stage for the defending champion’s finale.
“I was shocked,” Jordan said about Wilkin’s final score. “I would have given him a 49 or a 50.”
Needing 49 points to capture his second straight slam dunk title, Jordan headed to the opposite end of the floor to the delight of the Chicago fans. They knew what was coming. A la Dr. J., Jordan took off running, lifted off from the free-throw line, double clutched in midair and slammed it down for the perfect score and the slam dunk title.
“I looked up into the box seats and came across the guy who started it all, Dr. J,” Jordan said. “He told me to go back all the way, go the length of the floor, then take off from the free-throw line. And I did it.”
In what would be the last year the two would meet in the dunk contest, the hometown favorite prevailed in the most dramatic and controversial ending to the All-Star Saturday classic showdown with a 147-145 final-round victory.
“When you’re in somebody’s hometown, it’s always tough,” Wilkins said. “But he had a great dunk, you have to admit. If anybody’s going to beat me, I’d rather have it be him.”
Jordan, who would also take home Most Valuable Player honors at the All-Star Game the next day, savored the victory but understood the importance of a homecourt advantage.
“I felt if I wasn’t in Chicago, it might have gone the other way.”