Ah, the Slam Dunk Contest. This event has given basketball fans some the greatest and most iconic moments in NBA history. From Vince Carter’s reverse 360 windmill dunk in 2000, to Nate Robinson dunking over Spud Webb in 2006 and Zach LaVine’s “Space Jam” dunk in 2015, the Slam Dunk Contest has something for everyone.
Coming off a really entertaining contest this year which saw Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell take home top honors over Larry Nance Jr., today I will be giving a retrospective on what some may consider the greatest dunk contest of all time and that is from 1988 at the old Chicago Stadium.
Particularly, I will be talking about the final showdown between two of the greatest dunkers in NBA history, Michael Jordan and “The Human Highlight Film” Dominique Wilkins. It was the first time since the 1985 contest that these two men went 1-on-1 in the finals because injuries plagued Jordan in 1986 and the same went for Wilkins in 1987.
Going into the All-Star break, Jordan and Wilkins were the two top leading scorers in the league and would end up finishing the season as the two top leading scorers. Jordan averaged 35 points per game on his way to winning the first of five MVP awards and Wilkins finished the 1988 season with 30.7 points per game.
To get to the finals of this dunk contest, Jordan and Wilkins outlasted 1986 Slam Dunk champion and teammate of Wilkins on the Atlanta Hawks, Spud Webb. Other participants included Otis Smith, Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, Jerome Kersey, and Greg Anderson.
The 18,000 plus fans at Chicago Stadium certainly got their money’s worth as Jordan and Wilkins dazzled them with some of the best dunks in the history of the contest. In the final round, the two men combined for four perfect scores of 50.
One of the perfect dunks was an impressive throw off the backboard from Wilkins jumping high above the rim slamming the ball with authority. When it comes to power dunking, nobody was better than Dominique Wilkins. He always took the ball and jammed it down with sheer force and that dunk was no exception.
However, Wilkins was outshined by one of the most iconic dunkers in NBA history. Jordan needed a 48 to tie Wilkins’s total score of 145 in the final round and a 49 to successfully defend the Slam Dunk title that he won in 1987. Sure enough, Jordan completes the infamous free throw line dunk and the judges awarded him with a 50.
What people tend to forget about that dunk is that Jordan did not simply hold the ball above his head while in the air like Julius Erving did when he converted the free throw line dunk in 1976. Instead, Jordan added a little more flair by double-clutching the ball in mid-air and slamming it home.
In what was an epic final round between Jordan and Wilkins, Jordan took home his second straight Slam Dunk championship. However, it was not the only hardware he took home that weekend because the next day, he won the first of three All-Star Game MVP awards.
At the end of the day, was 1988 the best Slam Dunk Contest of all-time? Me personally, I would say no mainly due to much better creativity shown among the participants in future contests (a la Amar’e Stoudemire in 2005). But there is no denying the historical significance that the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest had on the league. It is a dunk contest that was ahead of its time and it set the benchmark for dunk contests that came after it.