Chapter 27: Dominique Wilkins vs. Michael Jordan, the slam dunk showdown
The 1988 all-star slam dunk contest would be Jordan’s third and final contest, and it would prove also to be his most memorable.
Jordan first competed in the slam dunk contest in 1985 as a rookie. He reached the finals where he went head to head against Dominique Wilkins, AKA The Human Highlight Reel. Wilkins dominated the contest with two 50 point dunks and handily defeated the young Jordan. But Michael Jordan had so impressed the fans with his acrobatic dunks that a rematch was eagerly awaited. However, the fans would have to wait 3 more years for it to happen.
In 1986 Michael Jordan suffered a broken foot and missed most of the season including the slam dunk contest. Fortunately for the fans, the surprising Spud Webb took over the show. Standing at 5’6” and armed with a 42 inch vertical leap, Spud defeated teammate Dominique Wilkins with two 50 point dunks in the finals. Becoming the first man under 6 feet to win the slam dunk contest. (Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks won it in 2006 and 2009, he’s 5’9”)
Michael Jordan returned to the slam dunk competition in 1987 against a much depleted field of contestants. Both Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb were not able to participate due to injuries. Michael’s main challenger was little known Jerome Kersey whom Jordan dispatched easily in the final round. Although Jordan won in spectacular fashion, the much awaited showdown between Wilkins and Jordan was again postponed.
There would be no more delays in 1988. The field of competition was extremely strong, and featured 3 previous winners (Wilkins, Jordan, and Webb), with 1 finalist (Kersey). Surprisingly Webb and Kersey did not perform well and were eliminated in the first round. Jordan and Wilkins were in top form and easily coasted to the finals. It was the epic battle that everyone had been waiting for, and they certainly were not disappointed.
Here’s the finals between Jordan and Wilkins in high quality
Highlights from the earlier rounds of the dunk contest.
You can watch the full contest here.
Jordan, having finally defeated Wilkins and successfully defended his title, became the first person to ever win back to back slam dunk championships. Perhaps satisfied with his achievement, Michael Jordan would not compete in the slam dunk contest again. However, he still holds the record for most number of 50 point dunks, with seven. It is a record that is unlikely to be broken since more recent dunk contests have been shortened to 2 rounds instead of the 3 in Jordan’s day.
The Chicago fans got an eyeful with the showdown between Jordan and Wilkins, but they were about to witness another memorable performance from their hometown star in the 1988 all-star game.