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.
It’s fitting that chapter 23 is about Jordan’s first slam dunk championship because in a way the slam dunk defined Michael Jordan, and Michael Jordan defined the slam dunk contest.
Jordan first competed in the slam dunk contest in 1985 as a rookie. Perhaps due to his inexperience or to the novelty of the contest, Jordan lost to Dominique Wilkins, AKA “The human highlight reel”. Then next year Jordan was unable to compete due to a broken foot, and Spud Webb was crowned the champion. Finally Jordan returned to the slam dunk contest in 1987, but unfortunately both Wilkins and Webb were unable to compete due to injuries. Jordan faced a weaker field of dunkers, and was the favorite going into the contest.
The contestants that year were Michael Jordan (Bulls), Clyde Drexler (Blazers), Ron Harper (Cavs), Terence Stansbury (Sonics), Johnny Dawkins (Spurs), Tom Chambers (Sonics), Dominique’s younger brother Gerald Wilkins (Knicks), and Jerome Kersey, a late replacement for Rick Barry. Stansbury was Jordan’s main competitor, having finished 3rd in both 1985 and 1986, and playing in front of a home crowd. However, it was the relatively unknown Kersey who would steal the show that day.
Jordan, despite being the favorite, only scored 88 points (41+47) and finished 4th overall in the first round, just enough to get to the semifinals. However, it was in the semi finals that Jordan began to shine. With 3 dunks of 49-49-50, Jordan led the field going into the finals against the surprising Jerome Kersey.
Kersey, perhaps intimidated by Jordan or just ran out of dunks, faltered during the finals, giving Michael Jordan his first ever slam dunk championship.
Here are the best dunks from the dunk contest, although not in order.
Watch the entire 1987 slam dunk contest here.
Although Jordan won, it was not a satisfying victory due to the lack of Dominique Wilkins. Jordan did not let that bother him and went on to enjoy himself in the 1987 all-star game.
Jordan made such a huge impact early on during his rookie season that he was voted to the starting lineup of the 1985 all-star game. Not only that, he also earned himself a spot in the slam dunk contest.
The slam dunk contest was something new to the league, having only been installed in 1984. The first ever slam dunk contest was won by Larry Nance, who beat out Dr. J Julius Erving to take home the title. Both players came back for the 1985 contest, which also featured high fliers like Dominique Wilkins, Darrell Griffith, Orlando Woolridge, Clyde Drexler, and another rookie sensation Terence Stansbury.
Here are the highlights from the 1985 slam dunk contest.
Jordan and Wilkins led all contestants in the semi-final round, eliminating Terence Stansbury, Dr. J, and last year’s winner Larry Nance from the competition.
Final round showdown between Jordan and Wilkins
You can watch the entire contest here.
But as we already know with Michael, losing will only make him rise up to the challenge. Wilkins and Jordan were destined for another epic slam dunk showdown, which would not happen for another 3 years.