Many NBA fans remember the 2016 NBA Dunk contest duo between Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine as possibly the greatest performance in history. And rightfully so, displaying a variety of amazing dunks and incredible athleticism. But long before them in 1988, two NBA Hall of Famers went at it with pride on the stake.
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 when Jordan was injured and 1987 when Wilkins was injured. But in 1988 they finally got their rematch.
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.
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. Jordan took off running, lifted off from the free throw line, double clutched in midair and displayed now the famous Air Jordan logo, slamming it down for the perfect score and the slam dunk title.
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 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.”