Jordan, Wilkins recall ’88 battle
CHICAGO — Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins have never talked to one another about the 1988 dunk contest.
They might be the only ones.
It is still the dunk contest by which all other dunk contests are measured: Two stars, at the peak of their powers, the players who finished first and second in that season’s scoring standings, going head-to-head to decide a winner. Jordan left the old Chicago Stadium that night with the trophy. To this day, many believe Wilkins was the rightful winner. Either way, it was a never-to-be-forgotten show — and now, for the first time since that night 32 years ago, the dunk contest is returning to Chicago on Saturday night.
“I did have a homecourt advantage, yes,” Jordan said this week in an interview with The Associated Press.
“The fans got their money’s worth,” Wilkins said in a separate interview with AP.
This season’s dunk contest entrant — Orlando’s Aaron Gordon, Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr., the Los Angeles Lakers’ Dwight Howard and Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton — will have quite a show to follow if what they do tonight is going to stand the test of time that the Jordan-Wilkins contest has.
To this day, Wilkins believes he should have won.
And to this day, he still tips his cap to what Jordan did that night.
“We were foes and we had some great battles, but he understood the moment,” Wilkins said. “He understood what we did, you know? So, for us, there’s no hard feelings. There’s no animosity. We love the fact that they still talk about it because we knew what we brought.”
None of this year’s four dunk contest participants are All-Stars. It was different 32 years ago, when the dunk contest was being held for only the fourth time. Jordan was the MVP in 1988, Wilkins was sixth in that season’s MVP voting, and they were the only players that season who averaged more than 30 points per game.
“It’s a little bit different today. And it’s probably much harder today because how many times can you do the same dunks over and over again?” Jordan said.
The 1988 field was stacked. Wilkins had won in 1985. Spud Webb won in 1986. Jordan won in 1987. They were all in the field, along with Greg Anderson, Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey and Otis Smith.
Of course, it came down to Wilkins vs. Jordan. Three dunks each to decide the title. Both got a perfect score — 50 — on their first dunk in the final round. Wilkins got another 50 in the second round, with Jordan getting only a 47. That meant Wilkins, who was first to dunk in each round of the finals, needed only a 48 to clinch the win over Jordan.
Wilkins went with a two-handed windmill for his final dunk. The judges’ score: 45. Drexler looked on in disbelief.
“I was surprised at his score,” Jordan said.
The door was open for Jordan. He tried a dunk from the foul line and missed, but the rules allowed two chances per attempt. The second effort is the one replayed about a billion times since: He took off from just inside the foul line, pulled the ball back a bit before finishing off the slam, and got the perfect score of 50.
Final score: Jordan 147, Wilkins 145.