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A Short History of Michael Jordan and the NBA Dunk Contest (With All of MJ's Dunks)

When it comes to basketball, nothing elicits a raw, pure, visceral emotion quite like a dunk. It’s true. No matter how much I enjoy a corner three at the buzzer or a block into the grandstands, a spectacular dunk is THE ONLY THING that gets me REALLY hyped. Like “holy shit did you see that” hype. THOSE are the basketball moments that burn into the soul and brain for a lifetime. And for that reason, the Dunk Contest is always the one All-Star event that for me, is appointment television. And the best to do ever do it? 

Michael Jeffrey Jordan. 

No question. 

I bet that doesn't surprise a lot of you. But what might shock you is that not only did MJ not compete in very many Dunk Contests, but that those he did were very, very close. 

Let's do a little NBA rewind.

In 1984, the NBA reintroduced the Slam Dunk Contest in the same place it started -- Denver. Of course, MJ was a senior that year at UNC so he couldn’t compete (Phoenix's Larry Nance, an AWESOME dunker, beat the OG of dunk Dr. J in the finals). 

It was LITTY. 

Once Jordan got to the league and became known for his acrobatic dunks mid way through his rookie season, the dunk contest became EVEN more interesting. 

Let’s see that man Jordan ELEVATE.

Fast forward to 1985… the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. No disrespect to the Zach LaVine/Aaron Gordon battle, but its THIS one that many consider to be the greatest dunk contest of all time -- MJ, Dominique Wilkins, Larry Nance, Clyde Drexler, Terence Stansbury, Darrell "Dr. Dunkenstein" Griffith, and Orlando Woolridge all competed and man these dudes could ALL THROW DOWN. Every single one of them.  

Check out all of MJ's dunks in the video below.


In the first round, MJ scored 130, advancing to the next round (rookie Terence Stansbury from Temple got the only 50 of the round with a majestic Statue of Liberty). 

In the 2nd round, Jordan made history with the now iconic, legendary dunk from the free throw line, scoring a 50 and moving to the finals to square up against one of the greatest dunkers of all time-- the human highlight film aka Dominique Wilkins. 

Yeah, you’re too young to know about him. Given I wasn’t even born then, I guess I am too. 

The final? LEGENDARY. Wilkins won with a NASTY ASS dunk where he bounced the ball from the free throw line, off the backboard, picked it up with his back to the rim, and hammered it home. His GOD DAMN head nearly clipped the rim. THAT is what it took to beat Jordan.

Psssh. Damn. 

Everyone was looking forward to the 1986 All Star game in Dallas, mostly because of that Wilkins-Jordan dunk rivalry. The problem though was that Jordan broke his foot that year missing 62 games of the season. But the Dunk Contest still became one of the best remembered, in large part because of a 22 year old 5'7" rookie named Spud Webb. And the shortie with the 48 inch vertical beat his teammate Dominique in one of the most iconic moments in 1980s NBA history.

Check it. 

The 1987 All Star Game was held at the Kingdome in Seattle. MJ was back but Wilkins wasn’t. BOO. Jordan defeated my guy and former Portland Trailblazer Jerome Kersey in the finals wearing the FIRE Air Jordan IIs. He did that thing from the free throw line again… 


Just check out his highlight reel:

But as great as ’87 was, the people wanted to see MJ and Wilkins square up again.  And in ’88, they got the dream match up. Two MONSTERS in the prime of their dunking careers. Many point to MJ's battle with Dominique in 1988 as the greatest dunk contest of all time. The game was held at Chicago Stadium in Chicago, and Wilkins fans ever since have said there was a little hometown bias popping. 

But regardless of your thoughts, this event was INSANE.  For the third time (because why not), Jordan broke out the jump-from the free throw line dunk to get the 50 and win his 2nd (and last) NBA Dunk Contest crown. And of course, the crowd went nuts. 

It's such an iconic moment it's even got its own Oral History


What’s WILD is that even though we remember Jordan from his Dunk Contest spectacles, he only competed in 3 of them and never after 1988. 

Beat your rival and call it… I guess. 

But even in those three contests, MJ left enough unforgettable, impossible to top moments to become legend.

PS Here's a great trivia question for you. What NBA player has won the most Dunk Contest titles? Sound off in the comments before hitting the google machine.

PPS Here's a video of all the 50 point dunks ever in the NBA Slam Dunk contest