Gift of Flight – Michael Jordan and the 1987 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

Michael Jordan 1987 Slam Dunk

Michael Jordan in Air Jordan 2 1987 Slam DunkPhoto via classickicks.com

“He can FLYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!”

Don’t lie – you said it, I said it, everyone who saw that moment said it. Yes, it had been done before, but not like this. Never like this.

Michael Jordan flew. From the free throw line, legs kicked up then out, ball cocked back, and WHAM!!!! Everything changed in those seconds. If you weren’t a Michael Jordan fan before, you were now. Except me. My favorite player was another Slam Dunk champ – Dominique Wilkins (if I had only known what would happen a year later…). Nique had power. Two hands, windmills, putbacks – he made the defense hurt on his dunks. But Jordan, he was grace, beauty, finesse, flight. But he wasn’t here for this contest, having been bested the year before by his teammate, Spud Webb. Without the two previous champs, this dunk contest lacked the anticipation of a repeat champion.

But don’t think it was full of scrubs. Honestly, the 1987 Slam Dunk Contest line-up might have been the best talent top to bottom. Look at this picture:

 

1987 NBA Slam Dunk Contestants

1987 NBA Slam Dunk Contestants Photo via sz.9.es

Left to right, that is: Terence Stansbury, Johnny Dawkins, Ron Harper, Clyde Drexler, Tom Chambers, some guy from Chicago, Jerome Kersey, and Gerald Wilkins. THAT is a contest. For those of you too young to remember, that lineup above was full of hall-of-famers, all-stars, and Finals participants (and Terence Stansbury). Let the drama begin!!!

Back then, the dunkers just…dunked, believe it or not. No teams, rounds, or wheel. They stood up, thought about it, and hammered whatever came to mind. But let’s be honest, the main reason we watched was Mike. What’s he wearing? What is that dunk called? WHAT’S NEXT???!!!!

Well, as for what he was wearing, it was the Air Jordan II, one of the most underrated Jordan’s ever made. At the time, much like Jordan signatures now, it was the pinnacle of basketball shoes, costing an insane $100. Made of Italian leather with a faux lizard embossed side panel, full length Air sole, and no Swoosh, the world had not seen a shoe like this before. Ever. Did anyone even realize it is the only signature Jordan to NOT release in a black colorway? Probably not – the original makeups are so dope it didn’t matter. If you stare long enough at that picture above, you will also notice some serious heat on the other players as well. Clyde and his red ‘Roos, Stans in the Big Nike mid, Dawkins in Avia’s, Jerome Kersey and the Air Force II.

Michael Jordan 1987 Dunk Contest

Michael Jordan 1987 Dunk Contest Photo via siphotos.tumblr

Michael Jordan 1987 Dunk Contest

Michael Jordan 1987 Dunk Contest Photo via AP Photo/Kirthmon Dozier

88. 148. 146. Those were the scores of Michael’s three rounds. Jordan. Kersey. Stansbury. Drexler. Harper. Dawkins. Chambers. Wilkins. That was the order of finish. Kiss the rim. Free throw line. Double clutch. Those were the dunks. Every kid with a Nerf hoop practiced those dunks for months afterwards, thinking we could “be like Mike” years before it was a jingle. Michael was great before, but now he was iconic, and like his third round victory, there was no denying him.

The monster was created long ago - a basketball-playing sneakerhead who wears what he buys. Grant Hill was better than Mike, if only for a season, and Chris Mullin/Tim Hardaway/Mitch Richmond were ahead of their time. I love God, my family, and basketball, but not always in that order.