Yeah, he was a knucklehead of the highest order, but for one day, JR Rider showed the world something never seen before (and even had Kobe copying someone besides MJ).
Drafted 5th out of UNLV in 1993 after averaging 29 points a game as a senior, the Minnesota Timberwolves had their star. Christian Laettner the year before had proven serviceable, but far from telegenic. Rider had the hops, the charisma, and the right amount of “that fool is crazy” to keep fans interested and connected. One of his best quotes on draft day was, prophetically, “I will win the Dunk Contest next year.” 21 years later, that doesn’t seem like a big proclamation, but in 1993, the Dunk Contest was THE star maker – you win that, you had teams looking for you (explain Cedric Ceballos if I’m lying).
Rider signed with Converse soon after being drafted (which, again, was a big deal 21 years ago) and was soon one of the faces of React Juice, their top-of-the-line cushioning based on a moving liquid polymer encased under the heel and sometimes forefoot. Others in the lineup were Larry Johnson (the winner of the Dunk in 1993) and Kevin Johnson. At the time, a very solid roster.
So how did he do it? What made Kobe copy him? If you watch any video, you know he could flat-out FLY. He took off from outside the paint on almost every dunk. His head seemed to just miss the rim on every jump. And then, it happened…
That’s right – Eastbay Funk dunk. Between the legs, from the baseline, no mercy given. Unleashed on the world.
I won’t say this was the higlight of Rider’s career, because I don’t know him, but if you look at his career, it was a little rougher after this day. But for this day, JR was KING.