1996 McDonalds High School Dunk Contest (Kobe, Thomas, Earl, Benjamin)
Kobe Bryant, Tim “TNT” Thomas, Lester Earl & Corey Benjamin! This might not sound like a dream team of dunkers but this is one of the best lineup of dunkers ever. And ironically, the most known of the mentioned were the worst dunkers in the event.
Kobe Bryant and Tim Thomas were the two best and most popular players of the group and in their high school class. Both were leaning towards going straight to the league and both looked pretty bad on this day. Especially Kobe, who looked nothing like the cocky kid that faced off against Lester Earl at the 1995 Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach: the two put on a dunk exhibition more impressive than the recent NBA dunk contests and when the judges tried to end the contest with a tie, Kobe and Earl started pulling out more people and ball racks to jump over. Kobe eventually walked away as the “winner.”
Kobe’s high school rival Tim Thomas also has a story with Earl. The two met at the 95 ABCD camp, where Thomas put on a show and dropped 27 & 11 on him. As for the McDonald’s dunk contest, Thomas was far from a show and looked like he was just going through the motions.
Future Chicago Bull Corey Benjamin finished second to Earl. His most famous dunk off came at a Nike camp, where he lost to Chicago legend Ronnie Fields in a dunk contest that Vince Carter didn’t want any part of. I asked Fields a couple of years ago about the contest and he said it was amazing event and was shocked at Corey’s jumping ability. The way the story goes is Benjamin did everything from 360 to free throw line dunks and all Ronnie did was windmill variations and still won.
Ronnie and his 47-inch vert were originally going to be in the McDonald’s game and most likely competing in the dunk contest but a near fatal car crash a month before the event prevented him from competing and made him one of the most talked about “what if” stories in NBA history.