Bill Simmons says "88 Dunk Contest was rigged" - I'll explain why

Earlier in the year, Bill Simmons had a great sit-down interview with basketball and dunk legend Dominique Wilkins. They talked about how Nique was a "better dunker than Jordan," how Nique was robbed in 88 during the home job dunk contest win by Jordan and why current stars won't do the dunk contest.

TMZ recently caught up with Simmons in the street and asked about MJ & Nique. Simmons repeated his thoughts on the duel and talked about the "brand injury" that would occur to stars like Blake Griffin and LeBron if they lost in a dunk contest nowadays.


Nique, like any unbiased dunk fan back then, believed he should have won the contest and even said MJ agreed by saying “Hey, you probably won. You know it, I know it, but hey, you’re in Chicago. What can I tell you?” It was a home job and everybody knew it, including Charles Barkley, who said it on air during the 1994 dunk contest, when he and Nique were providing commentary for the JR Rider show.

As time went by and youngsters were left with just edited recaps, stats and biased marketing, the perception was formed that MJ deserved the win and that the free throw line dunk was more dramatic than it actually was. What many people don’t know about the free throw dunk from 88 is that MJ actually attempted the dunk three times in the same contest. The first time he did it, he scored a 50. That’s fair. Then on the final dunk in the contest, when he needed a 49 to beat Nique’s 45 (lowest of the night), he missed his first attempt and was rewarded with a 50 on his second attempt for doing a dunk he already did earlier in the contest. Yep, Nike’s history books didn’t tell you that.

(UPDATE: And of course evidence of this has been removed from YouTube)


The best part of the Grantland video is when Bill brings up the topic of “stars” not doing the contest anymore for BS concerns, like losing the event will hurt their brand. Nique thought that excuse was “crap and stupid” because the event isn’t about them, it’s about the fans. He then mentioned how he competed five times and only won twice (and robbed twice). What he didn’t mention was he did the contest after losing two events, which showed how little he cared about any perception that could be made about him losing a contest….and he’s arguably the best dunker of all-time.

Actually, there’s been a lot of great and marketable players that competed multiple times, never won and I’m sure never lost a penny because of it. Clyde Drexler is one of the top 50 players ever and he also did the dunk contest five times. I can guarantee you that nobody can recall two dunks that he did in those five years either. Then you have Dr J, who at the time of his NBA dunk contest appearance was known as the greatest dunker of all-time. Not only did he “put his brand on the line” but he was willing to compete at the age of 34 & 35 (the age Kobe Bryant is right now). Shawn Kemp lost all four times he participated. Jerome Kersey lost four years in a row. Kenny Smith three. Spud Webb finished dead last in his second contest appearance and was still willing to come back for a third time.

Spud, Kemp, Clyde and others kept coming back because fans wanted them there and they wanted to reward their fans. They all wanted to win but they weren’t there to win.

Speaking of winnings, the winner of that 1988 dunk contest walked away with $12,500. That’s right, the league’s best were willing to compete for a little more than $10K and last year we saw Magic Johnson, with Bill Simmons, unsuccessfully try to convince LeBron James to compete for a million dollars.

So here we are in 2014 and the league is having another tough year trying to get guys to compete. Some don’t want to do it because they have already won or felt cheated or because they want to be in other events or because they don’t like the competition.

The last example I can bring up about the difference between now and then is Michael Jordan was willing to embarrass himself and compete in the 1990 Three-point contest against the likes of Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Craig Hodges and Larry Bird. He knew he didn’t have a chance but he wasn’t afraid of challenges and knew his fans would enjoy it. The result for MJ was a first-round score of five, which was less than half of the second-worst score in the contest. That five actually became the worst in contest history and it took 14 years until somebody challenged it; Vlad Rad was able to pull out a six in the 2005 contest.

As you can see, Jordan’s brand was really hurt by that loss.


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