The Human Highlight Film, who I professed my love for last week when he celebrated his 54th birthday, had a chat with Bill Simmons on the BS Report today and shared his thoughts about the famous 1988 dunk contest/robbery that MJ “won” and how much it bothers him that stars of today are not willing to participate in the contest anymore.
THE 88 DUNK CONTEST: MJ VS NIQUE
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 home job and everybody knew it including Charles Barkley who said that on air during the 1994 dunk contest when he and Nique were providing commentary for the JR Rider show.
But as time goes by and the only thing people who weren’t around back then have to look at are 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 3 times in the the contest. The first time he did it, he only scored a 47. 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 2nd attempt.
Yep, Nike’s history books didn’t tell you that.
WHY TODAY’S STARS WONT COMPETE IN THE DUNK CONTEST
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 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 5 times and only won twice. What he didn’t mention was he did the contest after losing 2 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 5 times and I can guarantee you that nobody can recall 2 dunks that he did in those 5 years. 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 4 times he participated. Jerome Kersey lost 4 years in a row. Kenny Smith 3. Spud Webb finished dead last in his 2nd contest appearance and was still willing to come back for a 3rd 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 embarasses himself and compete in the 1990 3 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 5 which was less than half of the 2nd worst score in the contest. That 5 actually became the worst in contest history and it took 14 years until somebody challenged it but Vlad Rad was able to pull out a 6 in the 2005 contest. As you can see Jordan’s brand was really hurt by that loss.