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Jordan Wins Dunk Contest, but It's Judges Who Get Slammed

February 07, 1988|CHRIS BAKER | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — Michael Jordan put his arm around Dominique Wilkins as they walked off the court after Saturday's slam-dunk contest, and said, "We'll talk about this later."

This season's version of the National Basketball Assn. dunking contest is certain to have hard-core pro basketball observers talking for years.

Jordan, the Chicago Bulls' master of midair, used his home-court advantage to defeat Wilkins.

Jordan, down to his final dunk, edged Wilkins, 147-145, to successfully defend the title he won last season in Seattle.

Jordan, however, needed an assist from the five-man judging panel to win. There were those who felt that the outcome was decided before the event.

"If the contest wasn't in Chicago, I might not have won," Jordan admitted after he pocketed a $12,500 check.

Jordan trailed, 100-97, with one dunk left after Wilkins received two perfect scores of 50 on his first two dunks in the final round. Jordan got a 50 for his first dunk, but the pro-Jordan, standing-room-only crowd of 18,403 at Chicago Stadium booed after their hometown hero received a 47 on his second dunk.

Wilkins, who went first, finished with a tomahawk jam. The crowd loved it, but the judges weren't as thrilled, giving Wilkins a 45 for his final dunk.

"I was surprised when he only got a 45," said Jerome Kersey of the Portland Trail Blazers, who finished fifth. "The judges were definitely on the conservative side this year."

Even Jordan was stunned at the low score Wilkins received.

"I was shocked when he received a 45. I would have given him a 48 or a 49. But the judges were tough this year," Jordan said. "It gave me some leeway. It gave me a chance to win."

Was Wilkins robbed?

"I don't know if he was robbed, you'd better check his wallet," said Spud Webb, Wilkins' teammate, who won the dunking title in 1986 in his hometown of Dallas but finished last in the seven-man field Saturday.

The judges may have let Jordan off the hook, but he almost blew it.

Jordan missed his final dunk, but got one last chance because contestants were allowed one miss.

Was Air Jordan about to crash and burn?

"I was nervous because I knew I needed something spectacular," Jordan said. "I looked all over for some sort of sign. I saw (Chicago Bulls teammate) Brad Sellers on the bench, but I couldn't hear what he was saying.

"Then I saw Dr. J in the stands. Julius Erving invented the dunk. He told me to go the length of the floor and take off at the free-throw line. It was the best advice I had all day."

Jordan followed the Erving's advice and got a perfect score of 50 to win.

Jordan flashed his best TV commercial smile and exchanged high-fives with well-wishers.

"The crowd had a lot to do with it," Jordan said. "They gave me a lot of extra energy that I needed. When a guy has back-to-back 50s and they're staring you in the face, you have to do something the judges haven't seen."

Jordan, who has been weakened by a virus, said he might not have had the energy to beat Wilkins if the contest had come down to sudden-dunk.

"I'm really tired," Jordan said. "But I improvised enough to win. Dominique told me that if it ended in a tie, we would split the money. But I didn't believe him."

Wilkins, who beat Jordan to win the 1985 dunking title, was diplomatic after Jordan won the rematch.

"If there was someone to beat me, it had to be Michael," Wilkins said. "I just came to have fun. Both of us put on a good show. I won't question the judging because it's not my character."

Maybe they'd better settle this in private on a playground away from the judges and fans.

Tommy Hawkins, the Dodgers' new publicist, was on the five-man judging panel that included three other ex-NBA stars, Gail Goodrich, Randy Smith, (Jumping) Johnny Green, and Gale Sayers, the Chicago Bears' Hall of Fame running back.

Green and Hawkins defended the judges' decision. "The difference between Jordan and Wilkins was creativity," Hawkins said. "To go the length of the floor, palm it and slam it is just too much."

Wilkins, who went first because he lost the coin flip to Jordan, might have won it he'd been able to dunk second.

"It's always tough to go first because it gives the other guy a chance to see what you're doing," Wilkins said.

Wilkins, however, went first and finished second, earning $7,500.

Clyde Drexler of the Trail Blazers made $5,500 for finishing third, and Otis Smith of the Golden State Warriors was fourth, followed by Portland's Kersey, rookie Greg (Cadillac) Anderson of the San Antonio Spurs and Webb, who was eliminated in the first round after he missed two dunks.

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