Skip to main content

Remember when the NBA Slam Dunk Contest was fun? Remember when it included some of the game’s biggest stars, like Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins?

Today, time off is more important. Load management is a thing now. Why play if you don’t have to? Instead of getting today’s superstars to strut their stuff with high-flying, acrobatic dunks, we’re stuck watching guys like Mac McClung and Jericho Sims.

The NBA Slam Dunk Contest was once a star-studded affair led by Michael Jordan

 Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls slam dunks against the Miami Heat during an NBA game circa 1988 at the Miami Arena in Miami, Florida.
| Focus on Sport/Getty Images. 

Back in the 1980s, the NBA All-Star Weekend was an exciting three days. Today, it’s just three days. Gone are the days when superstars enjoyed being part of the All-Star festivities.

It’s not just the NBA, either. The NFL’s Pro Bowl Games were laughable. So were the NHL All-Star festivities. NBA All-Star Weekend seems to have taken the biggest steps backward.

Larry Bird, arguably a top-five player of all time, took part in the first three three-point shooting contests from 1986-1988. He won them all. Jordan won back-to-back slam dunk contests in 1987 and 1988. He and Wilkins battled it out in 88. Wilkins had won it in 1985.

“Back then, the dunk contest was bigger than the (All-Star) game,” said Jordan’s former teammate Ron Harper to Sports Illustrated in 2013. “It meant a lot to Michael. In the locker room, he was telling everybody, “Let’s give these people a show.”

They put on quite a show, with Jordan outdueling Wilkins for the title. Jordan became Air Jordan that night with his famous foul-line dunk.

“He has arrived,” Magic Johnson said of Jordan after the All-Star Game. “There’s room for three elite players: me, Larry, and Michael.”

Today’s All-Star Weekend is no comparison

Today, there are no high-flying superstars taking part in the dunk contest. In fact, there are no stars. Only four participants are in the event, and unless you’re a big NBA fan, you probably haven’t heard of all four players.

The four taking part this season are Kenyon Martin Jr. (Houston Rockets), Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans), Jericho Sims (New York Knicks), and Mac McClung (Philadelphia 76ers). McClung has recently returned from a two-way contract with the Delaware Blue Coats of the NBA’s G League.

Obi Toppin, a forward with the New York Knicks, won last year’s uneventful contest. He defeated Golden State’s Juan Toscano-Anderson, who couldn’t land a dunk in the final round. There were more missed dunks than actual makes in the 2022 event.

Toppin isn’t taking part this year to defend his title.

As Harper said in 2013, the dunk contest was once the biggest event of All-Star Weekend. My, how times have changed.


Boston Celtics Rookie Dee Brown Pumped Up His Shoes and the Crowd for an Unexpected Slam Dunk Contest Victory in ’91