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The Over and Back NBA podcast is celebrating the NBA at 75 by rewatching some of the greatest Slam Dunk Contests in NBA history.
It was sold as a youth movement, the new wave, a new generation of top-tier dunkers ready to take the mantle from your Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan types. When Wilkins won his final dunk contest in 1990, it was the end of an era. The contest would undergo a radical transformation over the next two seasons that saw spectacle take center stage even more than it had in 1986 when Spud Webb won the competition.
In 1991, Dee Brown coupled Webb’s “hey look a short guy is dunking!” style with branded flair as he got the crowd on his side by pumping his Reebok pumps and finishing the competition by doing a no-look dunk. Brown defeated Kemp in a fun but disappointing competition.
The next year, Cedric Ceballos used a blindfold to defeat Larry Johnson in the finals. Whether or not he could actually see out of the blindfold, who cares. It was fun, it was exciting and it was a great way for the competition to continue to innovate and move forward, now without top-tier stars.
In 1993, though, the lack of star power was too obvious to ignore.
Kemp, the competition’s lone “star” withdrew due to injury. The remaining competitors were a blend of decent role players and rookies. Sure, the dunks were still good but the 1993 contest more than any other in history had the look and feel of a concept losing its grip on basketball fans. There were more stars than ever in the NBA in 1993, business was booming, yet the showcase event for All-Star Weekend is headlined by Clarence Weatherspoon and Harold Miner?
Call it a youth movement all you want. The dunk contest had a star problem and no matter how many times you call Miner “Baby Jordan” doesn’t make it true.
The 1993 Slam Dunk Contest competitors
Clarence Weatherspoon: Philadelphia’s lottery pick rookie was a building block for the next great 76ers team. Julius Erving he was not but Weatherspoon showed a lot of promise in the early parts of his career.
Harold Miner: The man affectionately known as “Baby Jordan” because he was bald and dunked. A victim of expectations, Miner would join Jordan in winning two slam-dunk contests but would only play four years in the NBA.
Tim Perry: Traded to Philadelphia from Phoenix in the Charles Barkley trade, this is the second of Perry’s three dunk contests. He never finished higher than fifth.
Kenny Smith: The man who would later be famous for his commentary during dunk contests, Smith made history on this night becoming the first player to ever participate in the slam-dunk and three-point contest in the same night. Damian Lillard would join him with the honor in 2014.
David Benoit: The second-year Utah Jazz forward is a fan favorite but at this time nothing more than an accessory role player for the Jazz.
Chris Jackson: The future Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is arguably the best overall player in the competition this year as he was enjoying a career year in Denver. The only problem: he had never dunked in an NBA game before. Odd choice for a dunk contest!
Cedric Ceballos: The defending champion Ceballos won’t be able to use props this year as the NBA attempted to get the contest back to basics. No blindfolds, no chairs, just dunks, baby.
No crowd had ever been THIS excited about David Benoit but as the hometown representative, he was the favorite. His first dunk was a two-handed reverse. It got him a nice reaction but unfortunately, a total score of 85.8 in the first round was not going to get him to the finals.
All respect in the world to Kenny Smith for pulling double-duty on this night. The former dunk contest participant (1990 and 1991) came out of the gates with an alley-oop 360.
As mentioned, Chris Jackson had never dunked in an NBA game, ever. And he was in the dunk contest. Oh boy.
This isn’t your father’s dunk contest, folks.
Denver Nuggets president and general manager Bernie Bickerstaff sent the NBA tape of Jackson dunking during practice, it must have been impressive enough because here he was. He wouldn’t last long as his first-round score of 80.8 was second-to-last.
Then finally some energy as Miner got the crowd going with a throwback to a classic Wilkins dunk: split-legged, double-clutch reverse. Baby Jordan? More like Baby ‘Nique!
Tim Perry, who would end up finishing with a pathetic first-round score of 70, did a basic up-and-under reverse dunk.
Clarence Weatherspoon, an underrated dunker during the early part of his career, hit a really fun baseline windmill with a ton of power to get one of the first round’s best scores. Channeling his inner Clyde Drexler, Ceballos decided to do pretty much the same dunk as Weatherspoon but with less power. Benoit followed with a two-handed windmill.
The crowd, the announcers, even the participants seem bored, tired, annoyed or a combination of all three.
The last part of the first round was among the worst dunk contest-ing you’ll ever see, Smith needed to grab the rim to complete his dunk, Jackson missed a windmill, Perry tried a free-throw line dunk and missed it, Jackson missed again.
Once again Miner saved things with a huge alley-oop windmill.
Perry missed his last attempt and was ready to walk off the court when he’s told that he can attempt another one if he’d like. Perry motioned if he’s going to call it a night but then did the most basic ho-hum behind his head dunk you’ll ever see.
Before the final round, TNT’s Craig Sager interviewed judges Connie Hawkins and Erving and asks Hawkins if the judges would score the competition better if they had a replay monitor.
Hawkins deadpan replied, “We see their dunks the first time, they just gotta be more creative.”
Thankfully, things did ramp up in the final round.
Weatherspoon dazzled with a cradle dunk from behind the bask, Ceballos hit a one-footed windmill then Miner brought the house down with a one-handed windmill that made Detroit Pistons legend Isiah Thomas yell, “Harold Miner is a bad boy”
Miner was so far ahead at this point in the competition that no matter what Ceballos and Weatherspoon do, they couldn’t win. Both guys completed basic dunks, Miner did a beautiful one-handed 360 to cap the night off and “Baby Jordan” was your slam-dunk contest champion.
Take Miner out of this competition and it may as well be a post-practice workout on any college campus in America. Low-effort, creatively-devoid dunks.
The NBA slam-dunk contest had seen better days. The next three years would feature several memorable moments but the bloom was undeniably off the rose.