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1988’s controversial Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins dunk contest final needs a deep rewind

This was an important, complicated crossroads in a rivalry that spanned both real games and fun contests.

In the mid-1980s, Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins had simultaneous rivalries. Both were friendly, and both shifted over time.

The first rivalry came from actual basketball games. The Atlanta Hawks had a head start building around Wilkins, the older of the two players, and enjoyed some degree of playoff success during this era. Jordan arrived to the Chicago Bulls in 1984 and quickly distinguished himself as one of the league’s premier stars — even greater than Wilkins — but the Bulls took some time to generate a winner around their centerpiece.

There were some Atlanta-Chicago matchups in which Jordan won a scintillating back-and-forth matchup with Wilkins but the Hawks ultimately won the game, underscoring disparity. By 1988, that dynamic was starting to shift.

The other rivalry was in dunking. Jordan and Wilkins were not just great players, but great entertainers, and they first demonstrated that side-by-side at the 1985 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, which Wilkins won narrowly over Jordan. After each had to skip one of the next two dunk contests, the finals of the 1988 event became the great showdown.

In this episode of REWINDER, we discuss what came of that showdown, which ended somewhat controversially. That’ll happen when players repeat dunks, and when the contest takes place in Chicago.

Here’s the full story of a great night in basketball (and dunking) history, a crossroads in a fantastic rivalry.