John Wall’s amazing slam not withstanding this year’s NBA All-Star dunk contest left fans wanting something more. In fact, the whole weekend didn’t have the same buzz it once enjoyed. Collectors, however, have no trouble recapturing what might be the most memorable All-Star Weekend of all-time 26 years ago.
The dunk contest was more about deciding who was the best, in a battle for the ages, Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins.
Bird's competition, for lack of a better word to describe them, was Danny Ainge, Dale Ellis, Craig Hodges, Mark Price, Detlef Schrempf, Byron Scott and Trent Tucker. They all knew they were in a contest for second spot, and if they didn't then Bird reminded them before the shooting started. 1988 was the third time players took part in the Long Distance Shootout, and Bird had won all of them.
The final was Bird and Dale Ellis. Shooting first, Ellis put up a respectable score. Bird started slowly but just as he would hit clutch shots late in games, when he got to the fourth rack he hit shot after shot. The scores were tied as Bird grabbed the last basketball on the fifth rack, he shot it and then put his finger in the air to indicate who was the best and then the ball swished through.
Bird's reward for winning the competition was a check for $12,500, He got $10,000 in 1986 for winning the first event, and a trophy. He also received plenty of applause from the Chicago crowd, not something he was used to when playing against the Bulls.
Finding a Larry Bird card from one of his Long Distance Shootout wins is easy, but many or even all of them are from his two earlier wins. There are a lot of cards with Bird wearing his warm-up Celtics top and often shooting the multi-colored moneyball in the three-point competition. 1992-93 Upper Deck had the Larry Bird Heroes Set, and card #24. In 2006-07 Topps there were dozens of versions of Bird's #33 card, and three of them are from Long Distance Shootouts, as is card #LB-88 from the Larry Bird The Missing Years insert set. Bird's #CF-38 mini-card from 2008-09 Co-Signers and #172 from 2008-09 Topps 1958-59 Variations also show him in the Long Distance Shootout. All these Bird cards are inexpensive, although there are numbered versions of his 2006-07 Topps cards which are harder to find.
Jordan was the defending dunk champion, but when he won in 1987 some of the biggest names were not there. In 1988 he was competing against former winners Wilkins and Spud Webb, as well as Clyde Drexler and other high-flying athletes. It wasn't close as Jordan and Wilkins put up huge scores in the first two rounds to meet in the final.
Wilkins started with two perfect scores in the final, Jordan had a perfect 50 and then a 47. Wilkins only received 45 for his last dunk. Jordan had the home fans behind him and his dunk from the free throw line was given a perfect score of 50. Was ‘Nique robbed? Maybe, but Jordan’s flight is now the stuff of legend. The signed image is now one of the biggest sellers for Upper Deck Authenticated (see one here).
There are many basketball cards that have a picture of Jordan winning the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest. 1999 Upper Deck Jordan Retirement #4 has a great picture. 1991-92 Hoops Slam Dunk #4 is an old insert to have. 1995-96 Upper Deck Jordan Collection #JC6, 1996 Upper Deck 23 Nights Jordan Experience #19 and 2009-10 Upper Deck Michael Jordan Legacy Collection #16 are other cards to search for. The best card with a picture from his 1988 win is also the oldest, and one that many collectors would already have, the 1988-89 Fleer #120 Jordan All-Star
1988 may have been the peak for both those All-Star Weekend events. Props and superstars avoiding the dunk contest took something away from the fun in later years. The problem that the long distance shooters have is that they have to get compared to Bird, and like an Andrew Bogut free throw, they often fall short. Fans of both players can find basketball cards to commemorate one of the most memorable All-Star weekends in NBA history.