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Fans in hoop heaven at slam-dunk contest: Hometown hero Jordan dazzles ‘em with ‘flying’

Read the Sun-Times’ original story from MJ’s iconic performance at the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

Michael Jordan takes off at the free-throw line to capture the slam dunk championship prior to the NBA All-Star Game at the Chicago Stadium.
Tom Cruze

Originally published Feb. 7, 1988.

It’s an imperfect science, this slam-dunk scoring stuff that went on Saturday in the Chicago Stadium stands. The difference between awarding a 10 or a nine or an eight is all in the . . .

”Acrobatics,” declared Dominic Vivona, a 19-year-old Northwestern student as he readied his scoring card before the NBA slam-dunk championship, part of the warmup for today’s All-Star Game.

”Flying,” corrected seatmate Greg Spivey, 18. “If you aren’t clearly flying, you don’t get a 10.”

”Flying, that’s important,” agreed Alan Turvin, 20. “But you’ve got to have your own special way of flying, your own creation.”

Of course, the votes of these three didn’t really count - the actual slam-dunk scoring was done by five official judges, each with a top tally of 10 points per dunk.

But, with 8 1/2-by-11-inch numbered flash cards, some 17,000 fans had the chance to go a bit beyond the usual boos and cheers and make some points with the hometown hero.

A Michael Jordan one-hand-to-the-next, under-and-over jam through the hoop? Up went a sea of flash cards - all 10s.

A Jordan backboard-rattling, tomahawk slam? Another wave of 10s.

And when Jordan missed?

A 10 – at least from 20-year-old South Sider John Robinson.

”I’d give Jordan a 10 just for showing up,” Robinson said. “I guess that’s why they don’t let us do the real scoring.”

That, and there’s the little matter of a $12,500 first-place prize awarded to the slamma-jamma champ - one Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan at the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
John Swart/AP Photo

There was plenty of real scoring going on anyway during the day’s events, including an old-timers - er, Legends - contest and a thrilling three-point shoot-out won by Larry Bird in the final seconds.

”It’s true none of this means anything,” said Wayne Sova, 33, who owns the Whatever For sports bar in Cicero. “But how often are you going see this many great players all at once?”

Barely see might have been a better choice of words for Sova, a regular season-ticket holder who paid $10 to sit in the upper balcony.

Like many other season-ticket holders, he found that his usual choice spot had been taken by, as Sova put it, “some big shot with connections.”

Also up in the Stadium’s stratosphere were Chris McCarthy and Tony Tolganic, two Arlington Heights roundball rooters who alternated between the live action and their tiny, lap-top TV.

”It’s college basketball,” explained Tolganic, 28. “Indiana vs. Illinois.”

”Yeah, he’s a basketball nut, alright,” McCarthy said. “One minute I’m in bed and 45 minutes later he’s got me right here.”

”The pace, the skill,” said Tolganic dreamily. “I just love basketball.”

As the NBA likes to say, it’s fan-tastic.