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In 1988, the NBA Slam Dunk Contest took place at the old Chicago Stadium—Michael Jordan’s home court. To fans everywhere, the contest was about two men: Jordan and Dominique Wilkins.
Wilkins had knocked off Jordan—who was a rookie at the time—in the duo’s first and only prior dunk battle back in ‘85. An injury forced Jordan to miss most of his sophomore season. His Airness then won the contest in ’87, but Wilkins was injured at the time.
His Free-Throw Line Dunk helped elevate Michael Jordan to superstar status in the NBA.
Now—finally—Jordan and Wilkins were set to go head-to-head, even as Spud Webb, Clyde Drexler and Otis Smith battled for a spot in the finals. But those three couldn’t hang with the headliners, and when the finals came, the rematch was on.
Jordan and Wilkins traded explosive, high-flying dunks, each earning perfect scores (50 points) on four of six dunks in the final round.
Needing to score a 49 on his final dunk to win the crown, Jordan walked to the opposite end of the floor and pinpointed his launch position on the baseline. He clutched the ball with both hands, fixed his eyes on the basket, and took his first step forward while simultaneously bouncing the ball.
Jordan was measured in his approach, bouncing the ball from his right hand to his left. It wasn’t until he crossed half court that he shifted gears and accelerated, his handle on the ball getting tighter with each step.
He put his left foot into the floor just behind the free-throw line, propelling off his left leg and—LIFT OFF.
Flying high above the rim, MJ pumped his legs—as if running on air—and double clutched the ball before throwing it down and sending the capacity crowd into a frenzy.
What It Took
A will to win.
To understand MJ’s will to win from within, one can look at events of the 1985 NBA All-Star Game. The narrative surrounding the event was that older, more established players, including Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, orchestrated a freeze-out of Jordan, not passing him the ball in order to bring him down a few pegs after the rookie showed up for All-Star weekend with more fanfare than they liked.
Over the next three seasons, Jordan elevated to superstar status, but the league’s other luminaries weren’t quite ready to celebrate the 24-year-old phenom.
So at the ’88 All-Star Game in Chicago—in front of his hometown fans—MJ aimed to take over the game. His first challenge was to exact revenge on Wilkins—a.k.a. “The Human Highlight Reel”—in the dunk contest.
Although Jordan’s competitiveness and drive to be the best were part of the reason he flew so high in the “Free-Throw Line Dunk,” the foundation for this epic moment was built on the legendary workouts prescribed by MJ’s personal strength coach, Tim Grover. Grover led Jordan through tough training designed to improve his speed, explosion, and most of all, his jumping ability.
Here’s a sample sequence showing what MJ’s vert-boosting training was like:
- Assume an athletic stance holding dumbbells at your sides
- Step onto a box and drive up until your leg is fully extended
- Drive your opposite knee high
- Slowly return to start position and repeat with opposite leg
- Continue alternating for specified duration
Duration: 30 seconds
- Assume split stance with left foot in front
- Lower into Squat until front knee is bent 90 degrees
- Explode straight up for maximum height
- Land softly in start position and repeat for specified reps
- Perform set with right leg forward
Reps: 15 each leg
Lying Glute Stretch
- Lie on your back and pull one knee to your chest while keeping your opposite leg straight
- Hold for specified duration and repeat with opposite leg
Duration: 30 seconds each leg
Coaching Points: Perform sequence three times. Rest 1-2 minutes between reps and 2-3 minutes before the next sequence
Lying Glute Stretch
What It Meant
At the time, the Free-Throw Line Dunk earned MJ the dunk contest crown. But the moment meant much more. Perhaps Magic Johnson said it best when he proclaimed, “[Jordan] has arrived.”
The iconic dunk became the inspiration for Jordan brand’s “Jumpman” logo. The dunk also helped attract worldwide attention to Jordan and his sport, increasing the international appeal of the game. On the court that day in Chicago, MJ became “His Airness” permanently in the minds of many. That’s why it’s Jordan’s ultimate #WINFROMWITHIN Moment.
Every minute is a minute to #WINFROMWITHIN. Whether it’s arriving at practice early, running further or faster than you did yesterday, or waking up at 4:30 a.m. to out-work your opponents, show Gatorade how you #WINFROMWITHIN by creating your own digital Gatorade bottle.