Jordan vs Wilkins: 30 years since Chicago Stadium’s epic NBA Slam Dunk Contest

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CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 6: Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls goes for a dunk during the 1988 NBA All Star Slam Dunk Competition on February 6, 1988 at Chicago Stadium in Chicago, Illinois. Jordan went on to win the Slam Dunk Competition. HIGH RESOLUTION FILE 42 MB. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice and Credit: Copyright 2001 NBAE Mandatory Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

CHICAGO – Even in the era of video, where seeing a moment in time is the thing, a great picture still tells a thousand words.

If you’re a Bulls fan, there are a few photos that tell the story  of “His Airness,” ones that live in the conscious of Chicago fans and are easily recognized. That’s what happens when you win six NBA titles and five Most Valuable Player awards.

Yet there is one picture that started it all for Michael Jordan.

It came before the championships and even the MVP award. It was taken just before an up-and-coming player in the league became an all-out superstar.

It was taken 30 years ago on Tuesday.

With the ball behind his head, his legs lifted well off the ground, and teeth clenched, Jordan took off from the free throw line and completed his famous free throw line slam. It was the crowning jewel in an incredible NBA Slam Dunk Contest held at Chicago Stadium during All-Star Saturday on February 6, 1988.

With that dunk, given a 50 our of 50 by the panel of judges, Jordan edged out the Hawks’ Dominique Wilkins 147-145. Both players would get perfect scores in two-of-their-three dunks in the finals, but a surprisingly low 45 on a signature “Windmill” dunk on Wilkins’ last attempt gave Jordan a shot.

Lining up from the opposite end of the court, the Bulls guard gave the home crowd an indication of what was to come. Jordan actually missed his first attempt at the slam, but since he hadn’t missed in the finals, he got another chance.

With the crowd rising to their feet, Jordan took off down the court and this time nailed the free throw line hoop, earning his 50 to beat Wilkins for his second-straight dunk contest victory.

In their video called “Higher Ground” – which told the story of the 1987-1988 Chicago Bulls, the dunk contest was set to the Yanni song of “Looking Glass.” Narrating it was the late Jim Durham, who was the Bulls’ play-by-play voice that season.  It remains one of the greatest – if not the greatest – dunk contests since the competition began in 1984.

Of course you don’t have to watch the video to understand its significance. A picture tells the story, too.