The day Spud Webb took flight at the slam dunk contest
In front of a hometown crowd, the 5-foot-7 Webb defeated The Human Highlight Film with perfect scores in the final round
Atlanta Hawks guard Anthony “Spud” Webb needed a favor bigger than himself. So large was his need for tickets to the NBA All-Star Game in Dallas that he hit up his trusted local scalpers for three tickets for his sisters, two for his brothers and one apiece for his parents. The scalpers even threw in a hometown discount.
Webb was returning home to participate in the 1986 All-Star Game festivities, and he needed his family, who owned a convenience store in South Dallas, there to witness it. The shortest man in the NBA was a perfect 9-for-9 in dunk contests to that point in his basketball career. So the 5-foot-7 Webb came into the NBA Slam Dunk Contest not only looking for his 10th victory but also perfect 10s from the judges too.
And so it went. For his final shot, he stretched his arm at midcourt and got ready to take flight. A one-handed, overhand bounce pass made a pit stop on the ground before connecting with the backboard and, like a yo-yo, returning to his outstretched hand. Remember, Webb can’t palm the ball, so as soon as the ball made contact with his hand, he just as quickly delivered a dunk that sent the judges, crowd and other players into a frenzy. A perfect 50.
The sellout crowd of 16,573 at Reunion Arena was chanting, “Spud, Spud, Spud!” as the judges decided on the final attempt by Dominique “The Human Highlight Film” Wilkins. They give him a 48. The 22-year-old Webb had done it, beating his 6-foot-8, 224-pound teammate and the 1985 Slam Dunk champion on Feb. 8, 1986. The prize, $12,500, was a little less than a fifth of Webb’s $70,000 salary. Wilkins, who earned $585,000, took home $7,500 for his efforts.
“I’ve never lost a dunk contest,” Webb told the Boston Globe. “But I haven’t been in many, maybe about 10.
“I can’t describe the dunks. It’s just something I go out and do. Leaping is just a God-given talent, and it’s something I try to keep.”
In the final round, Webb scored a perfect 50 on his first dunk — a 360-degree, one-handed tomahawk — along with his final effort, both of which required him to use all 42 inches of his vertical leap.
Wilkins had matched Webb’s first perfect score, taking off from the middle of the paint and connecting on a 360-degree, one-handed slam. With the pressure of matching a second perfect score, Wilkins drove baseline, double-pumped and slammed it in, but two judges reached for the nines and Wilkins finished with a 48.
Judges for the event were Roger Staubach, Martina Navratilova, Dave Cowens, Tom Sanders and Cazzie Russell.
“I knew he would be tough,” Wilkins told the Globe. “I told everybody I thought he had a good chance.”
In the first round, Webb finished with scores of 46, 48 and 47, on a dunk that went back through the net after it hit his head, a spinning dunk and a double pump.
The most exciting dunk from that round was provided by Wilkins’ brother, Gerald, who placed a chair in the middle of the lane and soared over it. Indiana’s Terence Stansbury adapted Wilkins’ stunt by placing one friend in the chair and another on the floor while dunking over both. It received a 48, and boos from the crowd.
Stansbury, Webb and Gerald Wilkins moved into the second round, where reigning champ Dominique Wilkins awaited. Webb showed he wasn’t there to fool around, opening the new round by lofting the ball up, taking it on a high bounce and reversing it into the basket with both hands. It was in that moment that everyone knew Webb was coming for that No. 1 spot.