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The first dunk contest


Yes, we know the Getty Images watermark is there but it’s still an incredible photo. From left to right: Julius Erving, Larry Kenon, George Gervin, Artis Gilmore, and David Thompson.


The 2020 NBA Dunk Contest this year will feature two role players, a 34-year-old has-been, and a non-impact scorer on a bad team. It probably won’t be that exciting, and you probably won’t watch it live. It’s an event that’s largely lost its mystique. The 1976 ABA Slam Dunk Contest, the first dunk contest on record, however, was dope as hell.


  • It happened on Jan. 27, 1976, in the ABA’s last season, in Denver, in an attempt to differentiate its own All-Star Weekend from that of the kinda-lame-at-the-time NBA's.

  • Carl Scheer, president of the Nuggets in 1976, as told to Bleacher Report: “We were sitting around a room one day, in Virginia I think, asking how we can best represent what we thought were better players than they had in the NBA. … We just finally concluded that we had to do something unique.”

  • “You’re about to bear witness to one of the most spectacular events in basketball, the Slam Dunk Contest,” said the PA announcer before it began.


The participants:



The halftime show:


Someone named “Glen Campbell” “I guess a lot of people came for that, being out in the Midwest … people like that kind of music.” -- David Thompson


The rules:


  • Each player was given two minutes to do five different dunks.  

  • The winner would receive $1,200.

  • Among the four judges was an anonymous Nuggets fan and a high school basketball player.


The two highest scorers:


  • David Thompson, who was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan. Here’s his whole set

  • Julius Erving, the eventual winner, who broke out one of the most iconic dunks in basketball history:



(Remember: Dunking was banned in the NCAA in 1976. Seeing someone take off from the free-throw line was like seeing Coffee Black catch an alley-oop from Ed Monix.) The final word: The ABA dissolved later that year, with four teams (the Nuggets, Nets, Spurs and Pacers) being absorbed by the NBA. The dunk contest didn't initially make the trip, though the league finally readopted it in 1984 when the All-Star Game came back to Denver, thus continuing a tradition of syphoning creative ideas from the ABA for financial gain. Long live the ABA. [WATCH: The entire 1976 ABA Slam Dunk Contest]


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