Spud Webb remembers getting on the bus after winning the NBA slam dunk contest 35 years ago and getting a quick piece of advice from his Atlanta teammate at the time, Doc Rivers.
The message: Your life just changed forever.
“He wasn’t joking,” Webb said. “Everywhere I go, even today, people are talking about it.”
That’s what happens when a 5-foot-7 guy — a height that was perhaps generously listed — captures imaginations by winning the dunk contest, which was just in its third year then. Webb returns to the dunk contest on Sunday in Atlanta as one of the judges, when first-time competitors Anfernee Simons of the Portland Trail Blazers, Cassius Stanley of the Indiana Pacers and Obi Toppin of the New York Knicks compete for the title.
They are not big NBA names, yet.
By Sunday night, that might change.
“Hopefully, these guys put on a show for everybody and leave them talking,” Webb said. “I guess that’s really what it’s all about. If people don’t believe in you, then you can go out and prove that you are one of the best dunkers in the NBA.”
He knows a little something about that.
Webb, 57, won his title in Dallas, his hometown, in 1986 — and had to beat Hawks teammate Dominique Wilkins to get that trophy. Even now, Webb sees his win as the ultimate underdog moment since he still insists that Wilkins is the best dunker of all-time.
“There were only 20,000 people in Reunion Arena,” Webb said. “I’ve had 100,000 people in Dallas tell me they were there.”
That will be a tough claim for someone to make this year. The dunk contest will take place at halftime of the All-Star Game, and because of the pandemic only about 1,500 guests — mostly frontline and vaccinated health-care workers — will be invited to watch the game and the skills events.
It’ll be a two-round event. The three competitors will perform two dunks each in the first round, and then the two with the highest combined score from those will get one dunk each to decide the champion. Those final dunks won’t get a score; the winner will be determined by “Judges’ Choice” — a twist where the judges raise a card that has the dunker’s name on it.
“I was going to try and do stuff that hasn’t been done yet in the dunk contest,” said Toppin, who led major college basketball with 107 dunks last season at Dayton. “But I’ve seen a lot of great dunks, so I might have to bring out one of the old dunks that someone did.”
Webb — part of a five-judge panel this year, all of them former dunk champions — isn’t opposed to that approach. He’ll be joined by Wilkins, Dee Brown, Jason Richardson and Josh Smith to choose this year’s winner.
“I think even if they repeat a dunk, it depends on the artistic and creative parts of it,” Webb said. “I like the like power dunks. I’m just excited too see what these guys are going to do.”
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