As the summer wears on, with training camps and preseason play still off in (what feels like) the distant future, we turn our attention to the past. Join us as we while away a few late-summer moments recalling some of the most scintillating slams of yesteryear, the most thunderous throwdowns ever to sear themselves into our memories. This isDunk History.
Today, Joey Gulino revisits Michael Jordan taking out 40 percent of the Utah Jazz back in 1987.
When I wrote my entry for Dunk History last year, the impetus actually had little to do with LeBron James or Kevin Garnett or anything that ended up in the post. We have a legion of Chicagoans on staff at Yahoo Sports, and it seemed like a different Chicago Bulls dunk was being glorified in the series every day. Being the petulant jackass Cleveland fan I am, I simply decided to write about my favorite dunk by my favorite player and break up all the Bulls love.
So this year, I decided to write about … a Bulls dunk.
But not just any dunk. Not just any Bull. It’s THE Bull.
Michael Jordan was one of those athletes who transcended rooting interests. Sure, he played for a rival team, but his greatness was so apparent, his will so undeniable, his charisma so enjoyable, that eventually you stopped caring about how much he terrorized your team and started appreciating the sheer awe of it.
One of the great Jordan stories surrounds an anonymous road matchup with the Utah Jazz, well before their more famous NBA Finals encounters. The universe-destroying Bulls of the ‘90s were still incubating in early December 1987, only a few months removed from the draft that landed them both Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. As such, there was really only one reason to file into the Salt Palace on Dec. 2, and he wore No. 23.
Jordan responded with 47 points, none more memorable than a four-point sequence late in the second quarter. Jordan got position in the post against John Stockton, and when Stockton gambled and missed on Pippen’s entry pass, Jordan turned and threw down a jam:
But the dunk to truly remember came on the next possession. The details are somewhat nebulous, but they make all the difference. The story goes something like this.
Despite being an all-time great, Stockton only stands 6-foot-1, which is meager by NBA standards. A disgruntled Jazz supporter took this into account, yelling at Jordan to “pick on someone your own size,” or something along those lines.
Jordan obliged. And poor Mel Turpin, Utah's backup center, suffered the consequences:
Turpin stood 6-foot-11, almost a foot taller than Stockton. As he ran back down the floor, Jordan turned to the heckler and mouthed, “Was he big enough?”
The dunk itself — floating through the air, authoritative finish, so far above the rim it’s absurd — is vintage MJ. More importantly, though, so is the razor-sharp trash talk. For Jordan, famously capable of divining motivation from every slight, large or small, real or imagined, a heckler is a feast of righteous fuel.
The identity of that heckler is a bit of a mystery. Some have said it was former Jazz owner Larry Miller, although in an interview, Karl Malone has indicated it was just a random fan sitting near the court:
You’d think Malone would’ve known if it was Miller, but who knows?
Regardless, Jordan had a big second half and shot 63 percent for the game in a 105-101 Bulls victory. Chicago would finish 50-32 that season and lose to the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the playoffs. The Jazz, for their part, would finish with 47 wins and reach the second round of the playoffs as well, where they lost to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Jordan was still a few years away from his first championship. As evidenced by his dunk on Turpin, though, the flair for greatness was there right from the start.
More Dunk History:
• Shawn Kemp, Alton Lister and how memory works
• Chris Webber, Charles Barkley and a poster preserved
• Young Wolf Andrew Wiggins goes straight for Rudy Gobert's neck
• Rajon Rondo leaps past Dwight Howard, ascends to All-Star status
• Blake Griffin defines 'Mozgov,' picks up Stoudemire's mantle
• Vince Carter defies gravity, belief in the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest
• LeBron James rises up and Damon Jones 'gets banged on'
• Dwyane Wade welcomes Anderson Varejao to his 'Kodak moment'
• Paul George's 360 windmill causes stir on press row
• Von Wafer and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad dunk
• Dr. J 'jams the jinx,' makes Boston Garden sing different tune
• LeBron James takes flight, sends JET to crash landing
• J.R. Smith expresses himself by pulverizing Gary Neal
• Some of our friends' favorite dunks, Vol. 1: Chris Gethard, Hannibal Buress, Jensen Karp and more
• Some of our friends' favorite dunks, Vol. 2: Adam Pally, John Lurie, Daniel Van Kirk, Will Weldon and more
• Dunk History, Season 1: Our 2014 series, collected