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The story behind MLB stars in a dunk contest

All the biggest stars of the 1990s on one basketball court January 7th, 2024 Illustration by Benjamin Marra You’ve probably seen it pop up on your Twitter timeline or in random YouTube searches over the years. Just its mere existence — the fact it really, actually happened — brings a smile to your face. Flashy

The story behind MLB stars in a dunk contest

All the most important stars of the Nineteen Nineties on one basketball courtroom

January seventh, 2024

Illustration by Benjamin Marra

You have most likely seen it pop up in your Twitter timeline or in random YouTube searches over time. Simply its mere existence — the actual fact it actually, truly occurred — brings a smile to your face.

Flashy Nineteen Nineties graphics flying throughout the display. Packed arenas with Dick Vitale Dick-Vitale-ing behind the mic. All-Star athletes from each single sport — Olympic long-jumper Mike Powell, two-sport legend Bo Jackson and MLB Corridor of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. — attempting to out-dunk one another in entrance of raucous crowds.

“It was enjoyable since you get to see totally different athletes who aren’t all enjoying basketball,” Kenny Lofton advised me in a telephone name. “You may have observe, you may have soccer, you may have some basketball, I believe we had tennis. It was an enormous factor on the time. It was Foot Locker Slam Fest.”

The occasion, which ran from 1988-1996, originated after discussions between former Foot Locker CEO Howard Sells and different executives within the late 80s. It was seen as an opportunity to advertise the favored retail retailer because the go-to place for athletes, and their followers, to purchase sneakers.

“With sneaker manufacturers rising as main TV advertisers, athlete endorsements have been rising to be rather more outstanding and efficient,” Francine Feder, VP of Client Connections for North America for Foot Locker, advised me over e mail. “This occasion was created by Foot Locker to develop an possession alternative that bolstered our place as a prime participant in athletic retail by aligning with the most important names in sports activities.”

The competition was first hosted at Arizona State and, as years went on and it received greater, it moved into NBA arenas. In every single place it moved, it offered out. It aired on ESPN and NBC for thousands and thousands to see.

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“The participation formulation was six marquee athletes and 6 prime shelf dunkers,” Feder stated. “The vast majority of MLB gamers that we approached weren’t dunkers, however we had a whole lot of success attracting celebrity names corresponding to Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson who requested for nothing apart from the prize cash and room and board. We made positive we had a pleasant steadiness consultant of various sports activities.”

The primary-place winner acquired $50,000, the runner-up received $25,000 and third received $15,000.

The scenes and units have been bursting with colours and NBA Jam-style artwork. From the head-to-head matchup graphics …

To the video game-esque font …

To the unbelievable buying and selling playing cards to commemorate the gamers concerned.

And to draw consideration from any and each doable sports activities fan, organizers invited any and each top-tier athlete in sports activities. Some, like Olympic excessive jumper Dwight Stones, felt a bit overwhelmed, with guys like Barry Bonds and Michael Irvin sprinting up and down the courtroom in pickup video games the evening earlier than.

“Among the guys have been so athletic, and I used to be like, ‘I’m going to get my a** kicked,’” Stones recalled to Sports activities Collectors Each day.

Mike Conley Sr., an Olympic gold medalist within the lengthy leap whose son, Mike Jr., at present performs for the Timberwolves, made a reputation for himself in Slam Fest (perhaps much more than the Olympics) when he dunked from the foul line in 1992. He beat fellow observe and area star Powell in a matchup of two guys that, effectively, jumped for a dwelling.

“After I received the primary Slam Fest, I received off the aircraft and somebody stated, ‘Hey, you are Mike Conley, the slam-dunker,’” Conley said at the time. “That is what they know me for. I am a jumper by commerce, however I’ve had extra folks ask me for my autograph since I’ve competed [in the Slam Fest].”

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The one two MLB gamers to ever win? Lofton and Delino DeShields. DeShields, father of WNBA star Diamond, knew precisely why I had reached out to him particularly in regards to the Slam Fest days.

“As a result of I used to be a champion?” the present Harrisburg Senators supervisor laughed over the telephone.

He remembered the contests fondly greater than three many years later.

“It was a whole lot of nice expertise,” DeShields stated. “Prime and Junior, you’ll be able to go down the checklist. A number of actually proficient athletes. Simply to be part of it was form of particular.”

Regardless of all of the competitors, DeShields, an All-American basketball participant in highschool who nearly signed a letter of intent to play school ball at Villanova, felt fairly good signing up for Slam Fest in 1990.

“Coming in, I had little question that I used to be gonna win,” the 6-foot-1 former second baseman and outfielder stated, recalling that host Vitale even predicted he’d be one to observe for throughout that evening.

Lofton, a perennial All-Star identified for having some hops on the baseball area, received one of many closest ever contests in 1996, beating Conley after the long-jump star missed his — by that time — signature foul-line dunk.

“I am the Foot Locker Slam Fest reigning champ,” Lofton stated. “I received the final one.”

The 17-year MLBer had much more high-level basketball expertise than DeShields: Lofton played key roles on Arizona Wildcats groups that went to the Candy 16 and Ultimate 4. Nonetheless, he wasn’t as assured as DeShields going into Slam Fest.

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“It is all about leaping and dunking,” Lofton stated. “It had nothing to do with if you happen to performed on a university staff. You simply had to have the ability to leap and dunk and be artistic.”

Lofton’s go-to dunk? The Statue of Liberty. It helped him get a 9.9 from the judges.

“You throw the ball up within the air and you set your hand behind your again,” Lofton defined. “Karl Malone and whoever did it at the moment.”

Each Lofton and DeShields — who participated in two contests every — very a lot loved their time at Slam Fest. Who would not love throwing down rim-shattering dunks in entrance of screaming crowds? They’d additionally love for it to make a comeback at present (Assume Mookie Betts vs. Tyreek Hill in a televised dunk-off).

“It was simply very thrilling seeing all of those athletes attempting to indicate their leaping talents,” Lofton stated. “Seeing guys from totally different sports activities just about of their prime.”

“It was an amazing occasion,” DeShields agreed. “You may have among the finest athletes on the planet taking part. All people exterior the NBA was current. That was fairly cool.”

No one’s too positive why the Slam Fest died out after 1996. Perhaps Foot Locker did not need to put it on anymore, perhaps it simply ran out of steam. Maybe — particularly with groups at present fearful about participant damage — it was one thing that would solely exist in an early-Nineteen Nineties vacuum. It appears meant to be watched and reminisced upon years later by enjoyable, I-can’t-believe-this-happened movies on the Web. Perhaps it is higher that approach.

It had its second, and it was excellent for it.

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