Remembering Orlando Woolridge, A Dunk Contest History Maker

By: 06.01.12
Orlando Woolridge

Orlando Woolridge and Chick Hearn

Former Bulls and Lakers star Orlando Woolridge died today at age 52, reports say. He was reportedly in hospice care in Louisiana for a chronic heart condition. Although his 16.0 points per average in 13 seasons is mostly forgotten by the current crop of players, the No. 6 pick in the 1981 draft should be remembered for, among other things, pulling off the first between-the-legs dunk in the NBA dunk contest.

The 6-9 power forward became a star as a freshman on Notre Dame’s Final Four team, hit a buzzer-beater to break Virginia’s 28-game win streak as a senior (when he shot 65 percent from the field), and — maybe most memorably — had his career overlap with Michael Jordan‘s in Chi-town. Woolridge dropped 22.9 points per game during MJ’s rookie season and was the original high flyer before MJ.

A year before that, though, in the late winter of 1984, Woolridge made history by becoming J.R. Rider before there was J.R. Rider. Namely, introducing the NBA Slam Dunk Contest to the between-the-legs throwdown. The muted, almost unimpressed, reaction the crowd gives the slam seems a little ridiculous for the kind of dunk it was (but it’s also not like Woolridge was showing out like a natural showman either).

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After playing for seven teams and making the 1989 NBA Finals with the “Showtime” Lakers, Woolridge also coached the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks from 1998-99. Today Notre Dame men’s coach Mike Brey, the same age as the ex-Irish great, discussed the passing of Woolridge.

In one of the first sneaker commercials of the 80s, Woolridge and Spud Webb shilled for PONY by staging their own dunk contest, evidence of their league-wide reputations above the rim.

Hit the jump to see more classic videos of Wooldridge’s dunks.

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Another from the archives is a dunk by Woolridge, then a Nugget, dunking on Will Perdue and Stacy King on his former Bulls squad.

I wrote earlier that Woolridge was the high flying dunker in Chicago right before Jordan made everyone forget everyone else to ever slam in a Chicago uniform. This video, from a game in Milwaukee, is a pretty apt showing of that transition (literally) from Woolridge to Jordan, who dishes to the big man on the break.

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