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YouTube Gold: Unemployed Darnell Hillman Wins The First NBA Dunk Contest

Times have really changed.

Denver Nuggets v. Phoenix Suns
 DENVER, CO - MARCH 07: Darnell Hillman #30 of the Denver Nuggets wins the opening tip during a game against the Phoenix Suns at McNichols Arena on March 07, 1978 in Denver, Colorado.
Photo by Mark Junge/Getty Images

One of the real results of the 1976 NBA-ABA merger was a stylistic takeover by the ABA players.

The NBA had a lot of great players, to be sure, starting with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then at his peak, and Bill Walton, who was incredible during his brief period of true greatness.

Then there was John Havlicek, Bob Lanier, JoJo White, Steve Mix, Rudy Tomjanovich, but most of the 1975 All-Stars played a very basic, fundamentally sound version of the game that, while no one could argue with the basics, was also pretty boring (the fans agreed: in 1978, the NBA Finals were shown at 11:30 on a tape delay basis).

The ABA guys really shook things up. Just look who came in from the cold: Dr. J, David Thompson, George Gervin, Moses Malone, George McGinnis, Dan Issel and, lest we forget, Darnell Hillman.

Hillman was never a great player in either the ABA or the NBA, but he was a gifted leaper who was called Dr. Dunk.

In fact, he won the first NBA dunk contest, which you can see here. And what you’ll notice pretty quickly is that the standards for dunking have evolved immensely since 1977 because most of what Hillman does here is, by today’s standards,pretty pedestrian. There’s no Mustang, no one sitting in a chair to leap over in a single bound, no props of any kind. In fact, a bit bizarrely, Hillman wasn’t even wearing an official team jersey but rather a tank top, as he was unsigned when the contest occurred.

One more sign that times have changed: the grand prize was $15,000. Today? $100,000.