The 10 best Slam Dunk Contest dunks
By Ben Golliver
In determining the 10 greatest NBA Slam Dunk Contests and the five worst this week, The Point Forward used a formulaic approach that took into account star power, “wow” moments, rivalries, variety and legacy. The process of reviewing an entire dunk contest and comparing generation to generation was exhaustive.
When it comes to individual dunks, though, the instantaneous reaction is what matters most. History, timing, star power and degree of difficulty are all factors to consider, but a dunk’s beauty is largely in the eye of the beholder. While the dunk-contest rankings aimed to be as objective as possible, this top 10 list of the best dunks in event history is more about immediate feel and personal preference.
10. Isaiah Rider: Between-the-legs dunk, 1994
Going through the legs to finish a slam is somewhat routine in dunk contests these days. Not in 1994. Rider, an Oakland, Calif., native, who dubbed his signature slam the “East Bay Funk Dunk,” ran hard along the baseline from the left corner to set up a left-to-right pass through his legs for the one-handed finish. It was the clear high-water mark of an otherwise dreary mid-1990s era for the contest. The celebratory shorts tug was a great final touch.
9. Dwight Howard: Backboard-pass dunk, 2008
Howard is remembered mostly as a user (and abuser) of props, but this 2008 dunk was just him, the ball and the backboard. It was a simple concept to explain but an extremely difficult one to execute: Howard tapped a self alley-oop off the backboard with his left hand, caught it with his right hand and finished the dunk before landing. The timing and hang time had to be perfect, which they were, and the leg kick just made it look that much cooler.
8. Dee Brown: No-look dunk, 1991
One of the most likable participants in contest history, Brown’s signature dunk — covering his face with his right forearm while flying high to stuff with his left hand — was unforgettable. An entire generation of children grew up replicating this dunk in their backyards and schoolyards.
7. Jason Richardson: Through-the-legs reverse dunk, 2003
Richardson wrapped up his second consecutive title with a slick finish that had to be replayed five times to be comprehended. The dunk began with Richardson’s throwing a high, bouncing self alley-oop from the right corner. Richardson ran to catch the ball in the protected circle and scooped it through his legs backward and into his left hand, from which he finished a smooth reverse dunk all in one motion. Original, complicated, mind-blowing.
6. Michael Jordan: Sideways dunk, 1987
Not the most complicated dunk in the world — none of Jordan’s contest offerings were all that complex — but it packed a punch. Jordan, approaching the hoop as he might on an uncontested fast break, rose ever so high, giving himself enough time to pump the ball around in midair and setting up a right-handed spike that he delivered with his body at roughly a 45-degree angle to the ground. The effect made him seem even higher off the ground and gave him the appearance of a fighter plane. The low sideline angle replay was even more extraordinary: He looks like he’s 8 feet off the ground.
Watch the dunk at the 2:14 mark:
5. Vince Carter: Reverse 360 windmill dunk, 2000
Pure artistry. Mixing Jordanesque hang time with unprecedented technical skill on a high degree-of-difficulty dunk, Carter jumped straight into history with this one. He spun the wrong way after lift-off to perfectly set up a swinging, and extraordinarily powerful, windmill finish. This slam combined all of his strengths as a dunker: leaping ability, precision, power and creativity.
4. Gerald Green: Cupcake dunk, 2008
This is the greatest dunk by a loser in contest history — Dwight Howard beat Green in a fan vote in 2008 — and easily one of the most taken for granted. Think of all the things that could have gone wrong: the candle blows out too early; the candle doesn’t blow out; he gets up high enough to blow it out but doesn’t direct the air properly; he doesn’t get up high enough to blow it out; he spoils the whole thing by missing the dunk; the replay doesn’t convincingly show him blowing out the candle, etc. Instead, everything went flawlessly. He blew out the candle, finished the dunk and the cameras captured the whole thing. Sheer genius.
3. Dwight Howard: Superman dunk, 2008
Sorry, purists: Don’t even start with the “it wasn’t really a dunk” garbage. Loosen your standards for five seconds and enjoy one of the most jaw-dropping feats of flight you will ever see. As corny as the cape sounds in theory, it helped make this dunk that much more memorable.
2. Vince Carter: Elbow dunk, 2000
It seems impossible to be this innovative while being this simple. Carter used the best prop he could find — his own arm — to throw down a dunk that helped vault the contest into its 21st-century rebirth. Carter launched himself extraordinarily high, following through on his dunk so convincingly that his entire forearm went through the rim. The fact that he hung out on the rim to enjoy — and sell — the moment made it even more special.
Watch the dunk at the 37-second mark:
1. Michael Jordan: Free-throw-line dunk, 1988
Jordan went to the free-throw dunk a number of times in his three contest appearances, but he saved the best for last. On the short list of the the most iconic and memorable dunks in history, this one — which featured the trickery of pulling the ball behind his ear and an outstanding spread-eagle leg-kick action — sealed his victory in the greatest dunk contest of all time.
Check out the dunk at the 6:05 mark:
Honorable Mention: Terence Stansbury’s 360-degree Statue of Liberty dunk (2:30 mark) in 1985; Spud Webb’s off-the-bounce, off-the-glass dunk in 1986; Desmond Mason’s between-the-legs, left-handed dunk in 2003; Blake Griffin’s car-jumping dunk in 2011; JaVale McGee’s three-ball dunk in 2011; and so many others.