Every February, at the halfway point of the season, the NBA puts on ‘All-Star Weekend’, which serves as several day’s rest for the majority of players and an exciting exhibition for fans. The ‘All-Star Game’ on Sunday night is the marquee event, but for decades Saturday’s ‘Slam-Dunk Contest’ has been the most anticipated and most entertaining. The dunk contest is unique in that it transcends basketball; even those who couldn’t care less about triangle offenses, player efficiency ratings or true shooting percentages find themselves marvelling at the spectacular athleticism and showmanship of the competitors. The event has come under fire in recent years after a few underwhelming turnouts, but last weekend’s showing restored order with a return to the classic format and some electrifying slams. Without further ado, here’s (subjectively) the ten best dunks in the history of the contest.
10) Blake Griffin’ Car Dunk, Staples Center, Los Angeles 2011
Alright, he only jumped over the bonnet of the car, but imagine the pressure to nail it first time with all that spectacle malarkey – the NBA’s incumbent best in-game dunker had to feature. Griffin and Kia have since continued their lucrative partnership. And remember guys, if a pretty girl is dumb, it don’t matter. Thanks, Chuck.
9) Josh Smith’s Windmill-over-Chair-from-Free-Throw-Line, Pepsi Center, Denver 2005
J-Smoove has been another great in-game dunker over the last decade, and he won the competition back in 2005. This particular dunk? As Kevin Harlan exclaims, ‘‘that was sweet!’’.
8) Dominique Wilkins’ two-handed baseline windmill, Chicago Stadium, Chicago 1988
Wilkins vs Jordan in ’88 is the dunking matchup, and the mano-a-mano contest didn’t disappoint. Though not the most incredible slam, the stakes were high for Nique’s final effort, and his ferocious execution allowed him to emerge victorious.
7) Nate Robinson over Spud Webb, Toyota Center, Houston 2006
In 1986 Spud Webb, at 5’7’’, made dunk contest history by being the shortest player to win it. 20 years later, all 5’9’’ of Nate Robinson arrived in the NBA and took the competition by storm, winning it three times in four years. Though Robinson has sent down several hellacious dunks worthy of making this list, his jam over Webb was not only athletically incredible but warmly nostalgic, and was enough to clinch him the title.
Gerald Green’s Birthday Candle Dunk, New Orleans Arena, New Orleans 2008
This stuff wasn’t the flashiest ever, but it was a jaw-dropping display of hops. The rim is 10 feet high. The flame is a couple of inches higher. Gerald Green is 6’8’’. In order to blow out the candle, he’d probably have to get his head within a few inches of it. That’s one hell of a leap. What’s more, it’s always enjoyable when a contestant uses his imagination so, er, imaginatively.
Jason Richardson’s self-alley-oop-between-the-legs, Staples Center, Los Angeles 2004
Richardson has rightly gone down as one of the best dunkers of all-time, and his performance in the 2004 competition, topped off with this hammer, shows why. The level of difficulty and body control needed to execute this is off the charts.
Zach LaVine’s Space-Jam Dunk, Madison Square Garden, New York 2015
Going into last weekend, rookie LaVine was the most hotly anticipated contestant for years after Vine videos showing him pulling off mid-boggling slams went viral. But could he do it with the spotlight on him? You bet. All four of LaVine’s dunks were awesome, and he eased his way to victory. But the ‘Space Jam Dunk’, complete with a Jordan Looney-Toons jersey, was the most impressive. LaVine should keep wowing fans with his crazy hops for years to come.
Dwight Howard’s Superman Dunk, New Orleans Arena, New Orleans 2008
Shaq might have first donned the moniker, but after this slam nobody was under any illusions as to who the true ‘Superman’ was. At 6’11’’ with a 39 inch vertical leap, the consummate entertainer Howard was almost literally flying. Back and knee injuries have hampered him recently, but we’ll always remember watching Dwight in his peak as the most athletic Center ever to play the game. N.B. Howard doesn’t so much as dunk the ball as throw it through the rim.
Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan Dunk, Chicago Stadium, Chicago 1998
The most iconic dunk in contest history, Jordan’s mid-air pose has since become the logo of a global mega-brand and one of the defining sporting images along with the likes of Ali standing over Sonny Liston and Jesse Owens’ salute. Going head to head against Dominique Wilkins, MJ unleashed a dunk from the free throw line that wowed audiences and judges alike. Though that particular jam is commonplace nowadays, at the time it made history and launched His Airness’ rise to superstardom.
Vince Carter’s Reverse 360-windmill, Oakland Arena, Oakland 2000
When Kobe Bryant was asked who would win in a dunk contest out of the perceived all-time great dunkers, including him, he conceded that Carter would come out on top. That’s high praise from one of the most egotistically competitive personalities ever to grace the professional sports. But after ‘Vinsanity’ set the bar the highest it had ever been, it’s hard to argue with that statement. With the crowd like putty in his hands and a pledge to make flushing history, Carter unleashed a never-seen-before reverse 360-windmill that seemed to defy physics – just look at the reactions of the spectating players. As if that wasn’t enough, Kenny Smith’s commentary has immortalised ‘The Vince Carter Dunk’ into a legendary and iconic piece of footage. It’s worth watching every dunk, but the first one takes the biscuit. Ladies and Gentleman, it’s over.