When it comes to basketball, perhaps there’s no more exciting moment than when a player seemingly flies through the skies and jams the ball through the rim. Whether it’s warm-ups, in-game, or at the dunk contest, whenever a slam dunk happens, the crowd goes wild. Ever since the original good doctor, one Julius “Dr. J.” Erving popularized the slam dunk in the 1970s, the slam dunk has been a critical component of a basketball fan’s DNA.
Not to knock soccer’s bicycle kick, football’s hail mary, hockey’s one timers, or baseball’s grand slam, stealing of home base, or inside the park home run, but for this Scholar’s money, give me a slam dunk any day of the week. With that said, to celebrate the return of the NBA season, here’s a by no means exhaustive look at some of our favorite dunks and dunkers in NBA history. Note that these aren’t ranked in any particular order because, c’mon, what’s the point!?!?!? They’re all fantastic dunks. Picking a favorite dunk is like picking a favorite emcee or Hip Hop song, it changes every day depending on a variety of factors and more often than not becomes a futile exercise. For the sake of this post, let’s just revel in the beauty of all these dunks. It’s more fun that way. 😉
First up, showing some love to our hometown Boston Celtics, Dee Brown’s no look dunk from the 1991 Slam Dunk Contest. Who can forget the crowd going wild as Dee Brown opened up the dunk contest by pumping up his Reebok Pump sneakers and then proceeding to blow away the competition that year, soaring his way to a dunk contest victory over Shawn Kemp in the final round? A thing of beauty indeed. BOSTON STAND UP!
Next up, His Airness himself, Michael Jordan with his infamous 1991 Playoffs posterizing of Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks. Truth be told, there’s not enough server space in the world to compile a video list of all of MJ’s impressive dunks, so we’ll stick to a couple. This particular dunk is awesome because it came in the playoffs in the midst of the heated Bulls Knicks rivalry of the early 90s and it combined grace with power as Jordan uses a spin move to juke a couple of defenders, takes off, and booms the rock through the rim in Patrick Ewing’s grill. Salutes to the GOAT.
Another MJ dunk continues our list. This one is from the 1987 Slam Dunk Contest and is often called the “Kiss The Rim” dunk. The hangtime on this jam is impressive, as is the sheer grace and style of his flight, body movements, and finish at the rim. To call this dunk amazing is grossly understating it. Let’s reminisce and enjoy.
No dunk compilation can be complete without at least one dunk from Vince Carter, the man I personally consider to be the greatest dunker of all time. I know, I know, how could anyone but MJ be fitting of this title? Hey listen, I love Jordan’s dunking ability, but for my money, when you consider Vince’s 2000 dunk contest, the bevvy of amazing, rim-rocking in-game dunks he’s had over his career, his hangtime (comparable to, if not better than MJ’s), and the sheer power of his dunking style, maybe it’s personal preference, but my nod goes to the man once known as Air Canada. Oh yeah, and if none of that convinces you (and I know there’ll be some trolls – tweet me: @Scholar_JPL and/or @JPLime), how can anyone POSSIBLY argue against this next dunk from the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I mean, c’mon people, he jumped over a 7-footer in-game for the slam! I repeat. HE JUMPED OVER A 7-FOOTER IN-GAME FOR THE SLAM! That’s balls to face over a legitimately sized center for the dunk… in a game… not practice… the actual game… c’mon son. Let’s take a look.
And who could forget these gems from the aforementioned 2000 Dunk Contest. How about an entire arm through the rim?
And what about his opening dunk of the night? Carter’s 360 Windmill slam effectively ended the competition before it really got going. MJ may be the GOAT, but again, for my money, Vince is the GDOAT.
This next dunk is definitely one of my favorites of all-time. The six-foot Kevin Johnson dunking over Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the greatest defensive centers to ever lace up a pair of sneaks, brought the house down in Phoenix and left an imprint in my brain that till this day cannot be removed. I still jump out loud and yell when I see this dunk. Simply amazing.
Here’s another little (by NBA standards) guy providing some slam dunk magic. MJ’s Bulls may have always gotten the best of Ewing’s Knicks in their legendary playoff series, but this moment from 1993, courtesy of John Starks, stands as one of the more glorious highlights in the storied rivalry’s history. For once it was Jordan getting posterized, in the playoffs no less! What a move by Starks!
Next up, an oft-overlooked dunk from Sean Elliot of the San Antonio Spurs, a phenomenal talent who’s not as fully appreciated these days as he should be. In this play, he cuts through the baseline, takes off, and gets a good chunk of his arm over the rim before finishing with a graceful, yet powerful dunk. Check it out.
Perhaps a bit gimmicky, but impressive and memorable nonetheless, Blake Griffin’s jump over the Kia in the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest. Let’s face it, gimmick or not, the man jumped over a friggin’ motor vehicle and finished the dunk with authority. Who among us can’t appreciate that?
Dwight Howard makes our list with his infamous “Superman Dunk” in the 2008 Dunk Contest. Sure, it’s also a bit gimmicky, but does anybody really care? I remember jumping out of my sofa when I saw this live and it still gives me goosebumps today.
Every Superman has his Kryptonite, and in the 2009 Dunk Contest, Nate Robinson, i.e. Kryptonate, provided such. His dunk over Dwight Howard was a thing of beauty. More dunk contest gimmicks in play as Nate donned a green jersey to represent the Kryptonite to Dwight Howard’s Superman cape. As color-commentator, NBA Hall of Famer, Reggie Miller points out in the broadcast, Nate might’ve used Dwight’s shoulder for a little leverage, but seriously, does it even matter? The man’s like 5’8! Let’s just appreciate this dunk’s aesthetic along with Nate’s phenomenal leaping ability.
Shaquille O’Neal may not have been the most graceful dunker, but he’s on a short list when one considers the most powerful, as evidenced by these backboard collapsing dunks. Shout outs to The Diesel, a man we often don’t think of as a notable dunker, but again, who can deny the sheer force and awe of these two slams? After all, it only took a few of these incidents to force the NBA to reinforce their hoops. How’s that for a game changer? LOOK OUT BELOW! Lets’s take a look.
And how about the unheralded force of these two rim shattering slams (captured in the one clip below) from the late, great, Daryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins? Talk about powerful. Those poor backboards didn’t stand a chance. Rest In Power.
Many, including the likes of Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant, have since replicated this dunk, but Isaiah Rider is the man who popularized it (and perhaps the originator, though I can’t confirm nor deny such). His classic “East Bay Funk” between the legs dunk at the 1994 Slam Dunk Contest is simply outstanding. Peep the technique.
Perhaps the most graceful and fun dunker to watch over the last 10 years, Gerald Green, rounds out our list with a pair of must-see slam dunks. First up, this windmill breakaway alley-oop dunk. Check out the air space on this move.
And last but certainly not least, this gem from the 2007 Dunk Contest, back when Green was with the hometown Boston Celtics. We started with Dee Brown’s no look slam dunk, and we’re bringing it back full circle with Gerald Green’s homage to Dee, his own version of the no look dunk, complete with Reebok pumps, Dee Brown jersey, and a leap over his main competition that year, Nate Robinson, for the finish. I said it before and I’ll say it again, simply a thing of beauty.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list. Again, there are so many great dunks that it’s impossible to capture them all. As we look back at our choices, it was hard not to include the likes of Dominique Wilkins (the man I consider to be the third best dunker ever, behind Vince and MJ), the aforementioned Dr. J. and Shawn Kemp, Moses Malone, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Spud Webb, Shawn Kemp, and countless others. But we had to draw the line somewhere. That said, we invite you to tweet and troll us @JPLime or catch us on Facebook to express your opinions and share some of your favorite gravity defying slams. Till then, enjoy the season folks because the NBA is still and always will be FAN-TASTIC!