Power Ranking the 10 Greatest Dunk Contests of All-Time
Trying to rank the greatest NBA dunk contests of all time is hard.
But based on the fact that the assembled panel of "experts" completely botches the result as often as not, it's apparently much more difficult to be a judge in the individual competitions themselves. So everything's relative.
With 28 options to choose from (we're including the 1976 ABA contest for reasons that'll be explained later), narrowing down a top 10 is tricky. Because of that, we'll need some parameters.
To crack these rankings, a dunk contest must feature a truly memorable moment. In some cases, that means we're looking for amazing back-and-forth competition, like the one Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins treated us to in 1988.
In others, a single spectacular slam is enough.
Get ready to enjoy cupcakes, warm-up jackets and some truly special aerial performances because we've ranked the top 10 NBA dunk contests of all time.
Because we're about to see the 10 best dunk contests ever, it seems only fitting that we first mention one of the worst.
The 2004 contest wasn't just awful because Jason Richardson was robbed of what would have been a record third-straight crown. No, the real reason this one represents the absolute nadir of all things dunk is because Chris Andersen attempted no fewer than 15 slams in one round.
His ill-fated three-quarter-court toss to himself turned into a game of catch with the Denver Nuggets mascot and his second entry displayed why J.R. Smith sticks to shooting.
It was boring, it was unwatchable and it was even a little sad.
But hey, at least Andersen has resurrected his career in Miami. All's well that ends well.
Fred Jones won this one, but nobody cared.
10. Brent Barry's Jacket
Michael Finley threw down a few windmills that were truly impressive in the pre-Vince Carter era, but the 1996 dunk contest was all about the man then known as "Bones".
Brent Barry, warm-up and all, wowed the crowd with a pair of foul-line dunks to (air)walk away from the court in San Antonio with the title. He was the first to pull off the free-throw line flight since Michael Jordan did it eight years earlier, and he did it with true style.
Not bad for a guy who would transform himself into one of the NBA's deadliest three-point marksmen when his hops left him in his later years.
Sorry Chase Budinger, but Barry proved to us that white men could jump long before you hopped over Diddy.
9. Dr. J Breaks New Ground
The very first dunk contest took place in 1976, and Julius Erving won it on the strength of a free-throw line slam. That, by the way, was also a first.
Because of novelty alone, the '76 contest deserves a spot in the rankings. When you also consider that Dr. J's dunk repertoire holds up surprisingly well against the ones we see from today's aerialists, it's impossible to exclude it.
The video is grainy and some of the other competitors aren't quite on Erving's level, but it's awesome to see the dunk contest at its earliest stages.
8. Wilkins Tops Jordan in 1985
The 1985 dunk contest featured Terence Stansbury's forgotten 360 slam, Michael Jordan's "rock the cradle" move and an impressive late-career showing from Dr. J.
What else could you ask for?
Well, for starters, how about a spectacular final round that involved Jordan and eventual winner Dominique Wilkins trading punches to the delight of the delirious masses?
In those last six dunks, you could almost see the NBA changing; 'Nique threw down a two-handed windmill and Jordan cupped the ball on a wicked reverse as he ducked under the rim.
Sometimes, when you watch old footage of the NBA, you're struck by how different (and often, how much worse) the game looked back in the day. That's not the case with this historically great contest.
The seeds for the future of NBA dunking were clearly sown in 1985.
7. Robinson Robs Iguodala
The 2006 dunk contest checks in on our list because it meets the key criteria of being "memorable." Unfortunately, it fulfills that requirement because it was one of the most blatant judging injustices in NBA history.
Nate Robinson went to the gimmicks early and often—a trend he'd repeat in future iterations of the contest—by jumping over Spud Webb for his final dunk. The only problem was that it took him more than a dozen attempts to finally get the thing right.
Not only that, but Robinson's dunk itself wasn't all that great. If you're able to launch yourself high enough to reach up and over a 10-foot rim, why should we be impressed if you also jump over a guy who only stands 5'7"?
Iggy, on the other hand gave us a truly unique slam that nobody has tried since.
Robinson won the crown that day, but when the dust settles on the history of the dunk contest, everyone will remember 2006 as the year Andre Iguodala was robbed by a 5'9" bandit.
6. Jason Richardson Takes the Crown
In 2002, the first (and only) year in which the dunk contest featured a tournament-style format, Jason Richardson took out Desmond Mason and Gerald Wallace en route to the first of two straight titles.
J-Rich assumed his place as the league's best power dunker since Dominique Wilkins by throwing down a bevy of ferocious—but always perfectly clean—smashes over two rounds. His final dunk, featured in the video above, is a prime example of the force and precision he employed.
A pure two-foot jumper, Richardson won the contest on that final dunk, a reverse windmill with a scissor kick thrown in for good measure.
Plus, a svelte Gilbert Arenas danced in celebration of his then-teammate's victory. That's got to count for something.
5. The Cupcake Debacle
2008's dunk contest will probably be used as Exhibit A if there's ever a case against fan voting. For the first time ever, the viewers at home decided the outcome of the NBA's annual dunk exhibition...and they got this one dead wrong.
Gerald Green completed a windmill involving a step ladder, put the ball through his legs for an easy dunk without wearing shoes and blew out the candle on a cupcake that was sitting on the rim.
Dwight Howard wore a Superman cape and threw the ball through the basket, which won him the contest.
Come on, everybody. Aren't we better than this?
Green didn't get his due in 2008, but we're giving it to him here. He deserved to win.
4. Spud Gets Up
What Spud Webb did in 1986 still doesn't even look real.
At 5'7", the Atlanta Hawks' diminutive guard became the shortest participant (and winner) in dunk contest history. Trailblazing aside, Webb's dunks are most memorable because they look like some YouTube hoax you'd see today.
When he lifts off, he just keeps going up. And when he reaches the rim, there's so much airspace between his feet and the ground that it simply doesn't look like what he's doing is humanly possible.
Webb's arsenal of lobs, reverses and one-handed spikes surprised everyone—including his teammate and defending champion, Dominique Wilkins. 'Nique never had a chance once Webb threw down his first slam.
Everyone loves to root for the little guy.
3. J-Rich, Part Deux
They say it's harder to defend a title than it is to win one. Well, Jason Richardson proved that theory wrong with his jaw-dropping performance in 2003.
Coming off of a victory in 2002, Richardson went back to the well for more of his signature moves. He always jumped off of two feet, always powered the ball through the net cleanly and always saved the best for last.
In knocking off Desmond Mason, J-Rich put up three perfect scores in four attempts. And his final dunk was easily his nastiest.
Taking the ball off the bounce and putting it between his legs backward, Richardson blindly crammed the rock over his head with his off hand. You can tell pretty easily by the reaction of the fans and commentators just how spectacular that final dunk was in person.
Nobody has managed to duplicate it since, and sadly, with the recent news that Richardson is out for the season, we can officially close the book on his career as a dunker.
2. Jordan Exacts His Revenge
Considering it occurred in a city known for political corruption, Michael Jordan's 1988 hometown win over Dominique Wilkins still has just a hint of impropriety about it.
That feels about right, doesn't it?
Don't misunderstand; Jordan cocked one back from the foul line and threw down some sick reverses. But Wilkins somehow kept logging scores around 45 for his equally impressive arsenal of windmill slams.
And when Jordan needed at least a 48 on his final dunk to vanquish Wilkins, the judges removed all doubt by awarding MJ a perfect 50.
Truthfully, both finalists were nothing short of fantastic and either one could have taken home the crown. It's just more fun to imagine that the ultra-competitive Jordan somehow managed to fix the results.
1. Pure Vinsanity
This one's simple. Anytime the greatest dunker in the history of the NBA puts on his best performance, it's going to rank No. 1. There's just no more discussion necessary.
Vince Carter put on a show in the 2000 dunk contest in Oakland that may never be bettered. He stunned fans out of the gate with a 360 windmill and never took his foot off of the accelerator. Carter busted out the famous "elbow dunk," put the ball through his legs and even came from out of bounds.
And he did it all like a true showman.
Forgotten in all of Carter's brilliance is the fact that Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis threw down dunks good enough to have won in any other year. That wasn't to be, though, as VC was a man on a mission in 2000. At the height of his prowess, nobody was going to prevent "Half Man, Half Amazing" from taking home the title.
Without any doubt, Carter put on the greatest show anyone's ever seen in a dunk contest. As such, he's the easy choice for the top spot in these power rankings.