Creating the Ultimate NBA Slam Dunk Contest

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2013

The contestants for the 2013 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest are not exactly a who's who of the NBA.

The defending champ, Jeremy Evans, is averaging 5.4 minutes per game for the Utah Jazz. He has scored a grand total of 33 points this season. 

Gerald Green of the Indiana Pacers was the 2007 winner. He also played in Russia for two years. Then there is Toronto Raptors rookie Terrence Ross and New York Knicks journeyman James "Flight" White (another Russian transplant).

And the big names are budding stars Eric Bledsoe of the L.A. Clippers and Kenneth "Manimal" Faried from the Denver Nuggets. 

I'm sure this year's contest will be entertaining, but it just isn't  like it used to be.

There was a day when the Slam Dunk Contest reigned supreme. It was born in the ABA and was propelled by the supreme athleticism of the '80s. Then the slam dunk became an art form. 

So who would be invited to the ultimate desert-island Slam Dunk Contest? I'll admit eight contestants. And no more!


The Legends

Julius Erving patented the free-throw line dunk in the ABA's 1976 dunk contest. The NBA didn't catch on to this treat for the fans until 1984.

Erving was known simply as Dr. J, and he certainly had his Ph.D in dunking. Dr. J's loping leaps are as much his signature as his 'fro.

Michael Jordan duplicated Erving's free-throw line dunk in the 1985 contest. And he was careful  about his takeoff point being the foul line. The rim jangled more than his chains.

But in 1987 and '88, MJ put on a master class in the dunk contest. His soaring was poetry in motion, and he assumed the title both years. They don't call him "His Airness" for nothing.

But Air Jordan had a chief rival: Dominique Wilkins.

Nique shrugged off MJ's free-throw line dunk in '85 and threw down several of his vicious windmills. His dunk with the catch off the backboard was sublime, and he wore the crown for his efforts.

Again in 1990, Wilkins won the dunk competition. He took down current TNT analyst Kenny "The Jet" Smith in a nail-biter. 


The New Millennium

Vince Carter was invincible indeed. They called the Toronto Raptor "Air Canada," and he basically introduced the world to the hanging-elbow dunk. That's some serious hops. 

He also mastered the reverse 360-degree dunk and took home the title in 2000.

Later that year, he jumped clean over a 7'2" Frenchman named Frederic Weis for le dunk de la mort in the Sydney Olympics.

Perhaps the ultimate testament to Carter's athleticism is that he's still in the NBA 13 years later.

In 2011, Blake Griffin pulled off the double. He won the dunk competition and made a Kia commercial. At the same time

Griffin has taken the high-flying baton from Carter. And he's not looking back. Without him, there would be no Lob City.


The Sleepers

Spud Webb went up against his Atlanta Hawks teammate—Wilkins, aka the Human Highlight Film—in the 1986 dunk competition. 

The 5'7" Webb proceeded to give hope to every vertically challenged person that had dreamed of dunking a basketball. He didn't just impress with his grasshopper jumps, he threw down helicopter dunks. The coup de grace was his high-bounce, catch-and-reverse slam.

With that, a short man known as Spud had pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Slam Dunk Contest history.

Eight years later, Isaiah Rider paved the way for Jason Richardson with his "East Bay Funk Dunk." (Unfortunately, Richardson just misses the cut.)

Rider squared off against bodacious bounder Shawn Kemp in 1994. When Kemp threw down an impressive dunk, Rider remained calm. He knew he had an ace in the hole.

The East Bay Funk Dunk is both one of the great, historic slams in contest history, and it's also the best-named dunk ever. His between-the-legs innovation delivered the '94 title and set the standard for all others that followed.


The Wish List

LeBron James is possibly the greatest athlete to ever play basketball. He's built like a linebacker, but he can leap like an Olympian. 

But he refuses to participate in the dunk contest. Steadfastly.

Nevertheless, he tormented fans with this tweet when the 2013 participants were announced. Yet again, it was all a tease.

Someone needs to persuade James that in order to match or surpass Jordan's legacy, he'll have to win a Slam Dunk Contest or two. Any great dunkfest must include LeBron. 

That's it. Erving, Jordan, Wilkins, Carter, Griffin, Webb, Rider and James are my eight dunkers.