The NBA Slam Dunk Contest has featured some of the greatest athletes the league has ever seen, and throughout the years, a wonderful history has been established.
From the days of Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins to the battles of Dwight Howard and Nate Robinson, the players have treated fans to spectacular displays. And while the event has clearly lost some of its appeal over time, there's no denying that a good slam can cement a player's place in NBA history.
But the question is, which of these dunks should go down as the greatest?
Determining the best dunk ever is subjective in nature, which is why there's no correct answer. However, placing each slam in a one-on-one, single-elimination playoff is the best way to narrow down the choices.
The NBA is constantly changing, and while the future of the dunk contest has yet to be told, its history has already been written.
*The top 32 dunks were chosen, and using a seeding generator (via Challonge.com), participants were placed against one another randomly for the first round of the tournament.
1. Michael Jordan, 1985 (Rock the Cradle) vs. Spud Webb, 1986 (Alley-oop Reverse)
2. Blake Griffin, 2011 (Alley-oop Honey Dip) vs. Cedric Ceballos, 1992 (Blindfold)
3. Dee Brown, 1991 (No-Look) vs. Andre Iguodala, 2006 (Around the Back)
4. Desmond Mason, 2002 (Left-Handed East Bay) vs. Kenny Smith, 1990 (Backward and Between-the-Legs)
5. Michael Jordan, 1988 (Jumpman) vs. Josh Smith, 2005 (Windmill over Kenyon Martin)
6. Serge Ibaka, 2011 (Behind the Foul Line) vs. Dwight Howard, 2008 (Superman)
7. Gerald Green, 2008 (Birthday Cake) vs. DeMar DeRozan, 2011 (The Showstopper)
8. Nate Robinson, 2006 (Over Spud Webb) vs. Michael Jordan, 1987 (Kiss the Rim)
9. Vince Carter, 2000 (360 Windmill) vs. Dwight Howard, 2008 (Tap-to-Self)
10. Jason Richardson, 2002 (Alley-oop Reverse) vs. Shawn Kemp, 1990 (Up and Under)
11. Blake Griffin, 2011 (Over a Car) vs. Kenny Walker, 1989 (One-Armed 360)
12. Larry Nance, 1984 (Cradle) vs. Terrence Stansbury, 1985-87 (The Statue of Liberty)
13. Nate Robinson, 2009 (Kryptonate) vs. Vince Carter, 2000 (East Bay off the Bounce)
14. J.R. Rider, 1994 (East Bay Funk Dunk) vs. Dominique Wilkins, 1985 (Windmill)
15. Jason Richardson, 2003 (Reverse East Bay Lob) vs. Andre Iguodala, 2006 (Behind the Backboard)
16. JaVale McGee, 2011 (Two Hoops) vs. Jason Richardson, 2004 (East Bay Off the Glass)
Michael Jordan: In 1985, Jordan was making a name for himself as a rookie, and it became clear that he would be a fan favorite for years to come with his performance in the dunk contest.
In his final dunk of the evening, Jordan took to the baseline, elevated on one side and came down on the other after rocking the cradle back and forth. Dominique Wilkins went on to win the competition, but this combination of power and finesse was a preview of years to come.
Spud Webb: What Spud Webb did in 1986 was beyond impressive.
With the lob to himself, you can't just look at his score and say it was his height. The pass came from well behind the three-point line, the timing on the reverse was flawless and he got exactly what he deserved: a perfect 50.
Head-to-Head: Webb's dunk may be one of the most extraordinary of all-time because of his height, but when it comes down to it, Jordan had the better showing.
His body control in this slam was some of the best we've ever seen, and while you can argue the same point about Webb, the complexity of MJ's execution was simply more impressive.
Winner: Michael Jordan
Blake Griffin: When it comes to the dunk contest, there's no such thing as stealing—especially when you improve upon what was already a good thing.
In 2000, Vince Carter stuck his entire elbow in the rim, shocking the judges, who had apparently never seen such a finish before. Eleven years later, Blake Griffin did the same thing, but he took it one step further.
Griffin lobbed the ball to himself, caught it off the glass and finished with his elbow. When Carter did it, nobody quite knew what they'd just seen, so Griffin made sure to hang there just long enough so everybody knew exactly what he'd accomplished.
Cedric Ceballos: Cedric Ceballos gave us one of the most talked-about slams in NBA history when he blindfolded himself and finished perfectly in 1992.
Unfortunately for him, nobody quite knew what to believe.
The 6'7" forward began his approach from beyond half court and ran a perfect route all the way to the rim. The problem is that it's widely assumed that he could see the whole time, taking away from any level of difficulty that may have been involved.
Head-to-Head: Ceballos may or may not have been blind when he completed his dunk, but with so many doubts surrounding the act, it would be too difficult to move him on past Griffin's athleticism.
Winner: Blake Griffin
Dee Brown: Whether it's because of the dunk itself or the pre-dunk routine, Brown made his mark on NBA history when he covered his eyes and closed out the 1991 Slam Dunk Contest.
The power finish with his eyes closed is what earned him his title, but it was the pumping up of his sneakers that earned him favoritism from the crowd.
The combination of the finish and the showmanship created for the perfect storm, and Brown took home the title of Slam Dunk Champion.
Andre Iguodala: Andre Iguodala put his athleticism on full display when he lobbed the ball to himself, caught it in the air and then brought it around his back.
We saw a similar dunk from J.R. Smith in 2005, but like how Blake Griffin expanded upon Vince Carter's Honey Dip, Iguodala took it up a notch with the alley-oop element.
Ironically, one of the problems with this dunk—if you want to call it that—is that Iggy made this finish look so darn easy. He doesn't get the credit he deserves, as this was one of the best dunks from the 2006 contest.
Head-to-Head: For many of today's fans, the only thing they know about Brown is the 1991 dunk contest. Iguodala's dunk is impressive from multiple standpoints, but it's never going to have the same historical context that Brown's still has today.
Winner: Dee Brown
Desmond Mason: Mason has been long forgotten by most casual NBA fans, which is a shame considering what he did in the 2002 Slam Dunk Contest.
Everybody remembers that year for the show that Jason Richardson put on, including his emulation of Dominique Wilkins. But people often forget that Mason had one of the smoothest between-the-legs dunks of all time.
The 6'7" forward kicked his legs out, brought the ball all the way through and finished with the left hand. He didn't win the contest, but this proved to be one of the best slams of the night.
Kenny Smith: Although Kenny "the Jet" Smith is now known more for his witty commentary, there was once a day when he was a contestant in All-Star Weekend's biggest show.
The 6'3" Smith bounced the ball between his legs—while facing the opposite direction of the hoop—let it hit the glass and then finished in reverse fashion.
We saw Larry Hughes try to re-create Smith's dunk in 2000, but the former Philadelphia 76er only showed us just how difficult it is by missing over and over again.
Head-to-Head: Smith's dunk may have been impressive, but he is also the one who declared that Mason's finish was a "top-10 dunk of all time."
Winner: Desmond Mason
Michael Jordan: Jordan has dunked from the foul line more than once. In fact, he had done it in both the 1985 and 1987 dunk contests before his attempt in 1988.
That being said, none of his other completions compare to the one he threw down in front of a Chicago crowd to defeat The Human Highlight Film, Dominique Wilkins.
Jordan went into his final dunk needing a 48 to tie Wilkins and a 49 to win. Needless to say, they gave him a 50, and he became Slam Dunk Champion for the second straight year.
Josh Smith: If we know anything about Smith, it's that he's an athletic freak.
At 6'9", Smith can fly through the air like few others his size, and he proved that during the 2005 dunk contest.
Using both Kenyon Martin and a chair as props, Smith caught a lob from Martin while jumping over the top of his head. If that wasn't impressive enough, he swung the ball around in windmill fashion and finished with the kind of authority we've come to expect.
Head-to-Head: Following Smith's dunk, TNT announcer Kevin Harlan hit it right on the head when he declared, "That was sweet!"
Unfortunately for Smith, it's going to take more than sweet to take down one of the most legendary dunks in NBA history.
Winner: Michael Jordan
Serge Ibaka: Speaking of free-throw line finishes, Ibaka was completely robbed when it came to his throw down in the 2011 contest.
It's true that dunking the ball from the foul line is no longer as creative as it once seemed, but what's so unjust about Ibaka's score of 45 is that he legitimately took off from behind the charity stripe.
Not many players have been able to say that, and it's unlikely that anyone his size will do the same any time soon.
Dwight Howard: Superman is in the building.
When Howard put on the Superman cape and took off his jersey, we all knew we were in store for something special. He caught the lob from Jameer Nelson, flew through the air and threw the ball down so hard he never actually touched the rim.
The location on the floor from which Howard took off is almost unreal, but it's the showmanship that he displayed that earns him the real credit.
Head-to-Head: Howard's Superman attempt gets more and more impressive with each slow motion replay you watch. The problem is that he never actually dunked the ball.
Sorry, Howard. In the battle of the bigs, this one goes to Ibaka.
Winner: Serge Ibaka
Gerald Green: Green's Birthday Cake slam in 2008 is one of the more oddly creative displays we've ever seen in dunk contest history.
Green placed a cupcake on the back of the rim, lit the candle and then proceeded to blow it out while rising above the rim to dunk the ball with two hands.
By definition, this dunk was a success. Green completed the attempt, didn't spill the cupcake and blew out the candle. The problem is that the finish itself lacked any sort of flare, which the judges seemed to hone in on. They awarded him just a 46 for his efforts.
DeMar DeRozan: In the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest, DeRozan took the classic up-and-under and made it his own with a lob from the baseline.
The difficulty of completing a dunk like this is enough on its own, but to do it one-handed, as DeRozan so elegantly did, is what made it so unique.
The dunk earned him a 50 from the judges, but he was ultimately outshined by both JaVale McGee and Blake Griffin.
Head-to-Head: As fun as it was to watch Green elevate and successfully blow out the candle, DeRozan executed the more difficult dunk perfectly.
Winner: DeMar DeRozan
Nate Robinson: It's nearly impossible not to compare Nate Robinson to Spud Webb when you think about the dunk contest, which is why it was especially great to see the legendary player offer himself up as a prop in 2006.
We've seen players jump over people in the past, and while you can argue that Robinson's was less impressive because of Webb's height, you have to take his own height into consideration as well.
Seeing Robinson clear someone to whom he'd been compared made it that much better, and the catch off the bounce didn't hurt either.
Michael Jordan: Jordan has so many highlight-worthy finishes, it's almost too tough to remember them all. However, when he rose up and "kissed the rim" in 1987, he gave us one to keep in the memory bank until the end of time.
What makes Jordan such an impressive dunker is his body control. Not only did he pull off the windmill from the baseline, he managed to fly through the air about as horizontally as we've ever seen.
Head-to-Head: There's no doubt that Jordan's jam is a classic. The question is, are there any dunks out there good enough to take it down?
That answer has yet to be determined, but at this point in the tournament, Nate Robinson won't be the one to do it.
Winner: Michael Jordan
Vince Carter: Entering the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, everybody knew Carter was going to put on a show. He was the clear-cut favorite to walk away with the trophy, and he was as exciting as it came with his ability to fly with finesse and finish with power.
Little did we know, though, he would single-handedly bring the dunk contest back to relevancy, and he did it with his first attempt.
Carter's 360 windmill was one of the best dunks we'd seen in a long time. His motion was swift, his arms were fully extended, and the instant celebration that followed tied it all together for the event's first perfect score.
Dwight Howard: Like Carter, Howard has been known to put on a show.
In 2008, the big man showed us all just how long he can hang in the air when he lobbed the ball from behind the three-point line, tapped it off the glass and finished with the other hand.
A move like this may look simple at first glance, but when you think about just how long you have to fly to make it happen, you realize how special it actually is.
Head-to-Head: Despite Howard's incredible athleticism, his height takes away from the visual appeal of his impressive hang time. There's no doubting how long Carter remained in the air, and his unreal ability to twist his body is what gives him the edge.
Winner: Vince Carter
Jason Richardson: Richardson has been a double-digit scorer and solid shooter throughout his entire career, but when he showed off his talent in the dunk contest his rookie season, he officially deemed himself a dunker for the rest of his career.
As a rookie in 2002, the 6'6" 2-guard captured the Slam Dunk Championship. He wasn't facing the fiercest of competition, but that didn't change his approach one bit.
Richardson displayed a fantastic finish, including a deep-range lob, a 180-rotation and one of the windmills for which he's become known throughout the years.
There's much more to Richardson's game than dunking, but for most casual fans, he's the guy who won back-to-back titles in his first two years.
Shawn Kemp: If you think Richardson has a great power-finesse combo, you should've seen Kemp.
The one-time Seattle Supersonic mastered the concept of being aerodynamic while throwing it down with as much power as humanly possible.
When he tossed the ball into the air, crossed his own arms and finished on the other side of the rim, he showed why he was a legitimate contender during all four of his Dunk Contest showings.
Head-to-Head: Kemp never won an NBA Dunk Contest, but that's more a testament to his level of competition than his individual production.
Unfortunately for the big man, that theme holds true this time as well, as he drew the short stick going up against Richardson's flush in Round 1.
Winner: Jason Richardson
Blake Griffin: Griffin is known as a dunker, and that's no secret among NBA fans.
That being said, his final dunk in the 2011 dunk contest was much less about the dunk and much more about the show.
Griffin, coached by Kenny Smith, opted to jump over a car while having the lob thrown by teammate Baron Davis. The dunk itself was impressive—who else can jump over a car, even if it was just the hood?—but this performance was far more about the buildup.
A Kia, a choir and a fanbase going completely insane helped this dunk reach a perfect 50, and the only shame was that JaVale McGee was somehow expected to follow such a unique act.
Kenny Walker: When McGee completed his final dunk in the 2011 contest, he had essentially conceded his championship to Griffin and the crowd ruckus.
Luckily for Walker, the fans aren't deciding this one, and his dunk is worthy of serious consideration in this particular tournament.
Most of the dunks we saw in the late '80s wouldn't even be mention-worthy in today's game. However, Walker kept the ball in one hand the entire time, spun a full 360 and showed the kind of swift-power combo only matched by those named Dominique Wilkins and Jason Richardson.
Head-to-Head: You have to give credit to Griffin when it comes to his dunk. He had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, he jumped over the hood of a car, and he is the only known player to ever have a choir sing "I Believe I Can Fly" during his takeoff.
That being said, when it comes to the dunk, and only the dunk, Walker's jam is impressive even by today's standards. Most '80s dunks have been outdated, but the former New York Knick's lives on.
Winner: Kenny Walker
Larry Nance: You can't have a tournament of slam dunk champions without the original slam dunk champion, Nance.
Nance participated in the 1984 contest—the first-ever NBA Dunk Contest—and he captured the title despite an impressive foul-line finish by The Doctor himself, Julius Erving.
Nance also took down Dominique Wilkins, taking off not too far inside the free-throw line and throwing it down with his patented cradle.
Terrence Stansbury: Has anybody ever completed a 360 like Stansbury throughout the '80s?
The answer to that question is a simple no. Stansbury became known for his Statue of Liberty, where he would take off facing the basket, rise one-handed and twirl a full rotation until he was once again facing the rim.
It may not be the flashiest dunk we've ever seen, but it might be one of the only true 360-degree turns in slam dunk contest history.
Head-to-Head: Stansbury's dunk is one of the more underrated finishes throughout the slam dunk contest's existence. Nance's cradle was ahead of its time, but Stansbury's mechanics were unmatched at the time, and are arguably still untouched to this day.
Winner: Terrence Stansbury
Nate Robinson: When Robinson jumped over Spud Webb, it was pure nostalgia.
When he jumped over Dwight Howard, it was sheer leaping ability.
You can talk all you want about how he used his left hand to push off Howard's shoulder, but he completely cleared the big man, and he threw it down as clean as can be. The Kryptonite theme countered Howard's Superman when it was all said and done, and Nate took home the title.
Vince Carter: Carter's 2000 performance was one of the greatest of all time, and it was highlighted by his between-the-legs dunk off the bounce from Tracy McGrady.
McGrady bounced the ball at the perfect height, and Carter caught it in mid-air and threw down one of the cleanest two-footed attempts we'd ever seen.
The only downside of this was that the first slam wasn't where Carter wanted it. That being said, nobody remembers that when thinking back on this event, and it's the completion that resonates with people still to this day.
Head-to-Head: Robinson's dunk over Dwight Howard was the perfect combination of execution and showmanship. He wore all green to emphasize the "KyptoNate" them, and he put in the dunk flawlessly when it was all complete.
Unfortunately for Robinson, he gets matched up against one of the toughest first-round opponents there is and finds himself eliminated after the first round of this epic competition.
Winner: Vince Carter
J.R. Rider: Isaiah Rider wasn't the first NBA player to put the ball between his legs in a dunk contest, but he ended up being the one who influenced so many players to try the same thing after him.
The East Bay Funk Dunk is one of the more recognized dunks in the Association today. It's considered one of the top accomplishments among the top athletes, and it's been altered with the times as expectations have risen.
Rider deserves recognition for what he did way back in 1994 as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Dominique Wilkins: Was there ever another dunker in NBA history as uniquely powerful as Wilkins?
The 1988 battle against Michael Jordan is often regarded as one of the best dunk contests of all time, but his windmill way back in 1985 set the tone for what we should expect moving forward.
The forward knew how to combine his leaping ability and his sheer strength like none other in the league, and that lethal combo has yet to be truly duplicated to this very day.
Head-to-Head: Rider's dunk was revolutionary in the sense that it has been improved upon ever since. However, as more and more people complete their versions of the East Bay Funk Dunk, his legacy fades.
Wilkins' legacy isn't going anywhere, and that's why he moves on to Round 2 in this battle of legendary dunkers.
Winner: Dominique Wilkins
Jason Richardson: Before Richardson attempted his final dunk of the 2003 contest, Kenny Smith proclaimed on TNT that it would have to be the best dunk he had.
We'd all seen the East Bay Dunk before, and thanks to Vince Carter, we'd all seen it come off the bounce. What we hadn't seen—at least in the NBA—was the execution from the sideline and ball going through the legs backward.
Needless to say, the judges were impressed, and the slam earned him a perfect 50, as well as his second Slam Dunk Championship in a row.
Andre Iguodala: Nothing screams athleticism like nearly slamming your head against the back of a backboard.
Iguodala impressed the crowd during the 2006 dunk contest when he came from out of bounds, caught the ball off the back of the backboard and went up and under to the front of the rim.
He earned a 50 for his efforts, and he completed one of the most impressive tasks of the entire evening—getting Allen Iverson to pass him the ball.
Head-to-Head: Let's not make this one too dramatic. Iguodala's dunk is an impressive one, and it deserved the perfect score it received, but when matched up against the slam that won Richardson his second straight title, the edge has to go to the two-time champ.
Winner: Jason Richardson
JaVale McGee: Throughout his career, McGee has become more known for his goofball plays than the ones that have made him a decent center.
That being said, he's a freak of a center, and he has the size and the athleticism to take over a dunk contest on a moment's notice.
In 2011, McGee pulled off a move that nobody had ever seen before. He brought out a second hoop, placed it next to the first and managed to throw down one ball on while catching a lob and finishing the second.
It takes long arms and great timing to pull off a stunt of this magnitude, and McGee had just enough of each to get it done.
Jason Richardson: Remember how J.R. Rider gave future NBA players the road map to success with his East Bay Funk Dunk?
Richardson took full advantage when he threw the ball off the glass and then finished between the legs.
Head-to-Head: Richardson has shown us things we've never seen more than once before. This was one of those times, and there's no way this jam can be bounced in the first round of an all-time great slam dunk contest tournament.
Winner: Jason Richardson
1. Michael Jordan, 1985 (Rock the Cradle) vs. Blake Griffin, 2011 (Alley-oop Honey Dip)
2. Dee Brown, 1991 (No-Look) vs. Desmond Mason, 2002 (Left-Handed East Bay)
3. Michael Jordan, 1988 (Jumpman) vs. Serge Ibaka, 2011 (Behind the Foul Line)
4. DeMar DeRozan, 2011 (The Showstopper) vs. Michael Jordan, 1987 (Kiss The Rim)
5. Vince Carter, 2000 (360 Windmill) vs. Jason Richardson, 2002 (Alley-oop Reverse)
6. Kenny Walker, 1989 (One-Armed 360) vs. Terrence Stansbury, 1985-87 (The Statue of Liberty)
7. Vince Carter, 2000 (East Bay off the Bounce) vs. Dominique Wilkins, 1985 (Windmill)
8. Jason Richardson, 2003 (Reverse East Bay) vs. Jason Richardson, 2004 (East Bay Off the Glass)
Michael Jordan: If you watch Jordan's cradle jam from his rookie season, there are three distinct moves.
First, he brings the ball back behind his body. Second, he nearly pauses, then cups it against his chest. Finally, he brings it back around and finishes on the opposite side of the rim from where he started.
The difference between Griffin and Carter is obvious. Both are athletic beyond belief and can fly higher than most humans will ever dream of; but Griffin has the height on his side to give him the additional edge.
His size was key in catching it off the backboard, and the extra time on the rim is what solidified reaction from the crowd.
Head-to-Head: As fun as Griffin is to watch, he's received a lot of criticism throughout the years. Some of it has been justified, while the rest is simply unfair to a player who is constantly improving and constantly entertaining.
But when it comes to this contest, Jordan's cradle had more elements to it, was more complex and will be remembered by more fans when Griffin's days have come and gone as an NBA entertainer.
Winner: Michael Jordan
Dee Brown: If you're anything like me, you wish you had a pair of Brown's Pump-Em-Up sneakers that he used in the 1991 slam dunk contest.
Covering the eyes is fine, and finishing with authority is encouraged, but sometimes, it's all about the shoes.
By all indication, Brown was legitimately blind during his dunk, and nobody can take that away from him. But those sneakers are the ones that really stole the show, and they're the reason his dunk has gone down in history as one of the best of all time.
Desmond Mason: Mason may not have made any drastic changes to Isiah Rider's East Bay Funk Dunk, but sometimes, simply perfecting an old move is good enough to earn respect.
Mason's switch to the left hand was impressive, but it was the smooth execution that put the judges over the edge.
A two-legged takeoff and an authoritative finish earned him respect, to say the least, and he nearly captured his second straight title when it was all said and done.
Head-to-Head: With the Dunk Contests of the 2000s being largely forgotten by NBA fans, Mason's legacy is slowly drifting off into the distance.
It's time we do this man justice and move him past Brown with his completion of a top-tier finish in dunk contest history.
Winner: Desmond Mason
Michael Jordan: Did Jordan take off from behind the free-throw line in '88? Technically, no, but that doesn't mean that his finish was any less impressive.
Jordan had more flare than anybody in the league when he was participating in dunk contests. Even players like Dominique Wilkins failed to compare when it came to getting the crowd involved and the media on his side.
The 6'6" guard could fly through the air like few before him, and he set the standard when it came to creative execution.
Serge Ibaka: Do I need to say this again? Ibaka was robbed when he received a 45 for taking off from behind the free-throw line in the 2011 dunk contest.
There's no doubt that Ibaka lacked excitement. He didn't pump the ball, he didn't kick his legs and his landing needed improvement when it came to impressing the judges.
That being said, he legitimately took off from behind the foul line. How many players can say that in the history of the NBA?
Head-to-Head: It's fitting that two of the greatest free-throw line dunks meet each other in the second round of this competition.
The question here is, which one is better? Ibaka took off from further behind the line, but Jordan had the flare and control to be talked about for years to come.
Ibaka's completion was impressive, and it's still safe to say that he was shafted when it came to his score; but the legend of Jordan strikes again, and MJ advances with his Jumpman finish from 1988.
Winner: Michael Jordan
DeMar DeRozan: How in the world did DeRozan complete this dunk?
After tossing the ball in the air from the sideline, DeRozan forgot he had a left hand, caught it with his right and proceeded to warp around the rim en route to one of his best dunks of the night.
Almost as impressive as what he did do is what he didn't do. DeRozan didn't hit his head on the rim, he didn't bobble the ball, and he didn't have a single judge award him a score lower than a perfect 10.
Michael Jordan: Did Jordan actually kiss the rim in his famous 1987 throw down?
Sadly, no, but that doesn't mean the crowd didn't appreciate his efforts. The horizontal nature of his dunk was unlike anything we'd seen before, and that's why it became an instant classic.
Head-to-head: When you think about DeRozan versus Jordan, it seems like no contest. But this particular dunk-off is closer than you might think.
At their most fundamental levels, these two dunks are actually quite similar. Both start on one side of the rim, use one hand and finish on the opposite side with the kind of authority that would impress any judge.
Yet still, Jordan's body control takes the cake. He is able to pause in mid-air and transition to the next phase, and as a result, he's the one transitioning to the next round of this particular contest.
Winner: Michael Jordan
Vince Carter: Carter sure knows how to get a crowd going, doesn't he?
When he pulled off his 360 windmill, it was the first dunk of what would be a historic showing in the 2011 dunk contest. That slam is one of his most memorable, and it solidified the notion that nobody was going to take what was rightfully his—the Slam Dunk Championship trophy.
Jason Richardson: Richardson has a habit of saving his best dunks for last, and that was the case when he showed off his alley-oop reverse to win the 2002 Slam Dunk Championship.
The move wasn't as unique as others we've seen from Richardson, but the body control and sheer knowledge of location on the court combined for a move unmatched by any that year.
What might be most impressive about the dunk is the power that went into it. You don't usually see strength when it comes to reverse jams off the lob, but Richardson proved that he's not your everyday dunker when sealed the deal for his first title.
Head-to-Head: One of these dunks was used to pump up the crowd at the beginning of the contest, while the other was used toward the end.
While the edge typically goes to those who dunk last, Carter breaks the trend and advances to the next round.
Winner: Vince Carter
Kenny Walker: It's tough to say what the best part of Walker's dunk was from the 1989 contest.
Was it the 360? How about the cradle?
Both were impressive, but chances are, the most memorable part of his awe-inspiring performance was the celebration that followed.
A classic clap to himself followed by several finger pistols wrapped up what would be a fan favorite for years to come.
Terrence Stansbury: In 2013, it's obvious that Stansbury is not a household name.
The ironic part is that his dunk, the Statue of Liberty, could still be described by casual fans around the league despite them not having a clue who actually mastered the move.
The Statue of Liberty is an iconic dunk when it comes to All-Star Weekend, and even if Stansbury has been forgotten, his legacy lives on.
Head-to-Head: In a battle of old-school dunks, we also see a matchup of 360s.
Stansbury may have mastered the motion of what a 360 should look like, but Walker had the creativity to sling the ball around and cradle it while completing the windmill along the way.
A simple 360 won't beat that versatility, no matter how strong it may be.
Winner: Kenny Walker
Vince Carter: Before the 2000 dunk contest, Carter told Kenny Smith that he had four dunks that had never been seen before.
Needless to say, his between-the-legs finish off the bounce fits that category.
The innovation behind the attempt is top-notch, and the execution was even better. He didn't get it on his first try, as Tracy McGrady seemingly put the ball in the wrong place the first time, but once the bounce was right, the rest was history.
Dominique Wilkins: Wilkins is an NBA legend. In fact, he's arguably a bigger legend than Carter.
But this tournament isn't about overall legacy. It's about the slam dunk contest only.
Wilkins participated in numerous dunk contests throughout his days, and based on longevity, he has the edge over the one-time performer. But when it comes to getting a fanbase to rally around one player, it's tough to argue with what Carter was able to do with his performance in 2000.
Head-to-Head: Knocking off Wilkins from a dunk contest takes a seriously good showing from a serious competitor.
Michael Jordan did it in the '80s, and now Carter is doing it in 2013.
Winner: Vince Carter
Jason Richardson (2003): The 2003 slam dunk contest was a close match between Jason Richardson and Desmond Mason. The two put forth their best efforts and took the competition down to the wire.
But when it was over, Richardson was the one on top, and it had everything to do with his final dunk of the evening.
The East Bay dunk that he managed to pull off was unlike anything we've ever seen. That phrase has been thrown around quite a bit throughout the years, but it was a true statement when Richardson defeated Mason with the opposite-direction, between-the-legs flush to close out the contest.
Jason Richardson (2004): We've seen a lot of lobs off the glass throughout the years. In fact, we've seen a lot of lobs off the glass in this tournament.
However, when Richardson tossed it to himself off the backboard in 2004, it was something straight out of a video game.
The high-flying, rim-rocking machine known as J.Rich couldn't take home the title in 2004, but he showed us something we'd yet to see for the second year in a row.
Head-to-Head: It's almost unfair that one of these dunks have to be eliminated at this point in the contest. They both hold a certain place in history and bring back memories to fans who realized they were witnessing something new every time Richardson took the floor.
That being said, if Richardson is going to be eliminated from this contest, who better to lose to than himself?
The lob off the glass is impressive to say the least, but the reverse finish off the lob won him the 2003 contest, and it's what advances him to the next round in this competition.
Winner: Jason Richardson (2003)
1. Michael Jordan, 1985 (Rock the Cradle) vs. Desmond Mason, 2002 (Left-Handed East Bay)
2. Michael Jordan, 1988 (Jumpman) vs. Michael Jordan, 1987 (Kiss the Rim)
3. Vince Carter, 2000 (360 Windmill) vs. Kenny Walker, 1989 (One-Armed 360)
4. Vince Carter, 2000 (East Bay off the bounce) vs. Jason Richardson, 2003 (Reverse East Bay Lob)
Michael Jordan: Let's get one thing straight. Jordan is not the first or last player to rock the cradle in an NBA Dunk Contest.
He may, however, be the one who did it the best, as his early days in the league showed him as one of the most athletic players to ever play at the time.
Many players have re-created the cradle dunk throughout the years, but nobody has done it quite like MJ
Desmond Mason: When a player takes off of two legs, it gives him more flexibility to kick his feet out for dramatic effect. Jordan and Mason both recognized this.
Mason has arguably the most impressive body movement of any East Bay attempt in NBA history. Yes, the left hand is impressive, but without the quick takeoff and the windmill-like finish, it means nothing.
Head-to-Head: If we're being honest—and I think we can afford to be honest at this point in the contest—Mason is a dark horse to win the whole thing.
Jordan's dunk is one of his best ever, but if we forget the name of the two players at this point, the left-handed East Bay takes the cake every time it faces the cradle from 1985.
Winner: Desmond Mason
Michael Jordan (1988): If you've ever wondered why they called the Jordan-influenced Nike Logo "Jumpman," just watch this replay.
Jordan flying through the air became one of the most iconic images in all of sports, and he deserves every ounce of praise he receives in response to such a dunk.
Michael Jordan (1987): Part of what makes Jordan's "Kiss the Rim" dunk impressive is the fact that he needed a big-time dunk to stay alive in the contest.
Jordan became known as a clutch player throughout his career, and as it turned out, dunk contests would be no exception.
Head-to-Head: Jordan vs. Jordan—the ideal slam dunk contest.
You can't go wrong when it comes to this matchup late in the tournament. Both finishes are legendary in their own rights, but the Jumpman simply won't be beat at this stage of the contest.
Winner: Michael Jordan (1988)
Vince Carter: Carter had many nicknames throughout his early days in the NBA. Among the most popular were Vinsanity, Half Man-Half Amazing and the Air Canada.
In the 2000 dunk contest, the man himself justified each and every one of them.
A windmill is impressive, but it wasn't good enough for Carter. A 360 is also impressive, but it wasn't good enough either.
The man with more than one nickname put more than one dunk together, and the 360-windmill made its resurgence when Carter let everyone know that he was ready to take over All-Star Weekend.
Kenny Walker: Walker lived up to his nickname in this one, and he made a name for himself among the great dunkers in Slam Dunk history.
Like Carter, Walker was a one-time champion when it came to the dunk contest. He took to the stage in 1989, he showed his version of the 360 windmill and he escaped he city of Houston with a trophy declaring him the best that there was in the league that season.
Head-to-Head: Despite being 11 years apart, these two dunks actually have a lot in common. Both are performed in full 360-degree motions, incorporate the windmill and made the crowd turn in their favor by the time their respective contests were done.
Walker was one of the first to set the path for 360 jams with extra accessories, and Carter is the one who brought it back in the 2000 contest.
Walker's dunk is an oldie but a goodie; Carter's is the one that fans are still talking about to this very day.
Winner: Vince Carter
Vince Carter: It's tough to say what the most creative part of Carter's East Bay alley-oop was.
Was it the catch in mid-air? The flawless finish? How about the celebration afterward?
As good as all of that was, the best part about this dunk might just be Tracy McGrady's reaction. McGrady bounced the ball his way, and after just a quick hesitation, he simply walked away as if to say, "My cousin's got this."
Jason Richardson: If Richardson had anything in common with Carter, it was confidence.
The two knew that they were the best when they took the floor in their respective dunk contests, and they both understood that they had the competition won as long as they executed to the best of their abilities.
Don't forget that they also had leaping ability, body control and fan favoritism on their side. But without a confident demeanor, nobody goes anywhere in All-Star Weekend's biggest event.
Head-to-Head: These are two dunks that could legitimately end up in the final round of any dunk contest tournament. They both have their similarities, and they're both among the best of all time.
If placed against other opponents, it's likely that both would advance. However, that's not the nature of a single-elimination tournament, and Carter takes Round 3 for his impact on the future generation of NBA Dunk Contests.
Winner: Vince Carter
1. Desmond Mason, 2002 (Left-Handed East Bay) vs. Michael Jordan, 1988 (Jumpman)
2. Vince Carter, 2000 (360 Windmill) vs. Vince Carter, 2000 (East Bay off the bounce)
Desmond Mason: One of the best parts about Mason's dunk is that TNT announcer Marv Albert praises his opponent, Jason Richardson, when Mason elevates and completes his jam.
Needless to say, the conversation quickly shifts from Richardson to Mason, where Kenny Smith declares that someone should send him a get-well card, because "that dunk was sick."
Michael Jordan: Today's NBA stars need to take a lesson from the greatest of all time.
Jordan participated in multiple dunk contests, and his success in the events helped spark his fame across the world.
If No. 23 could just get today's superstars to jump on board, we'd have a whole different outlook on the competition in 2013.
Head-to-Head: This battle features arguably the best free-throw line dunk and the best non-lobbed East Bay dunk of all time.
How do you possibly decide who moves on and who is left behind?
Sometimes, it's all about nostalgia. Whichever one takes you back to a time and place of All-Star greatness deserves to move on to the final round.
For some, that will be with Mason. For most, however, that's going to be Jordan every single time.
Winner: Michael Jordan
Vince Carter (360 Windmill): Has anybody ever kicked off a dunk contest in grander fashion than when Carter showed us his 360 windmill?
When you mention "360 windmill" to most NBA fans, this is the dunk that they remember. Carter pulled off another impressive dunk from behind the backboard, and while a 360 windmill was incorporated in this one as well, nothing beats the original.
Vince Carter (East Bay Bounce): Once upon a time, the dunk contest disappeared due to lack of interest. The dunks were stale, the fans were bored, and the passion on all ends was gone.
Then Carter came into the picture, and the contest was resurrected by his once-in-a-decade performance.
The problem is that once-in-a-decade infers that he only participated once, and we sure could have used two or three solid years from one of the best dunkers of all time.
His completion of the East Bay Bounce was as good as it gets, as we're still talking about it today, but more of Carter would have only benefited a fanbase starting for great talent.
Head-to-Head: When Carter completed his 360 windmill with the first dunk of the 2000 slam dunk contest, it instantly became known as one of the greatest dunks we'd ever seen in NBA history.
As good as that dunk was, though, it was soon forgotten by the time he put the ball through his legs and flushed home the best dunk of the night.
Carter's East Bay Bounce was the icing on the cake when it came to his performance, and while it wasn't the final slam of his outing, it was the one that people remember most.
Winner: Vince Carter (East Bay Bounce)
1. Michael Jordan, 1988 (Jumpman) vs. Vince Carter, 2000 (East Bay off the bounce)
Michael Jordan: The most impressive part about Jordan's 1988 free-throw line dunk is that he never extends his arm to its fullest reach.
That means he had so much hang time that he never needed to stretch across his body the way every other player before—and after—him had done.
The Jumpman logo is iconic throughout the entire basketball world, and there's a reason Jordan is known not just as one of the greatest players of all time, but also as one of the greatest dunkers in NBA history.
Vince Carter: No props. No gimmicks. Just one of the greatest dunks the league has ever seen.
That's what won Carter the 2000 slam dunk contest.
Unfortunately for fans across the league, Carter may have set the bar a little too high. Every dunk that has come since has paled in comparison, and the between-the-legs finish off the bounce has become known as one of the greatest accomplishments in dunk contest history.
Head-to-Head: There's no one criterion when it comes to determining the greatest dunk of all time.
That being said, when Carter showed what he could do in 2000, he brought life back to a contest that had been non-existent for years prior. To no fault of his own, he may have set the bar a bit too high for future contestants, but that's just a testament to how good his finish actually was.
You can't take anything away from Jordan for defeating Dominique Wilkins in '88, but in the words of Carter himself, it's over.
Winner: Vince Carter