Ranking the 25 Greatest Dunks in NBA Slam Dunk Contest History
More than a dozen events take place during NBA All-Star Weekend, but the Slam Dunk Contest is quite possibly the crown jewel of the schedule.
There have been many years when the dunk contest has outshone the All-Star Game itself as millions of fans tune in to watch some of the best high-flyers the Association has to offer.
A number of players have made a name for themselves in the Slam Dunk Contest, and others have used the competition to build on their already-growing legend.
Over the years, we've seen plenty of ridiculous slams that most of us thought were impossible. And then we were treated to special talents such as Vince Carter and Dwight Howard, who pulled off feats of athleticism that were far beyond our wildest dreams.
While the appreciation of the artistry behind a slam dunk is fairly subjective, the ranking of the best competition dunks of all time is always a topic of intense debate.
As we prepare for the latest iteration of the Slam Dunk Contest, let's take a look back in the annals at some of the best dunks we've ever seen during All-Star Weekend.
25. Desmond Mason: Between the Legs (2003)
Former Seattle SuperSonics forward Desmond Mason won the dunk contest in 2001, but his best competition dunk came two years later.
Mason's dunk was a variation of J.R. Rider's "East Bay Funk Dunk" from several years earlier, but not only did Mason put the ball between his legs while driving to the basket, he threw it down with his off hand (Mason is right-handed).
Athleticism was Mason's calling card, and he almost made this dunk look too easy.
24. Dwight Howard: Superman (2008)
The most important fact about Dwight Howard's "Superman" dunk during the 2008 NBA All-Star Weekend is that it wasn't a dunk.
Howard actually threw the ball in from several feet away, but the millions who were watching were so amped up for the moment that we forgave Dwight for his transgression.
Howard gets bonus points for the T-shirt, cape and Superman music that played in the background following the dunk, but he gets docked heavily from the Russian judge for technical execution.
23. Amar'e Stoudemire: Header from Steve Nash (2005)
This is probably one of the most underrated dunks in NBA history. The degree of difficulty on the Amar'e Stoudemire/Steve Nash tandem dunk was extraordinarily high.
First, Stoudemire throws an underhanded pass off the backboard to Nash. Nash heads the ball perfectly back to Stoudemire, who catches it, twists in midair and throws it down.
The timing and coordination for both is what sticks out here.
22. Blake Griffin Choir/Kia Dunk (2011)
Blake Griffin's leap over the hood of a Kia Optima is impressive. However, the dunk is far more about style than it is about substance.
Between the car itself and a choir singing R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" in the background, Griffin definitely put on a show that night in the Staples Center.
But from a physical standpoint, there are dozens of NBA players who could have pulled off a similar feat, which makes the dunk a little less awe-inspiring than it appeared to be at the time.
21. Blake Griffin: Off-the-Glass Honey Dip (2011)
Blake Griffin's dunk over the car is the most replayed moment of the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest, but it wasn't even Griffin's best slam of the night.
The Los Angeles Clippers forward took Vince Carter's "honey dip" to the next level by throwing the ball off of the glass before catching it with his right hand and dunking the ball (and his forearm) through the rim.
Athletically, the dunk is marvelous. However, given the fact that Carter did something similar 11 years prior, Griffin's dunk loses a few points for originality.
20. Dee Brown: No-Look Dunk (1991)
This is the dunk that sold millions of Reebok Pump Sneakers.
More impressively, it was a slam that allowed Dee Brown to defeat the heavily favored Shawn Kemp in the final of the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
Brown was a relatively nondescript rookie for the Boston Celtics, but after inflating his black-and-white Reebok Pumps and throwing down his infamous no-look dunk, he became an instant sensation.
19. JaVale McGee: Double Dunk on Two Baskets (2011)
There may not be five people alive who can dunk two basketballs on two separate baskets simultaneously after throwing one of the basketballs against the glass and catching it in midair.
You can knock JaVale McGee for his suspect basketball IQ and/or effort on the court, but there's no denying that he's one of the most athletic talents in the game today.
All things considered, the difficulty level on this dunk is higher than anything that eventual winner Blake Griffin pulled off in the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest.
18. Andre Iguodala: Behind-the-Back Dunk (2006)
Andre Iguodala cradled the ball off of the bounce with his left hand, brought it around his back, switched the ball to his right hand and threw it down.
It was an absolutely freakish play by Iguodala, who is one of the best finishers in the open court in all of basketball.
Even though Nate Robinson won the 2006 contest, this dunk stands out.
17. Gerald Green: Birthday Cake Dunk (2008)
It's one thing to dunk a basketball. It's a completely metahuman thing to leap so high on a dunk that you can blow out a candle on a cupcake sitting on the back of a rim 10 feet off of the floor.
So feel free to classify what Gerald Green did back at the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest as metahuman. It's a slam that plays out way better at home than it does at the arena thanks to its "Wait...what did I just see?" factor.
And lest we forget, bonus points to Green for making sure that the cupcake didn't fall off of the rim.
16. Isaiah Rider: East Bay Funk Dunk (1994)
It's hard to tell what's better: Isaiah Rider's East Bay Funk Dunk in the 1994 Slam Dunk Contest, or him hitching up his shorts at the end before breaking out into kung fu moves.
With the home crowd in his corner, Rider drove baseline and threw down an impressive, between-the-legs dunk that brought the Target Center crowd to its feet.
Rider's blend of power and leaping ability made him the perfect candidate for the Slam Dunk Contest, and he was able to bring just enough funk to defeat both Shawn Kemp and Robert Pack in the final round.
15. Jason Richardson: Bounce, Through-the-Legs from Baseline (2003)
We've seen players dunk the ball after putting it between their legs.
But never before had we seen someone lob the ball along the baseline, catch it off the bounce and put the ball through their legs the opposite way (right to left) before finishing with their off hand.
Richardson needed either a 49 or a 50 on his final dunk of the 2003 Slam Dunk Contest. As soon as he threw this one down, a number of his peers instantly ran onto the court, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that Richardson had captured the title.
And given the way he posed after the dunk, Richardson knew it as well.
14. Spud Webb: Reverse off One Bounce (1986)
In 1986, a 5'7" Spud Webb defeated the legendary Dominique Wilkins in the dunk contest thanks in large part to this reverse dunk off of one bounce.
The move would be difficult for many NBA players to pull off, yet the smallest man in the league did it with relative ease.
Webb undoubtedly received a little extra love from both the crowd and the judges for being the "little man," but he put on a show in Dallas some 27 years ago, and the reverse dunk was perhaps his greatest moment.
13. Dominique Wilkins: Windmill (1985)
Perhaps no one in the history of the NBA has had a more natural blend of power and athleticism on their dunks than former Atlanta Hawks star Dominique Wilkins.
1985 saw "The Human Highlight Film" win the first of his two career Slam Dunk crowns, and his ferocious windmill slam was enough to defeat Michael Jordan in the final round.
Wilkins was almost at eye level with the rim on this dunk, and he throws it down as if he's mad at the basket.
Before Blake Griffin and Shawn Kemp, there was 'Nique, and this slam solidified his place as one of the greatest dunkers basketball has ever seen.
12. DeMar DeRozan: Reverse Windmill "Show Stopper" (2011)
The 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Contest had plenty of incredible throwdowns, but DeMar DeRozan's "Show Stopper" might have been the best of them all.
On his very first try, DeRozan lobs the ball toward the basket, catches it with one hand and does a reverse windmill flush all in one motion.
DeRozan probably pulled this one out of his bag of tricks a bit too early: This is the type of dunk that likely would have given him a good shot at the title in the final round...if Blake Griffin didn't jump over a car later that night.
11. Dwight Howard: Tap off of the Glass (2008)
There aren't enough superlatives in the world to give this dunk its proper due.
Dwight Howard lobs the ball in the air, taps it off of the glass with his left hand (off of the bounce, no less) before catching it in his right hand and throwing it down.
The dunk was so amazing that TNT commentator Kenny Smith threatened to leave the building and quit his job.
Howard is mostly remembered for his infamous "Superman" slam; his "tap off the glass" dunk doesn't receive near as much credit as it actually deserves.
10. Jason Richardson: Off-the-Bounce Reverse Windmill (2002)
This is one of those dunks that requires multiple viewings to enjoy its many nuances.
In the span of about four seconds, Jason Richardson lobs the ball toward the rim, catches it off the bounce, spins 180 degrees and executes a perfect windmill before throwing it down in reverse.
For whatever reason, this dunk only received a 49 out of 50, but it was still enough to give him the 2002 Slam Dunk Contest crown over Gerald Wallace.
Despite winning two consecutive dunk titles, Richardson remains one of the more underrated dunkers in NBA history.
9. Vince Carter: Between-the-Legs Dunk (2000)
Take a between-the-legs dunk and throw in the added difficulty of catching the ball off of the bounce, and you have the perfect recipe for one of the greatest slams of all time.
After Vince Carter threw this one down back in 2000, he waved his hands in front of him in the classic "It's Over" signal. And it was over: No one was going to defeat Carter on that night at the Oracle Arena in Oakland.
But as jaw-dropping as that dunk was, it wasn't nearly his best flush of the night.
8. Dwight Howard: Behind-the-Basket Windmill (2008)
It takes an extraordinary amount of skill to execute a windmill dunk that starts from behind the basket.
Between passing the ball off of the glass to catching it to throwing it down without hitting your head, there are plenty of variables going into this dunk.
To Dwight Howard's credit, he was able to throw it down on just his second attempt. From that moment, it was clear that he would be named the 2008 slam dunk champion.
7. Michael Jordan: Kiss the Rim (1987)
Other than his free-throw line slam, this might be Michael Jordan's most emulated dunk of all time.
The "Kiss The Rim" is an iconic move, and 26 years later, it's still awe-inspiring from a technical standpoint. The amount of hang time needed to do what Jordan did is incredible.
It's no secret that MJ is one of the greatest dunkers of all time, and his victory at the 1987 Slam Dunk Contest was just the beginning of his legacy.
6. Jason Richardson: Off-the-Glass, East Bay Funk Dunk (2004)
Jason Richardson has a portfolio of insane dunks, but this is at the top of the list.
This should have been enough to give Richardson his third consecutive slam dunk title back in 2004, but Fred Jones of the Indiana Pacers wound up taking home the crown.
The move is easy enough to describe—an off-glass version of the between-the-legs "East Bay Funk Dunk"—but darn near impossible to actually pull off.
You seriously have to be a freak of nature athletically to be able to do this dunk without the help of a trampoline, but the former Golden State Warrior does it with ease.
5. Andre Iguodala: Behind-the-Basket Reverse (2006)
Quite simply, this is the greatest dunk ever done by a player who didn't win the competition.
After Andre Iguodala threw down this behind-the-basket reverse in 2006, they simply should have just stopped the event, caught up with him after he ran into the tunnel and awarded him the title.
To review, Iguodala catches an off-glass oop from behind the backboard (from Allen Iverson, no less) and contorts his body so that he can slam the ball with his right hand while not hitting his head during the follow-through.
It's still baffling how this dunk didn't ultimately lead to an Iguodala victory.
4. Julius Erving: Free-Throw Line Dunk (1976)
This actually happened in the 1976 ABA Slam Dunk Contest (the first-ever dunk competition on the professional level), but any ranking of the best contest dunks without this one is simply incomplete.
Julius Erving actually took off a step inside the free-throw line, but it's a minor quibble with a slam that turned the dunk contest from a one-off novelty act to one of the highlights of All-Star Weekend.
If Erving never pulled this dunk off some 37 years ago, who's to say that the Slam Dunk Contest would still be in existence today?
3. Michael Jordan: Free-Throw Line Dunk (1988)
When a dunk is captured on a poster for all of eternity, you know that it belongs in the pantheon of great Slam Dunk Contest moments.
Julius Erving was the first to do the free-throw line dunk in competition, but 12 years later, Michael Jordan made it his own by adding his signature double-pump move.
After flying through the air in perfect "Jumpman" form, Jordan slammed the ball through the hoop, electrifying the Chicago crowd.
It remains perhaps this most famous moment in dunk contest history, and it is one of the keystones to the Jordan legend.
2. Vince Carter: Honey Dip (2000)
Vince Carter's "honey dip" dunk was so impressive, no one really knew how to react immediately after he threw it down.
Shaquille O'Neal, Steve Francis and Jason Kidd stare incredulously, Kenny Smith calls for a timeout and Isiah Thomas begins laughing hysterically.
Carter jumped so high that he was actually able to hang from the rim by his arm—a feat that had never been done before in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
While Blake Griffin would pull off a more impressive version of the dunk more than a decade later, the original "honey dip" changed the game.
1. Vince Carter: 360 Windmill (2000)
After Vince Carter broke out the 360 windmill in the first round of the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, it was a wrap.
It was clear that "Air Canada" was going to take home the crown; the only thing we didn't know was that he had a whole arsenal of fantastic dunks that were yet to come.
The 360 windmill is still the king of the mountain, but as impressive as it was, it still pales in comparison to some of the in-game dunks that Carter did during his career.
The Olympic dunk over Frederic Weis is still the best throwdown in basketball history, but the 360 windmill that electrified NBA All-Star Weekend back in 2000 remains one for the history books.