When six dunkers take the stage in New Orleans, they'll be competing for more than the team competition and the individual award that will be presented at the end of the contest on Saturday, Feb. 15.
Paul George, John Wall, Damian Lillard, Terrence Ross, Harrison Barnes and Ben McLemore will try to throw down slam dunks that leave a lasting memory. They'll try to complete plays that will be replayed on YouTube for years.
Throughout recent history—which we're defining as 1994 through the present—many memorable dunks have been completed during the Slam Dunk Contest. Vince Carter, Jason Richardson, Dwight Howard and plenty of other players have filled our memories with remarkable feats of athleticism.
Will any of the six competitors move into these rankings—which feature the 25 greatest slams in recent history—after the 2014 festivities?
That remains to be seen, as these are all some pretty epic throwdowns. Here's hoping at least one of the six completes a dunk for the ages.
Even though it took J.R. Smith—then with the New Orleans Hornets—a few tries to complete his dunk, he did something that no one had ever successfully pulled off during a dunk contest.
Up went Smith, and the ball went around his back before he threw it down.
It's been done again since then, and in more spectacular fashion twice, but Smith was the creator of the behind-the-back dunk for NBA players in the Slam Dunk Contest. That has to count for something.
Now with the New York Knicks, Smith has been known to post some rather impressive in-game dunks. But in the Slam Dunk Contest, none of his contributions can top this one.
Little guys have a big advantage in the proceedings.
Assuming they have springs for legs—as Nate Robinson so clearly does—they can show off for crowds to a greater extent, simply because there's more space between their feet and the floor when the ball is going through the hoop.
Robinson took major advantage of that, and he wasn't afraid to use a few props in the process.
Dressed in a green New York Knicks jersey, complete with a green ball, green shoes and green socks, Kryptonate jumped right over Dwight Howard, who was wearing his infamous Superman costume. Impressive, right?
The only thing holding back Nate from even loftier placement is the fact that he used his hand to boost himself off D12's shoulders.
Steve Francis was massively overshadowed by Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter during the 2000 dunk contest, but we're not going to overlook him here.
As impressive as his dunks were throughout the contest, this one still managed to stand out. And the pinstriped Houston Rockets jersey only helped his cause.
Stevie Franchise's three-point attempt at the beginning of the process was horrifically short.* But he recovered, catching the errant shot at the apex of its parabolic arc, then bringing it all the way down below his waist before slamming it home reverse-style.
The sheer distance between the bottom of the double clutch and the rim is impressive.
*Francis wasn't really shooting a three-pointer.
When Darryl Dawkins is involved, how can a dunk possibly go wrong?
Chocolate Thunder—clad in a leopard-printed suit, because of course—named the dunk "The Show Stopper," then DeMar DeRozan proceeded to, well, stop the show.
DeRozan took the classic pattern of bouncing the ball and dunking it home to a new level, grabbing it with only one hand and then throwing it down with nary a look in the backward direction.
This dunk wasn't particularly smooth or glamorous, but the difficulty of it was just off the charts. The normal charts at least, since the dunks in this article are pretty much all up there.
Isaiah Rider's East Bay Funk Dunk is one of the all-time classics. There's no doubt about that.
He originally performed the legendary slam while he was in college, but he brought it to the national stage during the 1994 Slam Dunk Contest.
The sheer violence of the throwdown is unbelievable. It's not hard to imagine that Rider was quite angry at everything around him, given the force with which he ripped the ball through his legs and then slammed it through the hoop.
Just look how high the ball bounces after he's completed his attempt. There's some serious force behind that.
Rider's original dunk has spawned plenty of imitators, many of whom improved upon it. But the first one deserves some credit.
This is the first time you've seen Andre Iguodala in the countdown of the contest's greatest dunks, but it won't be the last.
Iggy was beaten to the punch by J.R. Smith when it comes to throwing down a behind-the-back slam, but he improved upon the shooting guard's innovation. Whereas Smith attacked the basket and only added the single twist, Iguodala added a new element.
Instead of maintaining possession during his approach, Iguodala tossed the ball up in the air and started its path behind his back after he corralled it off the bounce. That adds a whole new degree of difficulty, which is why this dunk trumps the original.
Unfortunately, it took the uber-athletic swingman a few tries before he successfully completed his dunk. Anytime we have to watch multiple attempts that fail, the excitement level has to decline a bit.
JaVale McGee is not a normal basketball player.
I'm not referring to his status as a mainstay on "Shaqtin' a Fool" when he's healthy. I'm not referring to the four uppercase letters in his name. I'm not referring to his penchant for retweeting himself on Twitter. I'm not referring to his unfortunately ill-fated plays.
He's just gigantic.
The 7-footer has a ridiculous wingspan and unfair hops to boot. He put them all to good use when he managed to dunk on two different baskets during a single jump.
This one is quite tough to replicate, because it takes a lanky big man with ridiculous athleticism to pull it off.
Terrence Ross had so much to think about during this dunk.
Completing a 360-degree dunk is hard enough—doing so while jumping over another person is harder still.
If you look carefully, you can see that Ross has to delay the start of his motion ever so slightly. During a dunk that requires such quick movement and timing, even a nanosecond is a big deal.
If Ross had gone too early, he'd have run the risk of hitting the ball boy in the head as he went between his legs. If Ross had gone too late, he wouldn't have been able to complete the slam.
But complete it he did.
Fans of NBA dunks might remember Vince Carter doing the "Honey Dip" before Blake Griffin—11 years earlier, in fact.
Don't worry, that one will show up later.
Earlier in this article, I gave credit to Andre Iguodala for providing a new twist to a dunk. He copied J.R. Smith's behind-the-back dunk, but he added the off-the-bounce element, so he was ranked higher.
In that vein, you might assume that Griffin's "Honey Dip" would be higher than Carter's. After all, he threw it off the backboard.
However, does that really make it harder? If anything, it might be making the dunk slightly easier because he doesn't have to carry the ball up with him, and it's not like Griffin has ever had trouble catching alley-oops.
The timing here doesn't even have to be perfect, because the arm is more important than the ball.
We've seen 360-degree dunks.
We've seen double-clutch dunks.
But had we ever seen the two combined during a single effort before Tracy McGrady added to the legend of the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest?
T-Mac made it look so easy, too.
It doesn't even seem like he's jumping as high as he possibly can, but he's still spinning 360 degrees and bringing the ball down below his waist in the process. If you really want to be impressed, freeze the video four seconds in.
McGrady should be in a crouching position, facing completely away from the hoop. And he still brings it home.
First of all, the still shot from the video up above is absolutely insane.
Terrence Ross's head—think about the perspective—is nearly up at the rim, and the ball is still behind his back. Oh, and he was in the middle of completing a 360 spin.
There's actually a rather large gap between this dunk and the Tracy McGrady slam that directly precedes it. After all, consider what each of them did while wearing a Toronto Raptors jersey.
T-Mac spun 360 degrees after catching a bounce and double clutched before throwing the ball through the hoop. T-Ross didn't go off the bounce, but he still made the same spin and went behind his back, which is a much higher degree of difficulty.
Even though the 2013 champion didn't complete his first attempt, he's still getting the nod in these rankings.
Nothing too special here, right?
All Desmond Mason did during this 2003 adventure was dunk after going between his legs. That's a special dunk for a normal human being, but it's not nearly enough to stand out against the backdrop of superhuman athletes who populate these contests.
Well, except for one special element.
Mason is right-handed.
Go back and watch the dunk again. He stops the ball's path through his legs with his left hand, then keeps it there as he continues to elevate. And it's the left hand that makes contact with the rim, throwing the ball in a downward trajectory.
That's right. Mason completed a between-the-legs dunk with the wrong hand. That's why this one truly is special.
I'm not sure what Gerald Green has in his legs, but it's not muscle.
Springs? Mini trampolines? Pogo sticks?
Maybe it is muscle, but a super version that he stole directly from Superman. And I don't mean Dwight Howard.
Green took the ball off the backboard, and then he just kept elevating. And elevating. And elevating.
Perhaps another player would have made this dunk look difficult, but Green is such an impressive jumper that it didn't look hard whatsoever. I'm sure plenty of people were inspired to go out to their local court and attempt this dunk before snapping back to reality.
Green just tends to do that to mere mortals. And it won't be the last time he does in these rankings.
The props are a large part of what made this so special, but let's completely throw aside the Superman outfit. Even the cape.
From a sheer dunking perspective, this was still an insane spectacle.
Dwight Howard took the ball off the bounce from way too far away and extended like Michael Jordan in Space Jam. His arms just kept stretching, and then he threw the ball through the hoop Blake Griffin-style.
We routinely refer to dunks as throwdowns, but this was a literal version. Howard's hand never quite reached the rim, and that only added to the majesty of this performance.
Don't bother complaining that "it wasn't a dunk."
Just appreciate the greatness.
Jason Richardson pulled an interesting twist on the standard off-the-bounce windmill reverse dunk.
Instead of just windmilling and finishing the dunk, J-Rich instead let the ball bounce farther than most players normally do. Because he first caught it while it was even with the rim—from a lateral perspective—he had to turn his body in order to position himself for the reverse slam.
It just looked...different.
This dunk doesn't feel like it's on the same difficulty level as many of the other slams populating these rankings. However, the visual element and uniqueness allow it to rise up until it's just outside the top 10.
This is Richardson's first appearance, but don't get tired of him yet. He'll make multiple showings in the remaining portion of the rankings.
The lack of roars from the crowd is rather strange for a dunk that was this impressive.
But it was more of a stunned silence than an air of disapproval, because no one knew exactly what to think of Vince Carter's soon-to-be-legendary dunk. The faces of the players in the crowd are hilarious, because guys like Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Kidd just had no idea if they were supposed to be impressed or not.
This was completely unique, and the athleticism required to dunk up to your elbow is just insane.
Complex.com's Jose Martinez and Angel Diaz ranked it as the No. 10 dunk of Vinsanity's career, writing, "The 'Honey Dip' dunk left us speechless. Just watch it over and over and over and over."
Only one of the nine slams ranked ahead of the original "Honey Dip" came from the Slam Dunk Contest, and No. 1 was the infamous posterization of Frederic Weis during the 2000 Olympics.
Don't worry, there's more Vince yet to come.
One of my personal favorites, Gerald Green's cupcake dunk remains one of the most underrated dunks of all time.
At the time, it took everyone a while to realize what happened. Green's dunk looked rather ordinary, until everyone realized exactly what he'd done with the cupcake.
Sitting on the back of the rim, the baked good started out lit, with a flame protruding from the pink frosting. But when Green came back down to the ground, the flame was out, and it wasn't because there was a draft in the building.
The last replay in the video up above is the best one, because you can see Green's face pucker up before he blows out the candle like it's his birthday. The novelty of this dunk was just off the charts, and very few players have ever had the hops necessary to pull it off.
Unfortunately, this hasn't received its fair share of credit, simply because Green didn't win the 2008 contest.
Dwight Howard did.
One of the dunks that helped Dwight Howard win the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest was this one.
Gerald Green's cupcake dunk was incredible, both from an athleticism and novelty standpoint. So was D12's, except his didn't involve a prop. In my book, that makes it even better.
It's hard to be unique in the dunk contest, but Howard pulled it off with flying colors. And in this case, that color happened to be blue.
Off the bounce, Howard pushed the ball against the backboard with his left hand, then immediately corralled it with his right and completed the dunk. In one play, he managed to record two points and an offensive rebound, all without even hitting the ground.
At first, this dunk made it seem as though the announcing crew was overreacting. But the replay showed a better angle, and the world learned exactly why Kenny Smith screamed, "I'm leaving the building! I quit my job!"
I know I just looked down on props, but Steve Nash's head is a special exception.
The timing on this dunk is absolutely insane. So many things had to be done precisely, and they were all checked off during this attempt.
Amar'e Stoudemire's toss off the backboard had to be completed with pinpoint accuracy. It was, as Nash barely had to move his head in order to connect with the ball.
Nash's header had to be completed to perfection, or else STAT wouldn't be able to get the rock into the hoop. It was, as Stoudemire caught the ball at the peak of his leap.
Stoudemire's timing had to be on point, or else he'd fail to catch the header. It was, and he made the flashy attempt look rather easy.
I'm pretty sure this breaks some sort of rule in either basketball or soccer, but it was awesome nonetheless.
A gigantic windmill off the front of the backboard is hard enough.
But Dwight Howard wasn't content to roll with such a mundane effort during his foray into the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest. Instead, he had to change things up and start on the wrong end of the basket.
Unfortunately, it took D12 a couple of tries to complete this slam, but it only barely diminishes the impact.
Amazingly enough, Howard elevated so far off the ground that he actually had to bend his head over to the side so he wouldn't smash his face into the backboard. Nevertheless, he had the presence of mind to catch the ball, complete a windmill and throw it down with his left hand.
Even a big man like Howard needs inhuman amounts of athleticism to pull this off. Fortunately, that's something D12 has in spades.
If it weren't for that first failed attempt, Howard's best dunk ever would move up one spot higher.
Why do you think they call him Air Canada?
Vince Carter's 2000 Slam Dunk Contest was absolutely unsurpassed in recent NBA history. Even though Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis put on shows of their own, the competition belonged to Vinsanity.
This is already his second appearance in the rankings from 2000, and there's one more yet to come. He was just a hair away from holding down two of the top four spots with dunks from just a single competition.
Grabbing the ball off the bounce and going through the legs was incredibly impressive, especially because so few had ever done so prior to the turn of the century. But what truly made this special was the reaction.
"It's over," Carter told the cameras as he slashed his arms across his chest.
And it was.
Plenty of players have completed through-the-legs dunks, but this one was still different.
Whereas the normal slam involves that as the sole element or completing it after a bounce or pass from a teammate, Jason Richardson took it to the next level. He threw himself a pass, but it came off the backboard.
By doing so, he had to jump insanely high.
The elevation required to catch the ball off the backboard, stuff it through the legs and still have time to dunk before falling back to the ground is nearly unfathomable. During his prime, Richardson made dunking look easy, but even he couldn't do that to this attempt.
J-Rich barely stuffed the ball through the orange circle, because he was already on the way down when his arm started to move up toward the rim.
Most humans would've already landed, though.
Going into this dunk—which, contrary to popular belief, did not take place "in da club"—Jason Richardson needed a 49 in order to take home the 2003 Slam Dunk Contest title.
He got a 50.
How could he not?
Even with the pressure weighing him down, J-Rich lobbed the ball up from behind the basket and out along the baseline. Then he elevated, put the ball between his legs and finished with a reverse slam. Oh, and the jam was completed with his left hand.
Kenny Smith couldn't get enough, and the video finishes with him talking about the ridiculous hangtime needed to complete such a monster of a dunk. He's not exaggerating.
Richardson completed a number of jaw-dropping slams during his athletic prime. But even though he has two other dunks featured in this countdown, this one takes the cake.
At this point, you might be surprised to see someone not named Vince Carter, Jason Richardson or Dwight Howard occupying one of the top spots.
Let's not forget how ridiculous Andre Iguodala's hops were when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers, though.
Only two years removed from his Arizona days, Iggy knew how to get up. And once he was up, he knew how to make the ball go down through the hoop.
Everything he had was put on display during this one attempt, as he took a feed from Allen Iverson, traversed to the other side of the hoop and completed a windmill slam, ducking to make sure he wouldn't be taken out by the backboard.
The creativity was astounding. The fact that he could hang in the air long enough to finish the dunk was more astounding still. And the ability to get Iverson to pass the ball? Well, that might have been most astounding.
I'm kidding, but only about the Iverson part.
With the exception of what Michael Jordan did before the 1994 cutoff we're implementing for this article, has any dunk been more iconic?
Vince Carter didn't need props.
He just put his remarkable leaping ability on display as he smoothly spun 360 degrees and completed one of the biggest windmills the NBA has ever seen. This, along with Vinsanity's other dunks from 2000 (both the ones in the contest and the Olympics posterization of Frederic Weis), helped establish Carter as one of the greatest slam artists ever.
Sometimes simple is good.
Without any props, and without the use of bounces, backboards or teammates, Carter still captivated the world. It was an effortless display of pure athleticism, and that's what the Slam Dunk Contest is supposed to be all about.
You shouldn't have expected anyone else to hold down the fort at No. 1.