NBA Slam-Dunk Contest: LeBron James and Others Who Should've Dunked in the Past
By now everyone already knows that the 2011 NBA All-Star Weekend Slam-Dunk Contest, taking place on February 19 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, will be featuring Blake Griffin, JaVale McGee, Serge Ibaka and Brandon Jennings.
However, the news of this lineup upset many NBA fans, since after weeks of speculation, it was revealed that once again LeBron James will not be competing.
Furthermore, LeBron's absence raises the question of whether or not he will ever participate in a dunk contest.
If he does not, he will look to join a short, but elite list of spectacular dunkers who never took part in any such competitions.
The following is a chronological list of some of these players—all of whom proved to be among the best dunkers of their day.
And whether it was because they played prior to the Slam-Dunk Contest's inception in 1984 or because they simply chose never to enter, they all left us wondering, "What if?"
One of the most underrated dunkers in NBA history, Elgin Baylor's reputation suffered greatly because of his limited exposure on film.
However, he was one of the first NBA players to introduce highlight-reel dunks into regular game play.
In describing the athletic wonder which was Baylor, fellow Hall-of-Famer Bob Cousy declared, "Elgin was the first one that I remembered that would hang up there for 15 seconds, have some lunch and a cup of coffee. His hang time was incredible."
Moreover, Baylor's NBA biography states that many who saw him play mention him alongside dunking legends like Connie Hawkins, Julius Erving and Michael Jordan.
However, with a career spanning from 1958 to 1971, he played well before the NBA Slam-Dunk Contest was created.
Nevertheless, if he had participated in such a competition during his day, there's no doubt he'd have a couple of titles under his belt right now.
Wilt Chamberlain was one of the most dominant players in NBA history, bringing a combination of size, skill and athleticism which the league had never before witnessed.
Standing at 7'1", 275 lbs, and with world-class athleticism and strength (he performed as a high jumper and shot putter at the University of Kansas), he was one of the NBA's most proficient dunkers.
However, he was more than just an in-game dunker, as he was alleged to have dunked from the foul line back when players were allowed to take a running start for free throw attempts (he also allegedly inspired that rule to be changed).
Yet he, like Baylor, played well before a dunk contest existed (1959-73), preventing him from adding to his incredible legacy of outstanding play and showmanship.
Gus Johnson, not to be confused with the like-named commentator, was an NBA player who performed from 1963-73.
However, he was not just any NBA player.
Throughout his career, Johnson shattered three backboards, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar calling one of these dunks, "one of the greatest basketball plays ever."
Furthermore, in describing the 6'6", 235 pounder, Earl Monroe declared, "Gus was ahead of his time, flying through the air for slam dunks, breaking backboards... He was spectacular."
Johnson was even referred to as "the Dr. J of his time" by the late Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin, and had he been able to enter a dunk contest, maybe he would now find his name regularly listed alongside dunking legends of that caliber.
Connie Hawkins was exiled from the NBA for the first eight years of his professional career due to his association with a point-shaving scandal (even though he was found innocent), causing him to become another one of the most underrated dunkers in NBA history.
Nevertheless, he became known as one of the greatest dunkers of his era, earning the nickname the Hawk.
Few of his dunking exploits were actually documented, yet when speaking of his ABA days, Maurice Lucas claimed, "I had never seen a guy who can actually fly in the air, had the arm-span, as well as the hands to control the basketball until Connie Hawkins."
Furthermore, the Hawk's NBA.com bio states that, "Hawkins was known as one of the first players capable of swooping, soaring flights to the hoop, followed by acrobatic, throw-down dunks."
But playing in the NBA from 1969-76, he never had a chance to solidify his place as an all-time great dunker in a dunk competition.
David Thompson, George Gervin
Both David Thompson and George Gervin are widely regarded as being among the greatest dunkers in NBA history.
Additionally, both competed in dunk competitions, the 1976 ABA Dunk Contest and the 1977 CBS Dunk Contest, which had tons of participants and took place over the course of an entire NBA season.
However, both were well past their respective primes when the NBA instituted the Slam-Dunk Contest in 1984, as Thompson played from 1975-84 and Gervin from 1973-87.
In 1975, Darryl Dawkins with the fifth pick of the NBA Draft, becoming the sixth player ever to be selected straight out of high school.
And although he never became the player that he was expected to become, he did achieve substantial noteriety for his backboard-shattering dunks and flashy style.
With dunks like his "Chocolate Thunder Flyin', Robinzine Cryin', Teeth Shakin', Glass-Breakin', Rump Roastin', Bun Toastin, Wham, Bam, Glass Breaker I Am Jam," Dawkins was one of the first true dunk showmen of the television era.
Furthermore, he was the inspiration for the rules which levy fines and suspensions against individuals who break backboards.
However, he didn't participate in the inaugural 1984 NBA Slam-Dunk Competition, and that was coincidentally his last healthy season in the league.
Nevertheless, he is certainly one of the best who never took part in the contest.
Currently serving as the mayor of Sacramento, California, Kevin Johnson made a name for himself in the NBA as a point guard who loved to dunk on much larger players.
However, despite playing from 1987-98, and then for another season in 1999-00, KJ never elected to take part in the Slam-Dunk Contest.
Consequently, he often isn't given the credit as a dunker which he is probably due, especially since he probably could have earned himself a dunk title sometime during the early 1990s.
The most recent versions of Shaquille O'Neal—a large, plodding, 350-plus-pound brute-force—would obviously not be suited for the Slam-Dunk Contest.
However, people often forget what an all-around physical specimen O'Neal was when he entered the league in 1992.
At the NBA Pre-Draft Combine, a 7'1", 303-pound Shaq registered a still-standing record in the maximum vertical reach at 12'5".
Furthermore, the Diesel's vertical jump was measured to be an impressive 36".
For some context, these numbers compare favorably to those of Dwight Howard—a former Dunk Champion—who registered a max vertical reach of 12'3" and a vertical of 35.5".
Still, nobody really knows what he would have done in a dunk competition, but given his showmanship, athleticism, strength and size, Shaq certainly had the potential to impress.
James White may not be a name recognized by most NBA fans—and for good reason.
He first garnered national attention in the 2001 McDonald's All-American High School Slam-Dunk Contest, where he controversially lost to David Lee.
Then, after a solid collegiate career with Cincinnati, White again found himself in the spotlight as the runner-up (due to missed dunks) to David Noel in the 2006 NCAA College Slam-Dunk Contest.
However, White has struggled to hold down a roster spot with an NBA club, spending time with four franchises, but only logging a total of 10 games played between stints with the San Antonio Spurs (2006-07) and the Houston Rockets (2009).
Consequently, the 6'7", 200 pounder has also spent time playing in the NBA Developmental League, as well as in various European Leagues.
Yet, he hasn't forgotten about his dunking talents, as he has won dunk competitions both in Europe and the D-League.
And with the ability to fly from the free throw line with ease—even working in variations from the stripe—White would certainly be a favorite to win an NBA Slam-Dunk Contest if he can ever make his way back to the league.
After flirting with entering year after year, what is there to say about LeBron James and the NBA Slam-Dunk Contest which hasn't already been said?
Yes, it's possible that he is afraid of losing the contest, especially since such an occurrence would just allow people to criticize him even more.
And yes, he has been labeled as being too much of an in-game dunker, rather than a fancy, contest-style dunker.
Still, many solid in-game dunkers have performed well in the competition.
Nevertheless, the only way to silence his critics would be to enter the contest and show the people what he can do.
And given his unique set of physical gifts, LeBron certainly has the potential to come out and shock everyone with a historic performance.
Consequently, let's just hope that LeBron finally decides to bite the bullet and take part in the contest some time in the near future.
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