Ranking the 50 Greatest Dunks in NBA Slam Dunk Contest History

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent ISeptember 13, 2011

Ranking the 50 Greatest Dunks in NBA Slam Dunk Contest History

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    A highlight of NBA All-Star Weekend is the Slam Dunk Contest. Ever since 1984 (with the exception of 1998 and 1999), the league has called together some of the game's best inside men, as well as some of its best athletes, to compete in this event. In it, the players exhibit dunks that they normally would be unable to showcase in an actual game.

    Judges score each dunk individually, and at the end of two or three rounds, a winner is crowned. In recent years, these flamboyant slams have been done by the likes of Orlando Magic center Dwight "Superman" Howard (pictured).

    Long story short, the Slam Dunk Contest is fun for us fans because it gets the adrenaline pumping with electrifying moves we thought only existed on the playground. The dunks fire everyone up and provide a fun escape from the competitive spirit.

    That being said, let's honor this contest by recognizing the 50 best dunks in its 27-year history.

No. 50: Orlando Woolridge, 1984

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    Unless you were a Chicago Bulls fan in the 1980s, you've probably never heard of Orlando Woolridge. The 6'9" forward was an effective inside presence for the Bulls and six other teams in a 13-year career.

    Woolridge participated in the inaugural Slam Dunk Contest in 1984 and didn't win, but his smooth and graceful 360 with the authoritative slam is the perfect way to kick off the countdown.

    Woolridge's slam comes about 26 seconds in.

No. 49: Kenny Smith, 1990

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    Today, he is known as a popular broadcaster for various NBA games. Yet from 1987-1997, Smith was "The Jet," a guard known for his electrifying three-point shooting as well as his dunking ability. He made the semifinals of the contest in 1990, losing to Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks.

    Despite that, this dunk from the second round is just too crazy to leave unrecognized. I like to call it the "Hut, Hut, HIKE!"

    Watch in the very first dunk of the clip how the 6'3" Smith snaps the rock between his legs, off the backboard and then throws it down with authority. It almost makes you wonder how Smith would have done as a wide receiver in the NFL.

No. 48: Baron Davis, 2001

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    At 6'3", one wouldn't expect Baron Davis to be a guy who dunks often. Yet his dunking ability was enough to garner an invitation to the 2001 contest.

    This slide will honor Davis's second dunk of the night, during which he does his best Julius Erving impression with a thunderous tomahawk slam over then-teammate David Wesley.

    Look at about 1:09 in to take in this eye-popper.

No. 47: Larry Johnson, 1992

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    I don't know what's more priceless here: the dunk from Larry "Grandmama" Johnson or the fact that Magic Johnson is providing sideline commentary.

    Either way you look at it, this dunk is just perfect. Watch how Larry Johnson attacks the rim from one side, only to execute the dunk from the opposite end.

No. 46: Clyde Drexler, 1988

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    During his 15-year career, Clyde Drexler went by the nickname "The Glide." Watching this dunk from the semifinals of the 1988 contest, it's easy to see why.

    It may just look like a simple one-handed tomahawk dunk, but it's impossible to not admire the form exhibited by Drexler. The man is simply so graceful as he moves towards the basket, maintaining the balance expected of an Olympic sprinter. He just glides to the basket before unleashing hell with the one-handed slam.

    Look for this fine form about 45 seconds in.

No. 45: Terence Stansbury, 1987

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    He only played three NBA seasons before heading overseas, but Terence Stansbury left his mark in the history of the game with his participation in three dunk contests. He finished in third place each time.

    Still, let's give the lanky guard his due by honoring his stunning one-handed 360 slam from the 1987 contest. It's one that sneaks up on you, as Stansbury makes his entrance about 27 seconds in and appears to rehearse it in slow motion.

    He then perfectly executes it, and boom goes the dynamite.

No. 44: Antonio Harvey, 1995

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    This guy didn't even make it out of the first round in 1995, but you gotta love the authority of his first slam.

    Fast-forward to about 1:26 and note Harvey's form. Not only is the 360 perfect, but the ball is basically held in his forearm before being thrown through the basket on the finish.

    It wasn't a winning dunk, but still fun to watch.

No. 43: Antonio Harvey, 1995

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    Once again, for an encore performance, we have Antonio Harvey. In this case, after his first dunk, he does a standard drive to the basket with a little bit of shake and bake with the hands during the leap.

    His timing is just perfect, as the slam lands perfectly and with authority.

No. 42: Tyrus Thomas, 2007

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    As an electrifying dunker, it's no secret that Tyrus Thomas throws down some incredible slams. Yet, no matter who's dunking the rock, it's rare that a particular slam is so powerful that it breaks the net.

    Thomas not only did that with this dunk, but also jumped over then-teammate Ben Gordon in a truly acrobatic fashion.

No. 41: Dominique Wilkins, 1984

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    A dunk contest countdown simply would not be complete without Dominique Wilkins, aka "The Human Highlight Film."

    In this case, let's go back to the inaugural contest. On his second dunk of the night, about 45 seconds into the clip, Wilkins jams home a devastating windmill. Never before have I seen handiwork so fast and perfect.

    It isn't his best, but this dunk is a good way to introduce Wilkins on this countdown.

No. 40: Desmond Mason, 2002

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    In the prime of his career, with the Seattle SuperSonics, Desmond Mason was one of the best dunkers in the league. He won the dunk contest in 2001 (more on that later) and finished second in 2003.

    Yet let's talk about Mason's first dunk from the 2002 contest. His one-handed windmill brings back shades of Dominique Wilkins and was the perfect way to kick off that year's contest.

No. 39: Darrell Armstrong, 1996

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    If there's one thing I love about certain slam dunk contests, it's when the little guys get a chance to perform.

    In 1996, 6'0" point guard Darrell Armstrong was invited to participate and made the most of his first dunk. His reverse slam wasn't enough to get him to the next round, but it still burns deep into the minds of dunk contest enthusiasts.

No. 38: Steve Francis, 2000

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    Though he may have ended up more famous for his attitude and weight problems, it mustn't be forgotten that Steve Francis was once an elite NBA guard. Not only could the man shoot and pass, but he was also an electrifying dunker.

    He was the runner-up in the 2000 contest, finishing behind Vince Carter. With this particular dunk, Francis does his best Carter impression with an acrobatic one-handed finish.

No. 37: Rex Chapman, 1991

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    Easily one of the most underrated players of his generation, Rex Chapman was an iconic man both as a shooter and a dunker.

    In 1991, he finished third in the dunk contest and kicked off his performance with a shot he launched off the backboard before running forward, grabbing the rebound and then slamming it home.

    It wasn't the prettiest of dunks, but to see a skinny guard like Chapman show such passion in a jam is just badass and also a testament to his athleticism.

No. 36: Julius Erving, 1984

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    At this point, we're segueing into the part of the slideshow that's going to separate the men from the boys. To kick this off, we're going to talk about Julius Erving, easily one of the game's best dunkers.

    Erving took part in the inaugural dunk contest in 1984, and while he may be better known for the dunk he missed that year, his signature one-handed tomahawk was a great dunk to set the tone for the tournament that year.

    The sad part is that among all of the flashy dunks we see in today's contests, this one often gets lost in the shuffle.

No. 35: Isaiah Rider, 1995

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    He may be better known for his horrendous attitude, but Isaiah Rider was one of the best when he didn't let his head get in the way of his game. In the early stages of his career, he was a phenomenal dunker and was twice invited to participate in the contest.

    He won in 1994 and returned in 1995 to defend his title. He didn't win, but his first dunk (at around 2:04) was a showcase of tremendous speed and athleticism. Watch as Rider throws the ball down the court, speeds forward and then slams it with authority.

No. 34: Andre Iguodala, 2006

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    As one of the best dunkers today, it's no wonder that Andre Iguodala got invited to the slam dunk contest in 2006. His behind-the-back dunk in the second round of that year's contest was enough to tie him with Nate Robinson, forcing a tiebreaker.

    Iguodala didn't win, but this behind-the-back jam is just ridiculous and is a testament to Iguodala's skills as a dunking machine.

No. 33: Michael Jordan, 1988

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    The 1988 Slam Dunk Contest featured two of the game's best slam artists in Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan. These two went toe to toe the entire contest, making electrifying dunk after electrifying dunk. They were the last two men standing, with MJ edging Wilkins by two points.

    Out of all the dunks showcased in the video, my personal favorite comes about 43 seconds in. Jordan executes a perfect one-handed tomahawk while doing some fancy footwork in the air as well.

No. 32: Spud Webb, 1989

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    In another tribute to the little guys, it's time to hit Spud Webb. The 5'7" wonder participated in three dunk contests, winning in 1987.

    In 1989, however, he still made a great slam despite only making the semifinals. In the first round, Webb does a great reverse jam after leaping extremely high off the ground. Fast-forward to around 1:18 and prepare to be wowed.

No. 31: John Starks, 1992

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    This dunk isn't that impressive (fast-forward to 10:13), but it deserves some respect simply because of the man executing it. John Starks, at first glance, does not look like someone who would be a dunker. At 6'3" and 180 pounds, most would assume he is a shooter.

    While Starks was a prolific shooter throughout his career, he was also an electrifying guard who could throw it down with authority if needed. Just watch as he perfectly nails this baseline reverse.

No. 30: Amar'e Stoudemire, 2005

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    As the Phoenix Suns dominated during the early to mid 2000s, the two main men of the franchise were point guard Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire. In 2005, the 6'10" Stoudemire was invited to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest.

    Simply put, the team effort he and Nash pull off here is ridiculous. In a marriage between basketball and soccer, Nash's header to Stoudemire makes for one of the best alley-oops not just in contest history, but in that of the game as well.

    Still not convinced? Just listen to the broadcasters' initial reaction.

No. 29: Clarence Weatherspoon, 1993

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    Though he's probably best known as one of the NBA's best defensive fat guys (6'6", 270 pounds), Clarence Weatherspoon's participation in the 1993 dunk contest can best be defined by his first dunk: a frighteningly strong windmill jam that can be seen at about the 53-second mark.

    What makes this windmill more impressive than others I've mentioned already? Well, just look at Shaquille O'Neal's reaction right after the dunk.

No. 28: Larry Nance, 1984

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    Here we are, back at the inaugural contest. Larry Nance of the Phoenix Suns took the title home at this one, winning it with a devastating one-handed cradled windmill. Just watch as the 6'10" Nance makes this slam look absolutely effortless.

    Throw in the hug from Dr. J afterward, and this is one of the contest's best dunks.

No. 27: JaVale McGee, 2011

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    I'll be honest with you, folks. Until I saw JaVale McGee pull this one off last season, I didn't even know it was legal.

    The seven-footer shows tremendous hand-eye coordination as he dunks not one but two balls into two separate nets! The impressive part is that he launches one ball off the backboard before catching it and stuffing both rocks simultaneously. It isn't a winning dunk, but it definitely scores a lot of points for creativity.

No. 26: Josh Smith, 2005

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    Now, let me start this off by saying that I friggin' love watching Josh Smith. He is easily one of the most versatile forwards in the game and has helped bring the Atlanta Hawks back to prominence.

    He competed in his first of two contests in 2005 and took home the trophy that same year. Out of the four dunks he performed that night, the one that impresses me the most is the second. In this case, he had Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin sit in a chair and lob the ball up to him as he jumped over the chair to slam the ball down with a monstrous force.

    He absolutely nails the dunk, and as can be seen in the video, he is proud of it.

No. 25: Blake Griffin, 2011

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    I'm still trying to figure out how the heck this dunk was pulled off. Blake Griffin, who had microfracture surgery not too long ago, takes a pass from Baron Davis, who is INSIDE the car.

    Then he jumps over the car and executes a perfect two-handed jam. It's simply eye-popping and unbelievable.

    This dunk is just the beginning of some flashy dunks that will highlight the second half of the countdown, so let's keep it rolling with...

No. 24: Cedric Ceballos, 1992

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    This dunk has always had a special place in my heart. It occurred at the 1992 contest, about a month before I turned six years old. I had just recently gotten into basketball and was watching the game with my dad and uncles.

    In the final round, Phoenix Suns forward Cedric Ceballos accomplished what many thought to be impossible. Instead of doing some crazy windmill or reverse 360 for his final jam, Ceballos chose to execute a simple two-handed dunk.

    The crazy part is that while simple, Ceballos did this all while blindfolded, and he made the dunk perfectly. Can you imagine how perfect one's timing would have to be to do that? One wrong move, and Ceballos either falls flat on his face or his face becomes one with the backboard.

    Because of this dunk, I have never missed an All-Star Weekend since.

No. 23: Dee Brown, 1991

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    Similar to the blindfolded dunk, Dee Brown's no-look approach in 1991 sealed his victory over the much bigger and more powerful Shawn Kemp.

    Instead of blinding himself completely, Brown chose to cover his eyes with his free arm mid-jump before nailing the perfect one-handed jam. This didn't have the risk factor of Ceballos' dunk, but it is impressive nonetheless.

    Heck, it probably inspired Ceballos to blindfold himself.

No. 22: Dominique Wilkins, 1990

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    We've already touched on one of the earlier windmill jams of Dominique Wilkins, but there's something special about this one. The form is very standard, but it was enough to win Wilkins the trophy in 1990.

    Note his face after the dunk. While some players might showboat or give a little smile, Wilkins is completely stone-faced. It's as though he's saying, "Just another day at the office...now give me my damn trophy."

    With its badassness, this dunk easily trumps all the other Wilkins slams.

No. 21: Michael Jordan, 1987

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    Fast-forward to 3:09, and you'll see His Airness execute one of the greatest dunks in dunk contest history. Michael Jordan, after messing up the first time, bounces the ball high in front of him before catching it mid-jump and delivering a perfect 360 slam.

    The future Hall of Famer was just 24 years old at the time, making the tenacity behind the jam even more impressive.

No. 20: Dwight Howard, 2008

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    Already known as "Superman" amongst teammates and competitors, Dwight Howard took that nickname to new levels at the 2008 contest. Donning a Superman jersey and even a cape, he received a pass from teammate Jameer Nelson mid-jump before unleashing a powerful one-hander.

    The crowd, already in hysterics from the costume, threw their support behind Howard as he walked home with the trophy. Watch the video at the left and keep an eye out for Magic Johnson losing it!

No. 19: Harold Miner, 1993

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    Many of you have probably never heard of Harold Miner. In four NBA seasons, he was an average role player off the bench for the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. Yet Miner made the most of his time in the league by taking home two slam dunk contest trophies.

    Here is his winning shot from 1993, where he brings back shades of Dominique Wilkins with a 180-degree power windmill jam. Considering how Miner is just 6'5", the power and hand speed behind the dunk are quite impressive.

No. 18: Harold Miner, 1995

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    We stay with Miner here, as he takes home another trophy with the first dunk in this video. Watch as he jumps up and holds the ball for a brief second before throwing down a perfect reverse dunk.

    His career may have been brief, but there's no denying that Miner was easily one of the greatest dunkers of his time.

No. 17: Desmond Mason, 2001

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    2001 may have been a weak contestant pool for the Slam Dunk Contest, but those participating still made the most of it. The winner that year was Desmond Mason, who had a multitude of impressive jams in both rounds.

    The one that stands out to me the most is where he jumps over his teammate, a hunched-over Rashard Lewis. Throw in the ugly vintage Sonics jerseys, and Mason's dunk becomes all the more impressive.

No. 16: DeShawn Stevenson, 2001

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    Long before his feud with LeBron James, DeShawn Stevenson executed one of the most impressive dunks in the history of the slam dunk contest. 

    With help from teammate Bryon Russell, Stevenson grabs the ball from off the backboard and brings home a powerful windmill jam, followed by a little dance. The play starts at 44 seconds in, and to be honest, I'm not sure which aspect of Stevenson's performance is more impressive.

    Either way you look at it, it's fun to watch.

No. 15: Nate Robinson, 2006

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    To date, Nate Robinson is the only man to win the slam dunk contest three times, having done so in 2006, 2009 and 2010. The crazy part is that at first glance, the 5'9" Robinson is the last person one would expect to be the winner of the contest, let alone someone who could dunk, period.

    Yet it has been Robinson and his 43.5" vertical leap that have emerged victorious at All-Star Weekend three different times. In this case, let's start with a tribute to both Lil' Nate and all little guys with his first contest win.

    In this case, Robinson leaps over one-time dunk contest winner Spud Webb for a perfect one-handed tomahawk jam. Pretty impressive for someone his size.

No. 14: Isaiah Rider, 1994

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    Here, we might just have the lone bright spot of Isaiah Rider's career. His winning the slam dunk contest in 1994 was highlighted by his final dunk, a between-the-legs overhead jam that Charles Barkley called, at the time, "the best dunk I've ever seen."

    With praise like that coming from an NBA legend, it truly makes one wonder how great Rider could have been had he kept his attitude in check. Despite that, this dunk is pretty awesome.

No. 13: Fred Jones, 2004

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    Some may remember Fred Jones more for being another bad draft pick by Isiah Thomas, but I'll always recall him as the man who dethroned Jason Richardson as slam dunk contest champion.

    The year was 2004, and Jones was facing Richardson in the final round of that year's contest. Jones was a first-timer, while J-Rich was going for a three-peat. While Richardson messed up his final dunk multiple times, Jones was perfect from the start.

    His bounce followed by a spinning, one-handed tomahawk forever cemented his place in All-Star Weekend history.

No. 12: JaVale McGee, 2011

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    First we saw him dunk two balls at the same time; now it's time to see JaVale McGee take it to the next step. Last year, he first dunked two balls before catching a lob from teammate John Wall to slam home a third. Can you imagine how many hours of practice that must have required?

    Just watch the timing from the get-go. McGee never takes his eyes off the front of the rim, waiting for the ball from Wall (ha ha ha) to come to him. If these two can maintain that type of relationship going forward, the future of the Wizards looks bright.

No. 11: Gerald Green, 2008

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    Though his NBA career was less than average, Green won over the fans with his electrifying dunks and determination. He won the 2007 contest, but this impressive dunk seen here occurred the following year, in 2008.

    Green received a bounce pass from a teammate out of bounds and came through with a fan-wowing between-the-legs windmill jam. Unfortunately, while clearly the more skilled dunk, it was not enough to beat out Dwight Howard.

No. 10: Nate Robinson, 2009

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    This dunk is impressive not only because of Robinson's feat, but the show that goes with it.

    Up front, there's Dwight Howard wearing a Superman cape. Then, there's Robinson wearing a green Knicks uniform and carrying a green ball. Think about it: Robinson is clearly supposed to be kryptonite.

    Just as he did over the 5'7" Spud Webb a few years before, Robinson here jumped over the 6'11" Howard and brought home a perfect jam that won him the contest.

No. 9: Dwight Howard, 2009

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    This dunk is just a testament to the power and athleticism of Dwight Howard. While most men his size are slow on their feet, look at the speed he exhibits as he bounces the ball off the side of the backboard before bringing it home for the one-handed baseline tomahawk.

    Though this wasn't a winning shot, it was enough to make Nate Robinson wince and get nervous. That's a dunk that says a lot, for it to make a short dunker scared.

No. 8: Dwight Howard, 2009

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    This dunk may be showboating, but that alone is what makes it impressive. With this dunk, Howard asks the question, "Why use the standard 10-foot hoop when I can dunk on a 12-footer?"

    Watch as he brings in the second basket, moves it up to 12 feet high and then runs off to an actual phone booth to put on a Superman cape before coming back to the court. There, he receives an assist from teammate Jameer Nelson before throwing down a perfect two-handed jam.

    Move over, Shaq and Kareem. Howard just took over as the best center of all time.

No. 7: J.R. Smith, 2005

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    Though he is best known today as a prolific three-point shooter off the bench, J.R. Smith is actually a decent dunker as well. His dunks were once so electrifying that he was invited to the 2005 contest, and while he didn't win, his slam was impressive.

    Watch as Smith drives to the basket, brings the ball behind his back and then takes it home for the one-handed jam. It's so good that it makes those ugly yellow Hornets jerseys forgivable.

No. 6: Kenny Walker, 1989

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    Though not a household name by any means, Kenny Walker was one hell of a dunker in his time. In 1989, he won the contest with something that simply puts me at a loss for words.

    Walker's winning dunk was a 270-degree windmill jam that was just plain unique. He approached the basket and executed the slam with such finesse and grace that it almost looked as though he were auditioning for the next big kung fu movie.

    On top of that, Walker's dunk is one that would never be seen today. Some players could certainly do it, but there's no way they could mimic the grace and flow exhibited by Walker. Their motions would be more herky-jerky.

    Thus, Walker makes this spot on the list despite his obscurity.

No. 5: Andre Iguodala, 2006

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    Mark this down, ladies and gentlemen. This may be the one time in Allen Iverson's career where he did something unselfish. In this case, he helped then-teammate Andre Iguodala pull off an incredible dunk in the 2006 contest.

    Iguodala started well out of bounds while Iverson stood behind the backboard. Then, as Iguodala ran forward, Iverson bounced the ball off the rear of the glass and Iguodala caught the ball airborne before taking it home for the reverse windmill jam.

    Just imagine how much the two practiced this maneuver. Given the positioning, the timing has to be perfect, or else Iguodala's face becomes good friends with the glass.

    On top of that, the image of Iverson actually smiling at not being the center of attention is kind of heartwarming. It almost makes you wonder what could have been had he stayed in Philly for his entire career and been part of Iguodala's development.

No. 4: Kobe Bryant, 1997

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    Come on. You really think I'd leave you guys without some Kobe on this list? Let's go back to the 1997 contest and get our fix.

    First off, this dunk is impressive because at the time, Kobe Bryant was just 18 years old. Still, he made his mark early, and this dunk was just the beginning of what will ultimately end as a Hall of Fame career.

    Watch as he starts near half court and then builds momentum as he drives the ball home for a between-the-legs windmill jam. The dunk may seem simple, but the fact that he does it with such ease and has Brandy cheering for him on the sideline makes it all the more impressive.

    Sure enough, Bryant won the contest that year and to date is its youngest winner.

No. 3: Jason Richardson, 2002

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    Though he is now primarily known as an electrifying shooter, Jason Richardson was actually a pretty sick dunker at the start of his career. He impressed enough his rookie season to warrant an invitation to the 2002 contest and made it to the final round against Gerald Wallace.

    Here, it was the start of a long and successful career for Richardson. His winning dunk is an electrifying two-handed reverse off a bounce, and the crowd goes insane once it swishes through the net.

    Yet what impresses me is how humble Richardson was following the dunk. He had a little quiet celebration to himself, not really reacting when teammate Gilbert Arenas started pumping his arm and getting excited on the sideline.

    Which makes the next slide all the more interesting...

No. 2: Jason Richardson, 2003

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    Sure enough, Richardson was back at the contest to defend his trophy in 2003. He made the final round and this time was matched up with one-time dunk contest winner Desmond Mason.

    When it came time for Richardson to make his final dunk, he showed extreme poise and confidence. His dunk in this case is very similar to the winner from the previous season, except it begins at the baseline and Richardson puts the ball between his legs before unleashing the fury.

    On top of that, once the dunk is nailed perfectly, Richardson actually celebrates this time. Him raising his arms as if to say, "Show's over—now give me the trophy" shows how much he grew as a player in one season.

    More importantly, look at how his fellow players rush the court after the dunk. That's quite possibly one of the biggest signs of respect ever seen in the history of the contest.

No. 1: Vince Carter, 2000

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    Yes, folks. There was once a time when Vince Carter was an electrifying dunker and productive player and not an injury-prone guard with a bad contract.

    In the early years of his pro career, with the Toronto Raptors, Carter was easily the best dunker in the NBA. Thus, it's no wonder that this dunk from the 2000 contest is No. 1 on the countdown.

    Apart from the type of dunk, what makes this jam so off the charts is how close Carter is to the basket before throwing it down with authority. He runs from a short distance behind the three-point line to well inside the key, where he takes the ball on the bounce from teammate Tracy McGrady before going between his legs for the windmill jam. The fact that he executed it perfectly from that close a distance is just shocking.

    Even more impressive was the fact that Carter participated in the contest with a few stitches in his left hand. It wasn't his shooting hand, but the athleticism and toughness exhibited in this dunk, plus the fact that the judges actually jump across the table to congratulate Carter after the play, make it the clear answer at No. 1.