Top 5 Slam Dunk Performances of All Time

Andrew H. Smith@AndrewSmith53Contributor IIIFebruary 18, 2013

Top 5 Slam Dunk Performances of All Time

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    The NBA is a league that has been full of legendary stars throughout its history. No event illuminates that top-tier talent better than the annual Slam Dunk Contest.

    A single great dunk like Blake Griffin jumping over a Kia was memorable. However, a great all-around dunk performance is enough to transcend both the sport and the human imagination.   

    While Terrence Ross was victorious in the contest this past weekend, his performance did not live up to the same level set by the legendary great dunk artists. Of course, it is also difficult to go against 28 years of history and come up with new means of creativity.  

    With that in mind, lets look back at the top five greatest individual Slam Dunk Contest performances of all time.

5. Dwight Howard: 2008

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    Long before falling victim to kryptonite with the Lakers, Dwight Howard was one of the most well-liked players in the NBA. The 2008 Slam Dunk contest is a major reason why.

    First Dunk: Howard's creativity was on full-display. He threw himself a pass behind the backboard and then caught it and completed a left-handed windmill. For someone of Howard's size, it is amazing that he did not hit the backboard.

    Superman Returns: Howard's next dunk is one of the most famous Slam Dunk contest jams and for good reason. Prior to lift-off, Howard removed his jersey to unveil the Superman logo and dawned a red cape. He then jumped from inside the free-throw line and "dunked" a Justin Verlander-like fastball into the hoop to complete his masterpiece. 

    Third Dunk: Howard appeared to make a safe choice on his third go-around and threw himself a lob pass to run down. However, the big man had other plans in mind.

    While in mid-air, Howard tapped the basketball off the backboard to himself with his left hand, and then caught the ball with his right hand to finish the slam. The degree of difficulty on this dunk was high, but Howard breezed through it. 

    Fourth Dunk: Howard's final dunk was also very creative. A mini-basket was attached to the backboard with the basketball perched on top of it. Howard grabbed the basketball and finished with a powerful windmill slam.  

4. Vince Carter: 2000

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    In terms of sheer freakish athletic ability, Vince Carter's performance in the 2000 Dunk Contest might never be topped. 

    After the Slam Dunk Contests were canceled in 1998 and 1999, Vince Carter brought new life back into the contest in his only appearance.

    First Dunk: Carter started off the contest by channeling his inner Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb with a deafening slam. Carter slammed a reverse 360 windmill with serious authority.

    Second Dunk: The next Dunk from Carter was a slight change-up. He started behind the basket and ran under the backboard with a 180 reverse slam.

    Third Dunk: This is where things went from entertaining to classic mid-1980's status for Carter. He received a bounce pass from Tracy McGrady and did a right-to-left maneuver with the basketball between his legs to throw down a tomahawk windmill.

    Fourth Dunk: What appeared to be a routine dunk turned out to be an unprecedented feat.

    Carter steamed full-speed ahead at the basket and threw down a simple right-handed jam. However, replays showed that his entire forearm went through the rim along with the ball, and Carter effortlessly hung from the rim as if he had been suspended in mid-air the whole time.

    Fifth Dunk: By this point in the contest, the other dunk contestants were even anxious to see what Carter's next move would be. He capped off a sublime display of athleticism with a two-handed exclamation point.   

3. Spud Webb: 1986

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    Michael Jordan's reaction here at the 1:16 mark says it all.

    In case you are not aware, Spud Webb is not exactly as tall as other famous dunk contestants such as Dwight Howard or Shawn Kemp.

    At 5'7," it was hard to fathom that the Hawks' point guard would even participate in a dunk contest — let alone win one.

    However, that is exactly what Spud Webb did in 1986, as he went toe-to-toe with teammate Dominique WIlkins and completed one of the more impressive feats in NBA history. From 360 spin-around slams to timing his jumps and slams perfectly, Webb was simply unbelievable. 

    First Round: Webb completed a reverse dunk which actually hit him right on the forehead, and then a two-handed slam where Webb displayed a double-clutch and serious hang-time.

    Second Round: Webb actually had a couple misses on his first attempts in the second round, but with every dunk he completed, the crowd was reminded of the fact that they were watching a 5'7" point guard.

    Webb's most impressive dunk was when he threw himself a high lob and then ascended to catch the basketball at the peak of its bounce to complete a two-handed reverse slam. 

    Finals: Webb and Wilkins squared off in the championship round. On his first dunk, Webb completed a one-handed 360 dunk, which was even more impressive because he could not palm the basketball. He then iced the upset with his next dunk, as he lobbed a pass off the backboard and completed a one-handed slam.

2. Michael Jordan (and Dominique Wilkins): 1988

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    If Michael Jordan's 63-point eruption against the Boston Celtics in 1986 made him a superstar, then his face-off against Dominique Wilkins in the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest sent him into a new stratosphere of popularity. 

    Jordan and Wilkins put on a show for the ages. Wilkins beat Jordan in 1985, but Jordan won the contest in 1987 and looked to repeat as the champion, while also getting revenge against his arch-rival. 

    The execution from both men was flawless throughout all rounds, but particularly in the final. Jordan and Wilkins converted every attempt as if they were in their sleep. 

    Here is how the championship showdown went in the final:

    Wilkins First Attempt: Wilkins threw himself a self-pass high off the backboard and threw down a thunderous slam.

    Jordan First Attempt: Jordan responded by delivering a two-handed double-clutch reverse jam.

    Wilkins Second Attempt: Wilkins ran up the baseline and exploded into the air with a powerful windmill that rattled the rim and even got the Chicago fans cheering.

    Jordan Second Attempt: Jordan started at half-court and sprinted up the right-side where he finished another two-handed slam.

    Wilkins Third Attempt: Once again, Wilkins threw down a ferocious slam, but the creativity did not impress the judges enough to award him a 50.  

    Jordan's Legacy-Defining Dunk: With the contest hanging in the balance, MJ saved his best for last. He sprinted full court and went into his jump from the free throw line. Jordan palmed the ball in his right hand and capped off his gravity-defying slam in winning fashion.

    This dunk immediately sent shock waves throughout the NBA landscape. It has been emulated thousands of times, and even earned a memorable revival in the finale of the 1996 classic "Space Jam, " which Jordan starred in. 

1. Julius Erving: 1976

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    Although this contest was an ABA event in 1976, it was the first professional slam dunk contest of any kind, and rightfully deserves its place on the top of this list.

    To see Erving, skip ahead to the 11:40 mark of the video. The way that Doctor J captures the crowd and just owns the floor is timeless. This is a dunk display in the most pure and organic form possible.

    First Dunk: Erving stands beneath the rim with two basketballs and dunks both of them simultaneously. This is not the most memorable dunk by any means, but it is a good warm-up.

    Second Dunk: This is undoubtedly one of the most iconic dunks in basketball history and is every bit on the level of Michael Jordan. Dr. J runs three-quarters of the court and throws down the original free throw line dunk, sending the crowd into a massive uproar. 

    Third Dunk: Within seconds of finishing his infamous throw-down, Erving easily completes a reverse slam. 

    Fourth Dunk: Erving runs at the rim again and throws down a powerful windmill dunk.

    Fifth Dunk: Dr. J runs along the baseline and finishes with a ball fake and right-handed slam.

    So there you have it. No gimmicks. No annoying commentary. Just jaw-dropping athleticism and execution from one of the all-time greats.

    In less than 90 seconds, Erving effortlessly completed five slams and single-handedly transcended himself above the sport.