Re-Ranking the NBA's Best Dunkers of All Time

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IFebruary 16, 2013

Re-Ranking the NBA's Best Dunkers of All Time

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    You'd be surprised at how much of the NBA's historical timeline can be told through the art of dunking.

    Yes, dunking has become an art form. Just as Rembrandt and Pablo Picasso became Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, who have now become Chris Stain, Julius Erving became Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, who have now become Blake Griffin.

    Every time we think we've seen the pinnacle of dunking performance, someone comes along to drop our jaws again.

    Dunking has evolved to such an astonishing level, it is more difficult than ever to judge the historical athletes against the present. 

    But on the verge of the NBA's premier dunking event, it is important to look through the window of history. We'll not only see where we've been, but be able to tell, on a level playing field, who is the greatest dunker of all time.

10. Shawn Kemp

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    Resume: Call Alton Lister 

    Imagine if Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin never thought they could dunk creatively. Is that a world you want to live in?

    Without Shawn Kemp, that's where we might be today. Kemp proved that big guys didn't have to just hop and throw the ball down. He forged a part for big men to add a little flair to their dunks, and nobody had more flair than the "Reign Man."

    Kemp was probably the first NBA player to take pleasure in dunking on people. It has become commonplace in the league for players to physically try and dominate an opponent. Kemp helped start that movement. 

    If the opportunity presented itself, Kemp was going to dunk on you, and it was probably going to hurt.

9. Jason Richardson

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    Resume: Dunk Contest Champion (2002, 2003)

    It's still hard to believe that some of the things Jason Richardson did during the NBA's Slam Dunk Contests actually happened.

    He was the first back-to-back winner of the contest since Michael Jordan, and deservedly so. Richardson was a showman at the peak of that era in NBA dunking. Richardson could play to the crowd and, more importantly, the judges. 

    Richardson's peak was somewhat short-lived, and he spent a lot of time on bad teams, quelling his notoriety. Still, some of his dunks remain mind-boggling a decade later.

8. Gerald Green

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    Resume: Dunk Contest Champion (2007)

    Gerald Green is a pure dunker. 

    His dunking got him into the NBA to begin with, then after a couple years bouncing around outside the league, it got him back again. Now that he has made the effort to incorporate more basketball skills into his game, his dunking is better than ever.

    With the New Jersey Nets last season and with the Indiana Pacers this season, he's being given the opportunity to play. With that has come some of the most attractive dunking we've ever seen.

    Nobody in the league can do some of the things that Green does—which is probably because he's been doing it his entire life. 

    Green loves dunking so much, he lost a body part to it. As a teen, Green was dunking on a crummy hoop and caught a finger ring on a loose nail. The injury resulted in the amputation of part of his ring finger. 

7. Blake Griffin

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    Resume: Dunk Contest Champion (2011) 

    Nothing about Blake Griffin's game is subtle. Therefore, it hasn't taken him long to enter the conversation of the greatest dunkers in NBA history.

    Griffin's dunks are often violent and attacking in nature. He tends to target a player for posterization, and he is relentless in carrying that out. Sometimes the victim is even a car

    Griffin is currently leading the NBA in dunks this season, racking up 135 before the All-Star break. 

    For all we've seen and all we're sure to see in the years to come, Blake Griffin is one of the most ferocious rim-rockers in history.

6. Kobe Bryant

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    Resume: Dunk Contest Champion (1997)

    Before Kobe Bryant was the brooding shooter he is today, he was quite a dunker.

    Back in the '90s, Bryant was one of the league's best high-fliers. He won the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest as an 18-year-old kid.

    Over the years he honed his skills, working himself into the best player in the NBA. Not that current Kobe isn't an amazing basketball player, but the tragedy of Bryant now is that it sometimes slips our minds what he once was. 

    Fortunately, Kobe can still grant us friendly reminders of why he deserves this spot. Nobody has been better going one-on-five and posterizing all of them.

5. LeBron James

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    Resume: Presidential Approval 

    It is tough to point to any one specific thing from LeBron James' dunking history to prove that he is deserving of a spot here.

    James' career should probably speak for itself when it comes to his abilities, but his unwillingness to compete in the NBA's lone dunk event tarnishes his reputation.

    James is such a physical specimen unlike anything we've seen, and his dunks can sometimes seem unimpressive. James looks like we do when we're throwing down on kid-friendly hoops—only he's dunking on the best basketball players on the planet.

    The defending NBA MVP has racked up 87 dunks thus far in 2012-13, good for eighth in the league.

4. Dominique Wilkins

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    Resume: Dunk Contest Champion (1985, 1990)

    Dominique Wilkins is one of the most fun players in NBA history to watch. 

    Nobody was more electrifying than the "Human Highlight Film." One of the best things about Wilkins' dunks was that they didn't have to be in the open court for him to get creative. He threw down windmills, reverses and pump-fakes with Hall of Fame players standing in the way.

    The way Wilkins could size up an upcoming play was remarkable. A lot of dunkers can get fancy and ferocious with their dunks on a fast break. Wilkins did it on post-up plays and entrance passes. 

    He saw the defensive players set up and just found a way to go over, around or through them.

3. Julius Erving

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    Resume: ABA Dunk Contest Champion (1976)

    Nobody is as synonymous with slam dunks as Julius Erving. Dr. J brought the art of creative dunking into the league when he moved to the NBA from the ABA.

    In my opinion, Erving is responsible for what is the greatest in-game dunk of all time. Everything from the hustle to chase down the steal, the refusal to cross away from Michael Cooper and the sureness with which he puts it through the hoop is amazing.

    Erving was the jumping-off point for the art of dunking.

2. Michael Jordan

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    Resume: Dunk Contest Champion (1987, 1988) 

    In back-to-back Slam Dunk Contests in the late '80s, Michael Jordan toppled Jerome Kersey and Dominique Wilkins. That in and of itself is a pretty good resume. 

    On top of that, you have the fact that he is the greatest overall player ever. 

    Perhaps Jordan's most notorious dunk came in the 1988 contest, when he raced from one end of the floor to the other, elevating from the free-throw line and gracefully putting the ball through the rim.

    That dunk, which won him the contest over Wilkins, became arguably the most well-known symbol representing the sport. The Jumpman logo has to be nearly as recognizable as Jerry West's NBA logo.

1. Vince Carter

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    Resume: Dunk Contest Champion (2000)

    To find yourself in this position, you have to have raised the dunking game in some way.

    That is exactly the category Vince Carter must be placed in. After Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, everyone thought they had seen the pinnacle of dunking. Then Carter came along and elevated the idea of what dunking could be.

    It is tough to say that what Carter did was more impressive than Wilkins and Jordan, given the technology in both training and footwear that Carter was privy to.

    But Vinsanity took both dunking and the NBA to another level in popularity, and therefore is the greatest dunker of all time.


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