10. Spud Webb reverses gravity:
The 5’7″ Spud Webb treated crowds to a real show in 1986. Yes, he gets extra points for being shorter than your average NBA star. On the other hand, I’m a half foot taller than Spud Webb and have never quite been able to dunk a basketball. It was an iconic moment in dunk history and one that inspired people of all measure. At its best, athletics show us what humanity can achieve and Spud Webb widened the scope of our belief in this indelible moment.
9. Michael Jordan kisses the rim:
Jordan’s best dunks came in games, but winning the 1987 Slam Dunk Contest was an integral part to the beginnings of his legend. Perhaps my favorite ode to this incredible hang time-requiring dunk is Gerald Green’s “birthday candle” dunk. This dunk shows why they called him “His Airness.” Dude kissed the rim but hung there so long it seems like he could have signed his autograph on it.
8. Andre Igoudala from behind the backboard then takin’ a stroll:
Sick. Just sick. Andre Iguodala takes a pass from one of the game’s greatest icons (Allen Iverson) off the back of the backboard and soars with speed and power for a reverse windmill finish while most of his body is still out of bounds. There is a reason Iggy just kept running on out of the arena. Sometimes the stars align and you do something freakish. This was one of those times for Andre Iguodala and he displayed a level of athleticism that is simply astounding.
7. Dwight Howard tap dunkin’:
Wait, what? In the commentary, Kenny Smith mentions something about this being a video game and then corrects himself, saying, “I don’t think I’ve even seen that in a video game.” As a kind of expert on the subject I will say I have no idea how one would accomplish this dunk in NBA 2K14. Some look to Dwight Howard’s amazing dunk contest performance and remember the more iconic superman “dunk” or even his windmill from behind the basket. But for my money, this tap dunk was just filthy and fantastic and creative and I have a hard time imagining 90 percent of the centers in the NBA accomplishing anything comparable.
6. Dominique Wilkins windmill of destruction:
‘Nique was the original power dunker. Most of the other dunks on this list may look more exciting to the casual eye. No fancy spins or crazy tricks, he simply attacks the basket like it said something about his mother and throws down with so much power it shakes the whole building. Dominique Wilkins’ extreme power and ferociousness has inspired countless dunkers and dunks since his time. There have been lots of high flyers and spinning acrobats in NBA dunk contest history but no one can hold a candle to the sheer force of a Dominique windmill.
5. Jason Richardson goes through the legs
J-Rich put on a show in the 2003 Slam Dunk Contest. In my book, this is the best version of the between-the-legs dunk. Vince Carter had a spectacular one during his performance for the ages and Richardson himself threw down another solid between-the-legs slam off the backboard. But this dunk beats them all because of the self-lob pass and reverse finish with his off hand. The fact that he reverses while driving baseline and finishes with equal parts grace and power with his back to the basket … nasty, just plain nasty. The way so many of his peers rush the court when he finishes this one off is a testament to how great it truly was.
4. Vince Carter introduces the Honey Dip:
Most great dunks are met with uproarious applause. There is an explosion of sound that accompanies something immediately recognizable as great. There is, however, perhaps an even more incredible sound of amazement: nothing at all. When Vince Carter stuck his whole arm through the hoop, dunking and hanging onto the rim with his elbow, we all needed a moment. People were beside themselves. At first it seemed ordinary. There was almost a moment of denial. The looks on the faces of other NBA greats and Hollywood celebrities prove just how creative and original this dunk was.
We didn’t realize what we’d seen until we realized we had seen something great, something truly unique, and something that could inspire awe in even the most jaded of adults. He showed us that we didn’t know everything we thought we knew and forever etched a moment into the collective consciousness of those who follow the NBA.
3. Dr J., Julius Erving, creates a phenomenon:
Go out to a basketball court somewhere. Find the free-throw line. Now imagine yourself jumping from there and dunking the basketball. It’s really, really far away, isn’t it? If not for the original free-throw line dunk from the Doctor, we may not have seen any of the other dunks on this list. Dr. J created a whole generation of great NBA athletes the way the Dream Team created a whole generation of great international NBA players. No dunk in his dunk contest repertoire would be more iconic, or paid more tribute, than his take-off-from-the-free-throw-line-and-glide-like-the-rain-into-a-perfect-jam masterpiece.
Jordan did it (as we’ll see) and many others have tried (and failed) but Julius Erving deserves credit for being the original, for being the first guy who used the dunk contest to show how incredible NBA athletes can be. He captured the world’s collective imagination by showing the combination of skills that make basketball so great: speed, hang time, power, artistic vision. This was one of the first moments when the basketball world stood up in unison to see what one man would do, and he treated everyone who saw it to a spectacle they would never forget.
2. Michael Jordan’s Jumpman remixes a classic:
There maybe is no more iconic symbol in all of basketball than Michael Jordan flying through the air, clutching the basketball behind his head, legs split, paying homage to the Doctor, and flushing the rock with equal parts grace and power. In a way, Jordan’s free-throw line remix, often referred to as the Jumpman, is like Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower.” Some people love the cover so much they don’t even know who the original was, and in some ways that doesn’t really matter.
People should know about Erving, but Jordan threw down some distortion and some tasty licks and some real creative inspiration when he seared this image into our minds forever. Michael Jordan leaping through the air and dunking a basketball is the soul of the game.
1. Vince Carter’s 360 windmill cements a win and a legacy:
It is rare when a dunk captures so many moments in one singular second of time. This was the moment the contest, Vince Carter, and Kenny Smith’s trash talk all jumped the shark. Kenny’s incessant superlatives were absolutely apropos when Carter combined all the most essential ingredients in a great dunk into one spicy explosion of awesomeness. “It’s over! It’s over! Let’s all go home!” It was over the top, it was in your face. and it absolutely had to be.
Carter had won the contest in his first dunk. He had created a whole era of people pining for the good ole days, because after this performance nothing that anyone could do seemed of consequence.
This was the moment we knew Vince Carter was put on this planet to be the greatest dunker ever.
Featured image courtesy of Hoops Mix Tape.