Culture of Hoops

All-Star Air Time: Top 10 NBA Slam Dunk Contests

It’s All Star Time again. As the league’s best descend upon New Orleans to participate in this years mid-season classic, much of the excitement is surrounding the NBA skills competitions on All Star Saturday Night. The one event everyone will be eyeing for is sure to be the Sprite NBA Slam Dunk Competition. This year has some of, not all of, the star power that the world wants to see slamming and jamming, with the likes of Paul George, Damian Lillard, John Wall, and returning champ Terrence Ross. Add in Harrison Barnes, and high flying rookie, Ben McLemore and we should be in for a treat. Let’s take a look at a few previous dunk contests that have been solidified in history as some of the best.

10. 1991 – Dee Brown Peek-a-boo
Finals: Dee Brown vs. Shawn Kemp

Dee Brown had the Reebok Pumps on and a little man complex. Shawn Kemp may have gotten robbed but Dee Brown had the crowd and his Reebok pumps with him. The no-look dunk was fresh for sure. I actually wanted Rain Man to win, but so continues the age old mystery, what ever happened to Shawn Kemp? FYI, NBA analyst and champion Kenny “The Jet” Smith had a few highlights in there, too.

9. 1994 – J.R. Rider Eastbay Funky
Finals: Isaiah J.R. Rider vs. Shawn Kemp

Kemp could be considered the Jim Kelly of the NBA dunk contest: always in the finals but never a champion. Rider had some impressive stuff out there and Kemp couldn’t make his dunks when they counted. This was the first time we witnessed the through-the-legs dunk, a.k.a. the Eastbay Funk. Former New York Knick Allan Houston may have had the funniest dunk in the competition, but not very impressive.

8. 1989 – Kenny Walker, Skywalker
Finals: Kenny Walker vs. Clyde Drexler.

No one saw this coming. With Jordan and Dominique both sitting out this competition, Skywalker blitzed the league with some funky 360 windmills. Sorry Drexler, Kenny Walker had the sweet gold chain on, too.

7. 1997 – Kobe Bryant, A Star on the Rise
Finals: Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Finley vs. Chris Carr

Ironically, arguably the greatest long-range shooter in NBA history, Ray Allen, was in this contest, but not for too long. The finals was a three-man setup, which was a little confusing. Michael Finley amused the crowd with an attempted cartwheel, which looked horrendous. Kobe kind of copied Isaiah Rider by going between the legs, but still, the star power in the making was on display. Hey, it’s Kobe.

6. 2009 – Nate Robinson a.k.a. Krypto-Nate
Finals Nate Robinson vs Dwight Howard.

This was a battle of past champions and it didn’t disappoint. One highlight was Dwight Howard stepping inside the phone booth and coming out with a superman cape on. He then proceeded to dunk on a 12-foot rim, which he made look easy. The show stopper came, however, when the 5’9″ Robinson dressed in a green Knicks jersey and channeled his Krypto-Nate alter ego. He then soared over Howard’s head and threw down a nasty one-handed jam. That one took the cake and took down Superman.

5. 1984 – Larry Nance, The First Launch
Finals: Larry Nance vs. Julius Irving.

Dr. J was already a little past his prime at this point but this was the first ever NBA Slam Dunk Contest. The ABA had created the event and finally it had made its way to the NBA. Dr. J was already a dunk legend, and part of that ABA legacy, but he was old in the NBA, and the young Larry Nance showed glimpses of the future with cradle-looping windmills. This was a very underrated dunk contest.

4. 1986 – Spud Webb, Small Wonder
Finals: Spud Webb vs. Dominique Wilkins.

Spud Webb was all of 5’6″ but he could definitely get up. Facing his teammate and reigning champion Dominique Wilkins, Webb came out with some amazing dunks, including an off-the-backboard one-hand rim rocker. Nique, as always, came with the thunder but in Webb’s hometown of Dallas, Texas, the little guy was the big man in town that night.

3. 2008 – Dwight Howard, Superman is in the building
Finals: Dwight Howard vs. Gerald Green.

This was one of the more entertaining dunk contests I’ve seen. Howard, always the showman, fully embraced his Superman persona and literally flew to a win that night. He showed a number of dunks never seen before, including a behind-the-backboard windmill that was just funky! Green was a worthy opponent, his highlight coming when he blew out a cupcake on the back of the rim before slamming it home. The winner, though, was when Howard put on a cape, had his point guard teammate Jameer Nelson throw the lob, and D12 took flight throwing the ball through the hoop. Woah!

2. 1988 – Michael Jordan, His Airness and the Human Highlight Film
Finals: Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins.

This is the greatest finals in dunk contest history. One reason was due to the star power involved, with two of the game’s biggest talents facing off head-to-head. The other reason was that Jordan and ‘Nique were showcasing some jaw dropping dunks on a crowd that was thirsty for it. The home crowd in Chicago was definitely in favor of Jordan, but Dominique was going toe-to-toe. Jordan would walk on air with a kiss-the-rim dunk, then ‘Nique would come back with a two-handed windmill, nearly ripping off the backboard. In his home stadium and flying from all over the court, Jordan took home the trophy for the second time in his career. Some say Dominique was robbed. You be the judge.

1. 2000 – Vince Carter, Vincanity!
Finals: Vince Carter vs. Steve Francis

I remember that night like yesterday. I’m a junior in college and we’re having an All-Star Saturday night party at Geoff, B, and Dub’s apartment. We had all seen what Carter was capable of, through college and his short time in the NBA. The anticipation was thick in the air and everyone was ready for something incredible, we just knew it. The contestants were solid, with Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Larry Hughes, and Jerry Stackhouse joining the party, all high flyers. McGrady came out with some flare, and Francis put down a nice one out of the gate, but no one was ready for what Vince was about to unleash. As he dribbled once, twice, then went into his gather, everyone in the room was locked in on the TV screen, silent. As he ascended, spun backwards, then windmilled, then hammered home the cleanest, meanest dunk ever witnessed in this competition, there was a brief second of disbelief in the room. Did we just see that? What did he just do? Then everyone in the house exploded in confusion, excitement, and adrenaline as our brains tried to decipher what we just saw.

That’s a moment in my life that will be remembered forever. Just watching the reactions of the NBA players and everyone in the arena that night told the story. WTF!?!?! The only one in there who wasn’t happy was Jerry Stackhouse. He had to go next. Carter’s following dunks just solidified the obvious, he’s the greatest dunker in NBA history. From his between-the-legs alley-oop, to him hanging from the rim by his forearm, that was all around the best individual performance in the dunk contest, ever! McGrady and Francis came with some heat also, making it a show for everyone, but Carter was for sure the main attraction. Enjoy the dunking exploits of Half Man Half Amazing.

Which NBA dunk contests were your favorite?

Follow Mister King @MisterKing730

Featured image courtesy of Hoops Mix Tape.

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