With a less than impressive roster for this year’s NBA Slam Dunk contest, there’s not much to look forward to. The situation is even more depressing considering what we could have seen before Iman Shumpert had to drop out due to injury – a dunk over Jeremy Lin doing his signature “sleeping on a couch” trick.
So, instead of dreading the dunk contest or asking your friends how Chase Budinger snuck into the group, take a look back at better times, with the top 10 NBA Slam Dunk Contest performances of all time.
Keep in mind, this list is about the overall performance. In some cases, one great dunk is enough to earn a spot, but some of these guys made the list because of their overall performance. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
10. Andre Iguodala, 2006
Andre Iguodala’s dunk off the backside of the backboard makes the cut for multiple reasons. First, he somehow convinced Allen Iverson to pass up a shot and give him the ball. Then there’s the fact that he did it after hitting his head on a backboard-mounted camera on the first attempt. Oh, and most importantly, it was so good that Dwight Howard stole it two years later, only on the backboard that didn’t have a camera.
If we’re judging this one by ideas that Dwight Howard has stolen, this dunk was as important as Shaq’s Superman nickname.
9. Blake Griffin, 2011
At first, this performance didn’t make the cut, and that’s because all anyone will remember is his over-the-car dunk, which is flashy, but not something that other guys can’t do.
But after re-watching the entire performance, it can’t be left off the list. Griffin goes 360 and pulls the ball behind his head, then reproduces Gerald Green’s off-the-side-of-the- backboard windmill dunk, and somehow pulls off Vince Carter’s elbow-deep dunk after lobbing it to himself off the backboard. Which is ironic, considering he’s criticized in a lot of his most famous in-game dunks for throwing the ball in without touching the rim.
With all that, Griffin put together mind-blowing athletic ability with a tribute to great dunks of year’s past. We can look past the blatant Kia ad he ran in the middle of it.
(Disclaimer: I still think the best part of the whole thing is Baron Davis’ face when he sees Griffin pull off the over-the-car dunk. Check out the grin on that guy at the 2:54 mark. Priceless)
8. Gerald Green, 2007
In one of the most underrated slam dunk contest performances of all time, Gerald Green came out firing with a dunk he grabs about four feet from the rim after a Paul Pierce pass off the side of the backboard, then windmills before throwing it down.
To follow it up, the then 22-year-old hopped over Nate Robinson’s head for one dunk, then leapt over a three-foot-tall table set up inside the key. If you watch that last one again, it looks like he could have pulled it off while Jeff Van Gundy sat at the table and gave a play-by-play description of the bottoms of his shoes.
However, Gerald Green’s 2007 slam dunk contest win is most impressive because it added an extra two years to the career of a guy who averaged more turnovers than assists throughout his career.
7. Julius Erving, 1976
Watching this video, which has that great retro feel to it and was scored perfectly with a funky Herbie Hancock jam, you learn to respect today’s slam dunk contests so much more. For example, several guys dunked while standing still, as if that was impressive. That, and the contest had such high-profile judges as “East High School basketball star” Lavonn Williams and “long-time Denver Nuggets fan” Alberta Worthington.
But if you skip ahead to the 5:35 mark, you see where Julius Erving changed the game with the first ever dunk from the free throw line. Then he throws in a few patented Dr. J up-and-under dunks, as well as a lovably goofy dunk in which he grabs onto the rim with one hand and brings his other around for the slam, and we’re left with the first memorable slam dunk contest of all time.
6. Dominique Wilkins, Lifetime Achievement Award
In a time when the best players avoid the slam dunk contest like it’s the plague, there’s something to say about Dominique Wilkins five-contest, two-title resume.
Wilkins has too many strong individual performances to choose just one, and seeing as he participated in some of the most famous slam dunk performances (including two that are on his list), he’s the recipient of The Source’s unofficial Lifetime Slam Dunk Contest Lifetime Achievement Award.
What does he get? A video of his highlights embedded in this article. Congrats, ‘Nique.
5. Dwight “Superman” Howard, 2008
This dunk makes the cut because it has longevity. When Howard, who had grown up idolizing Shaquille O’Neal, put on that Superman cape, he had to know what he was doing. Unfortunately for him, he probably didn’t know what he was getting himself into.
There’s a reason Kobe is laughing so hard in this video – he knows how pissed Shaq would get Howard stole his nickname. To this day, the original Superman still can’t get over it.
In addition, Howard’s throw-down style was controversial at the time, setting the stage for Blake Griffin’s future highlight reel.
So, even though Dwight seems to regret jacking Shaq’s Superman swag now, it’s something we’ll always remember.
4. Jason Richardson, 2003
This wasn’t just a dunk, it was a piece of art. About 36 seconds into this video, Kenny Smith goes on a tirade explaining that this dunk was “everything,” and had elements of Vince Carter and Dominique Wilkins “all rolled into one.” He was right. At that point, we had seen other guys bounce themselves lob dunks, go between the legs or throw it down in reverse. But had we seen it all at the same time?
3. Spudd Webb, 1986
Just a few years ago, it wasn’t so strange to see a 5’9” Nate Robinson throw down in the dunk contest. That’s because, in 1986, we watched a 5’7” Spud Webb knock down the barrier for short men everywhere.
Jaws dropped and old people jumped out of their seats as this normal-sized human being jumped out of the gym with 360 dunks. And when he finished it off with a self-bounced lob to a reverse dunk, even Michael Jordan made a funny face.
And the best part? He beat his teammate and friend Dominique Wilkins for the title, even though he was a full 13 inches shorter than him.
2. Michael Jordan, 1988
In a tribute to the great Doctor, Jordan took off from the foul line, then dropped his elbow and brought the ball down to his ear, just to show us how high he had to get to do that.
The result? A perfect score of 50, and decades of overpriced featuring the likeness of his mid-air airness.
1. Vince Carter, 2000
Long before Linsanity, we had Vinsanity.
There’s a lot of debate about which is the best ever, and there always will be, because it’s kind of a subjective issue. But, in terms of an overall performance, no one has ever done it better than Vince Carter in 2000.
The guy threw down a 360 windmill dunk, a 180 windmill dunk with no running start, and then went through the legs on a bounce pass, and it wasn’t even his best contribution.
The dunk to the elbow revolutionized the slam dunk contest. So much so, that Blake Griffin, who is known for throwing down without even touching the rim, paid an homage with an off-the-backboard elbow-deep dunk of his own in his 2011 performance. Even after it had been done before, it was good enough again to win another slam dunk contest.
— Colin Neagle (@colinneagle)