The slam dunk is one of the most exciting plays in any sport. Dunks can be aggressive, explosive, artistic, and awe-inspiring. It is one of the most iconic images in the sporting world. A single competitor, literally rising above the rest, to emphatically score. Nike has based almost all of their basketball branding on dunking, just look at the Air Jordan logo. The NBA all-star weekend has an annual slam dunk contest, which frequently garners more attention than the actual game itself. The proof is all there; people really like to watch dunks. I think it’s because everyone can jump, but only a handful of people can jump over another person and throw down a tomahawk or reverse jam.
For this list, I wanted to ignore the slam dunk contest and instead showcase 10 spectacular in-game dunks. Some of these demonstrate supreme athletic talent and finesse, others are raw displays of power and aggressiveness. In any case, these dunks come from some of the greatest player of their respective eras and really exhibit their talent, explosiveness, athleticism, and artistry.
For this purposes of this list, slam dunks that were executed during actual games will be taken into higher consideration than those that took place during a dunk contest. But don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of the jaw-dropping eye-candy dunk from All Star weekends on this list to tickle your funny bone.
15. Tracy McGrady Spin
The 2000 Dunk contest was arguably the most exciting in NBA history and it truly was a sight to behold when Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter teamed up. McGrady’s highlight was bouncing the ball in front of him, leaping to grab it, and pulling off a perfect spin to finish off the bucket. These definitely were the glory days of Raptors basketball, as the fans in Toronto had two of the league’s most exciting players on their team.
14. Dwight Howard Superman Dunk
Someone of the caliber of an athlete like Dwight Howard is tailor made for the slam dunk competition. Insane reach, tall, and it was very fitting of him to don the Superman cape. Howard really flew through the air and rather than his hands being on the basket like a traditional slam dunk, and finally he thrust the ball into the basket while lunging forward in midair. That’s a handful to explain, so just take a quick peek at the video, will you?
13. Nate Robinson
Dwight Howard was feeling generous, so he got himself a mini-Superman in Nate Robinson to jump over him before burying the ball through the rim. Things like this are what makes the NBA Slam Dunk contest arguably the most exciting skills event in any all-star activities in any sport. It darn sure was impressive for a 5-foot-9 point guard to do what he did.
12. Jason Richardson Off The Bounce
The reaction from his fellow players told you all you need to know about how impressive this dunk was. Jason Richardson gave the ball a high bounce, tucked the ball between his legs, and drove the ball through the rim while coming down backwards. Judges, players and fans gave no hesitation in throwing up ’10’ signs. Any fan watching at home was probably wishing they had one too.
11. Dwight Howard Off The Backboard Dunk
Magic Johnson’s reaction on commentary is priceless for this dunk. This was right before Dwight Howard threw on the Superman cape and the dunk that made him worthy to throw on that cape. After a high bounce, Howard threw his body toward the basket, tapped the ball off the backboard with his left hand, then finished the dunk with his right hand. The athleticism, not to mention the perfect timing, is breathtaking.
10. J.R. Smith Flies over Gary Neal
J.R. Smith is a dynamic guard and one of the most colorful players in the NBA. During his tenure in Denver, the “mile-high” city, Smith demonstrated his ability to elevate in a simple yet elegant display. In 2010, against the San Antonio Spurs, Smith took the inbound pass all the way up the court, made a simple crossover move to shed his defender and started for the basket. As soon as he hit the paint, Smith took off. The Spurs’ Gary Neal rushed in to force the charge. The only thing the defender really accomplished was making this dunk look so impressive, as he was a step too late. JR Smith flew through the air, knocking Neal to the ground, and taking it to the hoop. The 2013 Sixth Man of the Year award winner has had his fair share of ups and downs throughout his career, but for this dunk, Smith was going nowhere but up.
9. Derrick Rose 2 Handed Flush
Derrick Rose has been one of the top point guards in the NBA since he was drafted first overall by the Chicago Bulls in 2008. He is one of the few players who can do everything well and that certainly includes dunking. Listed at only 6-foot-3, Rose isn’t exactly the typical powerhouse, but the man has hops and is capable of executing some of the most impressive slams. My favorite Derrick Rose dunk came against the Phoenix Suns in 2010. Rose, the lead man in a fast break, received a pass just as he crossed the 3-point line. One dribble later and Rose took off for the rim and threw down a picture-perfect tomahawk dunk over the outmatched Goran Dragic. It was simple, yet awesome: the perfect combination of speed, finesse, power, and flair all capped off with a fantastic commentary call from Stacey King.
8. Kobe Bryant Behind the Back Reverse Slam
Kobe Bryant may be the best pure scorer to ever play the game. Despite where you think he belongs in the list of all-time greats, he certainly belongs on the list of great dunkers. Kobe might not jump as high as other guys, or posterize defenders, but his smoothness and athleticism are what separates him from the rest of the pack. Kobe’s motion is so fluid in everything he does on the court. My favorite Kobe dunk happened way back in 2003 against the Nuggets. A 24-year-old Kobe Bryant took a long outlet pass while being defended closely by Vincent Yarbrough. Without hesitation, Kobe took one dribble and ever so smoothly, went behind his own back, and then took off for a hybrid 360/turning reverse dunk that was a perfect example of his creativity and fluidity on the court.
7. Michael Jordan Goes Baseline Over Ewing
The Bulls and Knicks participated in one of the most memorable rivalries in NBA history. Both teams had some of the biggest stars in the game like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, and John Starks. Between 1981 and 1996, the Bulls and Knicks faced each other in no fewer than seven different playoff series, with Chicago winning six of those, and establishing themselves as perhaps the greatest dynasty in basketball. These series were also the backdrop for what Michael Jordan would later call his most memorable dunk.
In the 1991 NBA playoffs, the Bulls would sweep the Knicks 3-0 in the first round. During the third and final game Chicago was able to get the ball to Jordan and let him work his magic. MJ took a pass and seemed to be trapped along the baseline. Facing a double team, and with seemingly nowhere to go, Jordan twisted and turned, somehow creating enough space to attack the basket, going up and over the Hall of Fame center, Patrick Ewing.
6. LeBron Runs Over Jason Terry
If I could give one piece of advice to any NBA player, it would be to not piss off LeBron James. I would then show them the clip of James absolutely leveling Jason Terry when the Heat played the Celtics on March 18, 2013. Terry and James previously played against one another in the 2011 NBA finals when Terry’s Dallas Mavericks won the series in six games. Terry, known for his trash talk, seemed to get under the skin of normally calm and collected LeBron James, but at what cost? Two years later, Jason Terry was still paying the price when LeBron took a quick feed and added a little extra oomph powering over the outmatched Terry, sending him crashing to the floor.
5. Baron Davis Elevates
Baron Davis will be remembered by most as a good, but not great all around guard. He was a two time all-star, and had career with some real bright spots. However, he was plagued by injuries throughout his career and even before he made it to the NBA. When I think of Baron Davis, only one thing comes to mind: when he posterized Andrei Kirilenko during the 2007 Western Conference semi-finals.
Kirilenko was an imposing figure. The Russian center was the regular season leader in blocks but that didn’t matter this time. Davis took the ball on the simplest of give and go plays, beat his defender on the dribble, and elevated. Kirilenko was quick to defend and they both jump at the same time, but the much smaller Davis just seemed to hang in the air a split second longer, giving himself just enough time and space to throw it down over the big Russian.
4. Blake Griffin Throws it Down
Blake Griffin is one of the most entertaining players in the NBA, both on and off the court. He has starred in a Nike sponsored sketch show with Chris Paul, Funny or Die videos with Will Ferrell, and on top of that, is one of the most prolific dunkers today. Griffin had one of the best rookie seasons in NBA history and started his career off with a bang in a game against the Knicks on November 20th, 2010. After taking a pass off the pick and roll, Griffin was met by the seven foot tall Timofey Mozgov, halting his forward momentum. So, instead of going forward, Griffin went up; high enough where he was able to quite literally throw the basketball down through the hoop. I’m not sure if this one technically qualifies as a dunk, but I’m adding it to this list because it’s pretty amazing.
3. Scottie Pippen Takes out Ewing
Patrick Ewing and our old Knicks/Bulls rivalry comes to the forefront once again, this time during Game 6 of the 1994 Semi-finals. This one is almost identical to the Lebron James and Jason Terry incident mentioned above, but all the more spectacular because of the heightened stakes and bitter rivals involved. Coming off a turnover, Pippen took a pass from Pete Myers, and decided to go one-on-one with the much larger Ewing. It turned out to be the right decision as Pippen was able to elevate and send Patrick Ewing tumbling to the floor.
Adding insult to injury, Pippen proceeded to tell off both Ewing, and famed film-maker and Knicks supporter, Spike Lee, receiving a technical foul in the process. Worth it, if you ask me.
2. Dr. J Rocks the Baby
It would be blasphemous not to include Dr. J on any list of great dunks. Julius Erving helped revolutionize basketball, playing with an athletic, acrobatic, offensive style. He was one of the original high flyers, and without him, players like Lebron James and Blake Griffin would be taking a lot more jump shots and layups. My favorite Dr. J moment came during the 1983 season in a game against the Lakers, and a young Magic Johnson.
The back and forth contest, won by Erving’s Sixers in overtime is regarded as a classic and one of the greatest regular season games of all time, capped off with Dr. J’s famous slam. Following an errant Lakers pass, Erving raced towards the basket with only one unfortunate defender in his path. What happened next was legendary. To put it plainly: ‘The Doctor’ cupped the ball in his right hand, made a left-to-right ball fake and transitioned into a high-arcing windmill dunk. But it was so much more than that. A ballet is more than just someone twirling around a stage; it’s an expression of emotion, personality, art, and athleticism. The same goes for this slam dunk.
1. Vince Carter’s Dunk of Death
During the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Vince Carter had a dunk so spectacular, it was dubbed “le dunk de la mort,” the dunk of death, by the French Media. I don’t care what sport you’re in, if you have any move that the media chooses to add “death” to, you’re doing something right. Tackle of death, slapshot of death, putt of death, whatever it is, it’s probably really badass.
Case in point, Vince Carter’s dunk over the 7-foot-2 Frenchman, Frederic Weis. The poor guy never knew what was coming. After a quick turnover, Weis blocked the lane from an incoming Carter who decided the best way to beat a 7 foot tall man would be to go over him. You might not think that would be the best way to do things, but after seeing the results, you can’t really fault his logic. The dunk of death will be remembered for a long time, and helped to cement Vince Carter’s legacy as one of the all-time great dunkers.
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