We’ve all heard the saying: “white men can’t jump.” Ron Shelton even made a (fantastic) movie about it in the 90s! Many have speculated about the reasons behind this phenomenon. Granted, the majority of the NBA’s highest flying players have been African Americans, but some of the white guys get their share of air time.
Sure, Casper and friends tend to dominate less vertically challenging sports like golf, hockey, and tennis, but they have also held their own on the floorboards. Think about Steve Nash and the beautiful game he played: flawless passes, sinking 90.4% of his free throws, point guard skills on point every time. Then there’s Jerry “Mr. Clutch” West, with his awe-inspiring 60-foot shot in the 1970 NBA Final. And Dirk Nowitzki who no doubt has walls plastered top to bottom with awards and achievements. These guys more than held their own in a sport where they were absolutely a minority…. for once.
The white guys listed below are heroes of the basketball world. They’ve run like the wind, ducked like a water fowl, flown like jet planes, and scored more points than Cassanova in a disco. Some are best at soaring up for a three-pointer, some rock at the jump shots, some can perform slam dunks like nobody’s business, and they all work their butts off to prove that they belong in this black man’s sport. Moral of this story: don’t count the white guys out of this sport just yet.
Let’s add Billy Hoyle as an honourary #16 to this list, shall we? He prevailed in the end! And after all, “The sun even shines on a dog's a** some days. Anybodv can win the lottery.”
15 Larry Bird
Celtics legend Larry Bird might just be the most famous white guy in basketball. He also had a famously difficult childhood and came from very humble beginnings; it was his hometown of French Lick, Indiana, that inspired the nickname “The Hick from French Lick.” He was determined not to let his tiny hometown or his troubled family life hold him back though, and instead remained hardworking and classy until the end of his career. He became a three-time NBA champion, three-time MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star, All-Star Game MVP, NBA Rookie of the Year, three-time Three-Point Shootout Champion, and two-time member of the “50-40-90” club. That’s a mouthful. His shooting skills may be what he is best remembered for, but his vertical leaps were nothing to sneeze at: he made 28 inches on more than one occasion. Can you do that? Nope.
14 Rudy Fernandez
“The Smooth Criminal,” as he was called when he played for Spain, didn’t stick with the NBA for too long, but sure made an impact. In fact, he made so much of an impact that his NBA departure in 2012 made heads spin, and rumours that he might return to the US last year were eagerly believed. It didn’t happen, though, and Fernandez remains playing with Real Madrid, where he feels he is a “better player.” This, however, is debatable. In the 2005 NBA pre-draft camp he gained 34.5 inches of air. His performance in the 2009 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest was nothing less than stellar, and some say he was “robbed” of the chance to move to the next round. Also, his dunk on Dwight Howard during the 2008 Olympic finals was unreal. It’s even been called “hellicious.”
13 Rex Chapman
This guy could shoot AND dunk. Uh oh! At the 1991 Slam Dunk Competition he came in third. He’s one of only a handful of white guys to even make it to the Slam Dunk Competition, and he’s rumoured to have reached a vertical jump of 39 inches. Not only could he dunk, but he had a serious white boy swagger. Really, though, he’d have to in order to make it look like he belonged there among all the African American bball greats. Since his slamming days in the NBA, he’s continued with the sport as a scout, director, analyst, commentator, and even vice president of player personnel. His daddy was also a professional ball player, which means his skill and confidence are ate least somewhat genetic. That swagger had to come from somewhere.
12 Boby Sura
A fairly average 6’5” Sura fit in among the other players on the court, but he set himself apart with his gorgeous dunking abilities. Even back in his Florida State days, where he was ACC Rookie of the year for the 1991-92 season, it was obvious that he loved to run, jump, and make friends with the rim. He didn’t just score, he scored OVER people, including all 6’8” of “Plastic Man” Stacey Augmon. Sura strutted and slammed his stuff in both the 1997 Slam Dunk Competition and the All Star Weekend, and his jumps were recorded to be about 39 inches. If you’re looking for scale, that’s taller than most baby elephants. That’s about the height of the average 4-year-old. That’s about half the height of Michael Jordan. Yep. It is.
11 Dan Majerle
Current Grand Canyon Antelope’s coach and the Phoenix Suns’ favourite former shooting guard/small forward is an NBA All Star, an Olympian, and World Team member. “Thunder Dan” has more than made friends with the rim and earned his name! During one game he went THROUGH and OVER the 7’7” Manute Bol of the Golden State Warriors to ALMOST score. Technicalities, you know. It was legendary, however, and cemented young Majerle as one of the best white dunkers of all time. Watch even half of any of his highlight reels and you’ll understand why he made this list. The college boys are no doubt wide eyed and gape-mouthed when they meet this coach for the first time. They’ll all be going through and over their mountainous opponents in no time!
10 Chris Andersen
One of the more recent players on this list, Chris “Birdman” Anderson is known for his celebratory arm flapping and his intriguing tattoos. His colourful tattoos and hairstyles are about as famous as his skills too, with hairdos including mohawks, spikes, and shoulder-length shag. It’s not just his personality that gets attention, though; he’s been an NBA Champion in 2013, participated in the Slam Dunk Contest twice, and his vertical leap measures in at a not-too-shabby 37 inches. Officially, his nickname originated from a 2002 summer league in Salt Lake City, where other players commented on his jumps and grabs, saying “he could fly like a bird.” Don’t get him confused with Larry Bird though. These are two very, very different kinds of feathered friends.
9 Manu Ginobili
Hailing from Argentina and a family chock full of ball players, Ginobili uses his signature “Euro Step” to fake out the defense and get him where he needs to go. It's “a move in which a player drives past a defender by stepping one way and then quickly taking a big lateral step in the other direction,” and it’s become pretty popular. Since joining the NBA in the 2002-03 season, this guy has achieved dozens of honours and awards, including three MVP award shares and a spot playing in two All-Star games. Ginoblili is 39 years old and recently won a jump ball against the 22-year-old Nerlens Noel, who has a good five inches on the Argentinian-Italian. You can’t accomplish that feat unless you’ve got some serious springs in your heels!
8 Tom Chambers
He’s said to be the greatest white dunker in all of basketball history. You’d be hard pressed to find a list of “Best Dunks” that didn’t include his legendary knee-to-the-throat jump on Mark Jackson, where he “rose like a Phoenix” (how clever!) and inspired headlines everywhere to scream “White Men CAN Jump!” Seriously, though. His entire head and neck were above the rim. That’s a white head, remember. Pasty skin. Blonde hair. You get it. Other notable dunks include his shot on the Sonics’ seriously ticked off Robert Reid, and another on the Knicks’ flabbergasted Patrick Ewing. These guys will never forget the blur of that mullet-ed head flying past them. In fact, his hockey-head-ish hair might even be as famous as his dunk.
7 Paul Arizin
“Pitchin Paul” is credited as being one of the first basketball players to ever use the jump shot. He says it came by accident, that in his early days they often played on dance floors, which were often slippery, so he started jumping to avoid sliding and faceplanting. He did prefer ball to hockey, after all. To think that we can thank a bunch of sweaty dancers for this fundamental basketball maneuver. With an average height of 6’4”, Arizin had fantastic ball handling skills, played a mean defense, and had some seriously bouncy feet. It was those antsy feet that made him unstoppable, resulting in his inclusion on 10 All-Star Games, achieving the 1952 All-Star Game MVP, and nabbing 5 MVP Award shares. Why isn’t this guy in the hall of fame yet?
6 Pat Connaughton
Here's a number: 44 inches. Yes, 44. That’s how much air was between Connaughton and those shiny floorboards at the NBA Combine in 2015. It was so much air that it tied young Pat for the spot of second-highest vertical leap recorded up to that point. 44 is only four inches less than the NBA’s all-time record by His Airness, Michael Jordan, and also by Darrell Griffith. His standing vertical was 37.5 inches. Not too shabby at all, right? After this historic 2015 event, Twitter lit up with the hashtag #WhiteMenCanJump (the “up” in “lit up is so well placed, right?). This guy that was also selected for the MLB draft, spent time with the Orioles, and pitched an impressive 96 mph. We sure are glad he picked basketball!
5 Brent Barry
Athletics are in this guy’s genes; daddy Rick Barry produced a total of four bball loving sons. However, none of the other basketball-playing Barry brothers – Scooter, Jon, and Drew - can claim to be the only white man in history to win the Slam Dunk contest, though. The ONLY white man. Now that’s something to brag about at Sunday family dinners. The 1996 dunk competition boasted great ballers like the 76ers’ Jerry Stackhouse and the Suns’ Michael Finley, and nobody really expected the Lakers’ guard to triumph. He also had stellar 3-pointer abilities, but after that 1996 air show, most of his other accomplishments were left in the dust. “Bones” Barry is pretty much Larry Bird, only with a slightly higher jump… and significantly longer shorts.
4 Joe Alexander
An American-Israeli boy who was actually born in Taiwan, this dude was THIS CLOSE to entering the Slam Dunk competition in 2009, but was passed over for the Portland Trail Blazers’ Rudy Fernandez. Joe “Vanilla Sky” Alexander has restless, jumpy feet that propel him way up to block shots and confound his opponents. In fact, he set the record for most blocks and field goal percentage in a season at his high school, Linganore High in Mt. Airy, Maryland. It doesn’t take a detective to see these were obviously a foreshadowing of plays to come. Some may say that getting off the ground quickly is more important than how much height you get, but it’s a safe bet that these same people can’t match Alexander’s pre-draft 38.5 inch max vertical. Pretty darn safe.
3 Billy Cunningham
His list of accolades from his time at the University of North Carolina is probably as long as his legs (he’s 6’7”, in case you’re wondering), which is not surprising since anybody with the nickname “Kangaroo Kid” must have worked pretty hard and jumped pretty high to earn it. During both is college and NBA career, this guy leapt like nobody’s business. He was a five-time All Star, 1972-73 MVP, and received recognition for numerous goals, throws, rebounds, and assist plays. If that’s not impressive enough for you, he also played on two NBA championship teams and later coached the Philadelphia 76ers for eight seasons. Back when he played for the Phillies, they had him dribbling alongside Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain for two seasons, and when Chamberlain left in ’69, the 76ers had a Kangaroo as their star. What happens when you put stilts on kangaroo?
2 Blake Griffin
Griffin was born of half Afro-Haitian descent and half Caucasian. With a dad who played basketball center for Northwestern Oklahoma University, and a childhood that included playing baseball, football, AND hoops, Blake Griffin was destined for greatness. “High Griffinition” Blake joined the Oklahoma Sooners and became one of their most impressive players of all time. This guy’s been compared to celebrated center-man Dwight Howard for his max vertical, and to NBA/Olympic legend Oscar Robertson for his triple-doubles. He’s sought advice from Tim Duncan on how to be a great leader and win with his team. He’s set records for leading the NBA in dunks during his very first year playing pro. Griffin has been one of the most electrifying dunkers in the NBA for the past eight years.
1 Zach LaVine
Okay, so LaVine is technically not 100% Caucasian. He’s also not 100% African American, though, which means he doesn’t automatically have insane jumping genes. Despite his Caucasian genetic setbacks, he shot up an unbelievable 41.5 inches at the NBA Draft Combine in 2014. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, it was during a practice with the LA Lakers about a month after the Combine that he flew up 46 inches, creating a new pre-draft record. He’s earned a list of nicknames, including LaVine “The Machine” as well as being part of the “Bounce Brothers” duo with Minnesota Timerwolves teammate Andrew Wiggins. And the man has pulled out some pretty crazy surprise dunks. So maybe his African American genes are a little stronger than his Caucasian ones after all?