One of the sports calendar’s great weekends is upon us.
NBA All-Star Weekend tips off in Houston Friday night with the Celebrity Game, followed by the Rising Stars Challenge. Saturday’s festivities include the Shooting Stars Competition, Skill Challenge, and Three-Point Contest.
But the highlight of All-Star Saturday Night—and, for some people, of the entire weekend—is the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.
The American Basketball Association introduced the Slam Dunk Contest in 1976, just months before the ABA-NBA merger. The NBA added the event to its All-Star festivities in 1984.
This year’s event, the 28th of its kind, features defending champion Jeremy Evans of the Utah Jazz, Eric Bledsoe of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Kenneth Faried—the Manimal—of the Denver Nuggets representing the Western Conference. Gerald Green, the 2007 champ from the Indiana Pacers, Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors, and James “Flight” White of the New York Knicks will represent the East. (Participants this year for the first time will earn points for their respective conference.)
To get you ready for the 2013 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest (Saturday night on TNT), here’s a look at the 12 best dunks (in my opinion, at least) in the event’s history:
12. Larry Nance, 1984: The Cradle Windmill
The inaugural NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1984 featured two of the great dunkers in the game’s history: Dominique Wilkins and Julius Erving, otherwise known as Dr. J. But neither of these esteemed dunkers hoisted the trophy at the end of the evening.
That honor went to Larry Nance of the Phoenix Suns, who won with this cradle windmill:
Nance’s dunk is tame by today’s standards. But I appreciate the simplicity, the fact that it didn’t require props, and the fact that he nailed it on the first take (something that is rare in the second decade of the twenty-first century).
Here are Nance’s other dunks from the 1984 competition:
At the 2011 contest, while Blake Griffin was busy working out endorsement deals with Kia, McGee had an extra hoop brought into the arena. While dunking two balls at the same time is nothing new, McGee put each of the balls in a separate basket.
This dunk is probably my favorite of the bunch, but I can’t place it higher than No. 11 for two reasons:
McGee needed multiple attempts to complete the dunk, a luxury not afforded many of the other dunkers on this list;
This isn’t the sort of dunk one could do on a playground. I don’t mind props, so long as the props are things that are easy to come by and could be used on most any basketball court (blindfolds, chairs, other players, etc.). An extra hoop doesn’t qualify.
10. Cedric Ceballos, 1992: Blindfolded
The Celtics’ Dee Brown won the 1991 Dunk Contest by covering his eyes with his right arm while he was in the air:
The following year, the Suns’ Cedric Ceballos took the no-look dunk to its obvious conclusion: he wore a blindfold.
And Ceballos didn’t put on the blindfold while he was under the basket or at the free-throw line. He ran across two-thirds of the court without sight.
9. Spud Webb, 1986: “Judge Me By My Size, Do You?”
Anthony “Spud” Webb earned his keep in the NBA as a backup point guard for the Atlanta Hawks and later put up respectable numbers as a starter for the Sacramento Kings. But he is best known for his performances in Slam Dunk Contests.
The diminutive Hawks’ guard won the 1986 competition with a series of dunks that destroyed all sorts of assumptions about physics and physiology. Webb, standing 5-foot-7, defeated teammate and favorite Dominique Wilkins with this beauty:
8. Nate Robinson, 2006: Over Spud Webb
After Spud Webb’s win in 1986, 20 years would pass before another player under 6 feet tall would win the Slam Dunk Contest. At 5-feet-9, 2006 rookie participant Nate Robinson didn’t shy away from comparisons to Webb. Instead, he honored his predecessor by using him as a prop.
Webb, wearing his old Hawks jersey and standing a few feet in front of the hoop, bounced the ball. Robinson caught it as he jumped over the former champion and dunked the ball with ease.
A few years later, Robinson would win the second of his three Dunk Contest trophies by jumping over Dwight Howard. While jumping over the 6-foot-11 Dwight Howard is more impressive than scaling the 5-foot-7 Spud Webb, Robinson had to push off of Howard’s back; and he didn’t have the added challenge of catching the ball in the air.
7. Andre Iguodala, 2006: AI to AI off the Back of the Backboard
The past year has been a good one for Andre Iguodala. He made his first All-Star Game appearance, led the Sixers to a first-round upset of the top-seeded (but Derrick Rose-less) Bulls, won a gold medal as a member of the US Olympic team, and got traded to a Denver team that had won nine straight before dropping two games earlier this week.
Back in 2006, when Iggy was just the other A.I., he was a participant in the 2006 Slam Dunk Contest. He didn’t win, but he may have performed the night’s most impressive dunk, with assistance from the original A.I., Allen Iverson, Iggy caught the ball off the back of the glass and finished with a reverse slam.
6. Terence Stansbury, 1987: The Statue of Liberty 360
Terence Stansbury is known more for his three appearances in the Slam Dunk Contest than he is for the three seasons he played with the Pacers and Sonics.
He only started 31 NBA games before leaving the league for a two-decade career in Europe, but he will long be remembered for his signature dunk: the Statue of Liberty 360.
5. Kenny Smith, 1990: The Between-the-Legs Alley-Oop Reverse
Before Kenny “The Jet” Smith was an analyst for TNT, he was the starting point guard for the Houston Rockets teams that won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995. Before that, he was a Sacramento King and a Slam Dunk Contest runner-up. In 1990, Smith came within two points of upsetting champion Dominique Wilkins.
Smith’s magnum opus was this dunk, in which he bounced the ball between his legs and off the backboard, caught the ball while twisting in mid-air, and finished with a reverse.
4. Jason Richardson, 2003: A Little Bit of Everything
Jason Richardson won back-to-back Slam Dunk Contests in 2002 and 2003. His finest performance from those two campaigns was his final dunk in the 2003 contest, which included a little bit of everything we like to see in dunk contests.
He threw an alley-oop to himself, put the ball between his legs, and finished it off with a reverse jam.
3. Dominique Wilkins, 1985: The Two-Handed Windmill
No one has contributed as much to the NBA Slam Dunk Contest as Dominique Wilkins. The Human Highlight Film won the contest in 1985 and 1990 and was runner-up in 1986 and 1988. No one put the ball through the hoop with as much force as 'Nique.
Here’s the dunk that Wilkins used to beat Michael Jordan in 1985:
2. Michael Jordan, 1987: From the Foul Line
Participants in the 1976 ABA Slam Dunk Contest, the inspiration for the NBA’s dunk competition, had to perform 5 dunks:
one from a standing position underneath the basket,
one taking off from a line 10 feet from the basket,
one approaching the basket from the left,
one approaching the basket from the right,
and one approaching the basket along the baseline.
Julius Erving bent the rules on the second dunk. Instead of jumping from the ten-foot line, he took off from the free-throw line. Consequently, he was the ABA’s first and only Slam Dunk Contest champion.
Since its introduction in 1976, the foul-line dunk has been a Slam Dunk Contest staple. Brent Barry dunked from the charity stripe to win the 1996 contest:
Michael Jordan perfected the foul-line dunk in 1987, adding a double-clutch and maintaining his altitude all the way to the rim.
1. Vince Carter, 2000: The 360 Windmill
The Slam Dunk Contest disappeared for two seasons in the late 1990s. (The NBA decided to discontinue the competition in 1998, and the entire All-Star Weekend in 1999 was canceled because of the 1998-99 lockout.) While the dunk contest was on hiatus, Vince Carter came into the league.
When the competition returned in 2000, Air Canada (as he was known during his days with the Raptors) treated us to some of the most impressive and creative dunks in the event’s history.
Carter won the event with this between-the-legs dunk, with an assist from then teammate Tracy McGrady:
But Carter’s best dunk from the 2000 contest was his first, a 360 windmill that left Shaq feeling funny:
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