MJ from the free throw line. Vince Carter declaring “it’s over.” Dwight Howard flying like Superman.
The NBA Slam Dunk Contest has featured some of the most memorable moments in league history.
While it’s been hit or miss in recent years, the Slam Dunk Contest is still possibly the most anticipated event of All-Star Weekend. That’s likely in large part due to the jaw-dropping jams that have defined the event, with fans hoping to once again be wowed by some of the NBA’s top athletes.
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So before Trey Murphy III, Kenyon Martin Jr., Mac McClung and Jericho Sims take centerstage in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday night, here’s a look at the 10 best Slam Dunk Contest dunks of all time.
10. Gerald Green blows out the candle, 2008
On a list of the most creative dunks, this might rank No. 1. In 2008, then-Minnesota Timberwolves guard Rashad McCants placed a cupcake on the back of the rim and lit a candle that was on top of the pastry.
McCants then bounced the ball to teammate and defending champion Gerald Green, who stretched out to corral it and throw down a two-handed dunk. While the jam didn’t look all that spectacular in real-time, the slo-mo replay showed just how cool of a maneuver it was as Green blew out the candle mid-dunk.
Somehow, this wasn’t a perfect 50.
9. Dee Brown’s no-look jam, 1991
Dee Brown put the expression “I can do it with my eyes closed” to the test in 1991. The then-Boston Celtics rookie had already secured the 1991 event title ahead of his final attempt, but he wasn't aware of that.
So after Brown jumped toward the rim, he closed his eyes and covered them with his right arm while dunking with his left.
How’s that for a cherry on top?
8. It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s Dwight Howard, 2008
Superman made an appearance at the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest.
After ditching his Magic jersey for a Superman shirt and cape, Dwight Howard jumped from a couple of feet inside in the free throw line, caught a pass that was thrown over the backboard by teammate Jameer Nelson and literally chucked the ball through the hoop.
If Howard had actually reached the rim, it would be the undisputed greatest dunk in event history. Despite it not technically being a dunk, Howard still received a 50 and went on to win the competition.
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7. Andre Iguodala ducks under the backboard, 2006
As a second-year pro in 2006, Andre Iguodala introduced himself to a national audience with an unreal display of athleticism.
Standing behind the basket, then-Philadelphia 76ers teammate Allen Iverson threw the ball off the backboard to Iguodala, who caught it, ducked under the bottom of the backcourt and slammed home a reverse jam.
The dunk earned a perfect score, but Iguodala lost the competition to three-time winner Nate Robinson in controversial fashion.
6. Spud Webb’s 360, 1986
A 360 dunk is impressive by itself. But a 360 dunk by someone who’s 5-foot-6?
Spud Webb did the unthinkable in the 1986 contest, dethroning reigning champion and then-Atlanta Hawks teammate Dominique Wilkins. Webb threw down a variety of great dunks, but his 360 one-handed jam was the best of the bunch.
At 5-foot-6, Webb is the shortest player to ever win the Slam Dunk Contest.
5. Zach LaVine goes behind the back, 2016
Maybe it’s a bit of recency bias, but three dunks from the epic Zach LaVine-Aaron Gordon showdown in 2016 crack the top five. The first comes from LaVine, who was the reigning champ at the time.
The then-Timberwolves guard grabbed the ball off one bounce with his left hand, put it behind his back in mid-air and then flushed home a reverse dunk with his right.
The more I watch it, the more I think it might have ranked it too low.
4. Aaron Gordon takes handoff from Stuff the Magic Dragon, 2016
Aaron Gordon and the Orlando Magic’s mascot – Stuff the Magic Dragon – combined for two all-time dunks in that aforementioned 2016 contest.
First, Stuff the Magic Dragon spun in circles on a hoverboard while holding the ball out in the paint. The then-Magic forward timed his run perfectly as he grabbed the ball from the mascot in mid-air, spun around and slammed down a one-handed jam. Gordon also paid homage to Karl Malone by putting one of his hands behind his head.
An impressive combination of creativity, difficulty and flashiness.
3. MJ gets inspiration from Dr. J, 1988
In the 1976 ABA Slam Dunk Contest, then-New York Nets forward Julius Erving took off from the free throw line for an iconic one-handed jam. Over a decade later, Erving helped Michael Jordan defend his NBA Slam Dunk Contest crown.
Just three years after Dominique Wilkins outlasted Jordan, the two high fliers once again found themselves in a Slam Dunk Contest battle in 1988. Jordan needed at least 49 points on his final attempt to repeat as champ, and he found inspiration in the crowd from Dr. J.
“I was nervous, the only time in the contest I was nervous,” Jordan said at the time. “I knew I needed something really spectacular to win. I was searching the crowd for something to do. Then, I saw the man who started it all, Julius Erving. He indicated to me I should go the length of the floor and take off from the free throw line.”
Jordan took the Doctor’s advice and carried it out to perfection. The then-Chicago Bulls guard ran the length of his home floor at Chicago Stadium before flying from the free throw line to the rim for a one-handed dunk just like Dr. J.
The contest-winning dunk produced one of the most iconic sports images with Jordan soaring through the air.
2. Aaron Gordon jumps over Stuff the Magic Dragon, 2016
Just when you thought Gordon and Stuff the Magic Dragon couldn’t do any better, they pulled this out of their sleeve.
Stuff the Magic Dragon stood near the basket with the ball over its head. Gordon jumped over the mascot with his body facing away from the rim, grabbed the ball with his right hand, put it under his legs and dunked it with his left all in one fluid, mind-blowing motion.
Gordon had two of the best dunks in event history in the same competition…and he still lost to LaVine.
1. The Vinsanity Show, 2000
Yes, this is a list of the best dunks, not overall performances. But Vince Carter put on arguably the best Slam Dunk Contest showing of all time to win the 2000 event, with a few mesmerizing jams that are all worthy of being high up on this list. So rather than loading up the list with several Carter dunks from the same contest, they’ll get grouped together.
But if one had to be singled out as the best, it would be his first dunk: a reverse-360 windmill that already had TV commentator Kenny Smith saying “let’s go home!”
That could take the top spot by itself, but VC was far from finished. For his third dunk, Carter caught the ball in mid-air, put it between his legs for a one-handed jam and then famously declared “it’s over.”
The event wasn’t technically over just yet, though. On his fourth attempt, Carter got so high off the ground that he was able to stuff his forearm in the hoop after a one-handed slam.