Ever since the NBA introduced the Dunk Contest into the All-Star festivities, it has been the most anticipated part of the weekend. The 3-Point Shootout has had its moments, like Larry Bird keeping his warm-ups on and holding up a “one” as he canned the final money ball, and the game itself has provided some highlights, like Magic Johnson’s MVP return, it has always been the Dunk Contest that got people hyped and provided the biggest “must-see” moments.
While the NBA has tried to tinker with formula – having a “dunk wheel,” making it a team competition, letting dudes missed 57 times before getting one down (What up, Birdman!) – the most memorable performances of the weekend have almost always come from the Dunk Contest.
With All-Star Weekend jumping off tomorrow in Toronto, we wanted to look back at the best performers in the history of the NBA Dunk Contest. (Years they won in parenthesis)
Vince Carter (2000)
No one is ever going to top Carter’s performance from Oakland. Every dunk was perfection. When he put the first one down, you knew you were watching something special and then Carter reinforced that throughout the rest of the competition. Best of all, he didn’t miss. Not once.
Zach LaVine (2015)
Last year’s winner – who will look to defend his title Saturday at the ACC – already deserves a place on this list because his effort last year was spectacular. The young guard is inventive and makes his dunks look effortless, which gives him the potential to repeat and reign over this competition for years to come.
Isaiah Rider (1994)
Ask anybody that watched Rider’s performance in ’94 and they’ll still be able to tell you the name of his winning dunk. “The East Bay Funk” felt like an evolution in the Dunk Contest – one of the first times a guy came from the side and went between his legs. Rider may have flamed out as a pro, but he stood out in this competition at All-Star Weekend in Minnesota.
Spud Webb (1986)
Sure, there was novelty to having a little man in the Dunk Contest, but Webb didn’t win simply because he was under six-feet tall. The Atlanta Hawks guard was throwing down and became a household name (amongst hoops fans) for his performance.
Nate Robinson (2006, 2009, 2010)
Webb not only inspired the diminutive Robinson, he participated in one of his dunks in 2006, when the then-Knicks guard jumped over the former champion to win his first of three titles. The only knock on Robinson is that he falls into the “that took too many attempts” club at times, but cumulatively, his Dunk Contest portfolio is pretty strong.
Michael Jordan (1987, 1988)
Jordan being on this list shouldn’t require explanation. From taking off at the foul line to leaning in with his tongue hanging out, “MJ” helped elevate the Dunk Contest to the must-see spectacle it was throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Dominique Wilkins (1985, 1990)
“The Human Highlight Reel” is one of the most slept on stars of the ‘80s and paired with Jordan to star in those early Dunk Contests that got so many of us hooked on watching it ever year. His combination of explosiveness and power was unmatched at the time, plus he had a sweet flat top.
Dwight Howard (2008)
Dwight only won once, but he took part at least one other year (2009) and delivered some of the most impressive feats of athleticism we’ve seen in the competition. There had been big men that tried to win the contest before, but none had Dwight’s mix of creative dunks, power and theatricality, which goes a long way with the audience. His Superman dunk is still one of the best ever.
Josh Smith (2005)
Smith won the Dunk Contest straight out of high school, registering three 50s and getting extra love for rocking a Dominique Wilkins throwback jersey while replicating one of Nique’s signature dunks. If only Smith had remembered how explosive he was around the rim during games, instead of settling for long twos and ill-advised three-pointers…
Jason Richardson (2002, 2003)
Richardson might be the silver medalist behind Carter for best all-time. With all due respect to Jordan and Wilkins, “J-Rich” turned the competition on its ear in back-to-back years, completing a series of forceful, “did he really just do that?” dunks that still make you shake your head when you watch them back today.