MTV’s The Challenge – Battle Of The Exes 2 Penultimate Episode

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The #BALLSOHARD Podcast – Alex Pavlovic And Carmen Kiew

Alex Pavlovic

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All-time Golden State Warriors Team

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Roundball Soundoff – Top 15 Dunkers In NBA Slam Dunk Contest History

nba dunk contest

The original post was written almost exactly two years ago for Popblerd.com. I’ve updated it to incorporate the last two years of the contest.

I’m a bit of a NBA All-Star Saturday fanatic. I’m old enough to have seen every dunk contest either live, though I only remember watching the 1984 version on video tape. Even though the 2014 contest was the worst contest of all-time, I’m still in. Who am I rooting for in 2015? Even though I think Zach LaVine will win as he’s been a dunk contestant in training since he was in high school, I’m rooting for Giannis Antetokounmpo. No one has more upside (or downside) than Giannis. He might hit his head on the rim. He might jump from behind the free throw line. He might grab a dollar off the top of the backboard and leave ten cents change. The sky is the limit with Giannis.

Let’s go back a bit. I remember Dr. J hitting his head on the backboard. I remember the name Terance Stansbury. I remember when Otis Smith, yes the same guy who used to run the Orlando Magic, dunked in his Golden State Warriors warm-up shirt. I remember in the mid=90s when they decided to give dunkers 90 seconds to put together a routine and a bunch of dunkers couldn’t even finish. And I remember when they changed it back, thankfully. I go way back. Way back before Dee Brown pumped up his Reeboks.

I’m going to try and do the impossible which is rank the top NBA dunk contest dunkers. Notice that I didn’t say best dunkers of all time. I’m just talking about the guys who performed on All-Star Saturday Night over the years.

How will I rank them? It’s mostly on memorability. But it’s also about the kind of stamp they put on the contest. How influential they were. And I’m not just ranking winners. Someone like Shaun Kemp was much more memorable in his four appearances in which he didn’t win than Fred Jones and Brent Barry were when they won their contests. And it’s not also about who is the most memorable player because if it was, Michael Jordan wins hands down. And just to tease the list a little, Jordan isn’t first on my list.

Before we get to the top 15, here are some memorable dunkers who didn’t make the list:

Jeremy Evans: Gonna have to win it again young fella.

Brent Barry: He did one dunk and then did it again. He won in the dark era of the dunk contest.

Kobe Bryant: If he was in one more dunk contest, he’d be in the top 15. He made Isiah Rider’s East Bay Funk Dunk look easy.

Cedric Ceballos: He could see.

Fred Jones: Fred’s one of the most underrated and forgotten dunk winners. If Jason Richardson does the between the legs dunk off the bounce, he beats Jones though.

Stevie Francis: He was a great small dunker. If he could palm a basketball, he would’ve won one of these.

Tracy McGrady: McGrady only took part in one contest and was overshadowed by Vince Carter, but he had a great contest.

Amar’e Stoudemire: He paved the way for Dwight Howard. Amar’e helped bring the big man dunkers back. Well, except for the Bird Man, but that’s a different story.

Kenny Smith: One of the best small dunkers in contest history. He’s best known for bouncing the between his legs with his back to the basket and then reverse dunking the ball in. But he also did many hard 360 and double pump dunks that most small guys weren’t doing. If I ranked a top 20 instead, he’d have been on it.

Terence Stansbury: He had the second most memorable signature dunk in the early years, second to only Dr. J’s free throw line dunk.

Josh Smith: He was the remixed version of Kenny “Sky” Walker. If he performed better as the defending champ in his second contest, he finishes in my top 15.

Andre Iguodala: He could’ve easily beat Nate Robinson if Nate Robinson didn’t get 14 tries to finish his final dunk.

Dr. J: The fact that Dr. J competed in 1984 and 1985 with all the young bucks was pretty incredible because he was clearly the crowd favorite, even when Michael and Dominique were involved. But he was also at the tail end of his athleticism.

Dwight Howard: Superman won more for his showmanship than for actual dunking skill. But I will probably always remember his creativity in putting the sticker of his face on the glass before dunking.

John Wall: He loses points for being the winner in the most whack dunk contest of all-time. But he was pretty mean.

And now, the top 15…

(I only added one guy to the list so we’ll make Ross and “Sky” Walker tied for 15th.)

15. Terrence Ross

Signature Dunk: Tribute To Vince Carter
Highest Finish: 1st place
It’s hard ranking Ross ahead of dunk contest pioneers because he’s simply not as memorable. He doesn’t have a ton of charisma. He doesn’t finish dunks and point to the sky. And he makes everything look so damn easy. From an athleticism standpoint, he’s really at the top of the list. But he may also be forgotten in the annals of dunk contest history (which is why we have lists like this).

15. Kenny “Sky” Walker

Signature Dunk: 360 Cupped Windmill
Highest Finish: 1st place
Sky Walker took over the year that MJ and Dominique decided not to participate. Thus, he’s often forgotten because of his lame duck status. And to be fair, outside of him, it was one of the weaker dunk fields in history. Walker’s strength was his power, but he also had tremendous athleticism. He was a slightly shorter version of Larry Nance, all the way down to Nance’s reverse windmill.

14. Gerald Green

Signature Dunk: Birthday Cake
Highest Finish: 1st place
Green’s 2007 win was tremendous. It was the little man’s dunk contest and he was the better little man. He dunked over Nate Robinson by remixing the famous Dee Brown dunk where he covered his eyes. He lost the year of the “Birthday Cake” dunk, but that dunk was very creative. Just don’t dunk without your shoes again!

13. Larry Nance

Signature Dunk: Reverse Windmill
Highest Finish: 1st place
Nance beat Dr. J in the first NBA dunk contest in 1984. Depending on how tall Dwight Howard really is, he’s also the tallest winner at 6’10. While Doc paved the way for guys like MJ, Nance paved the way for the powerful, athletic dunkers. I still haven’t seen anyone do the reverse windmill quite like Nance.

12. Shawn Kemp

Signature Dunk: Pump From Inside The Free Throw Line
Highest Finish: 2nd Place
Kemp’s main problem was missing dunks. If he performed in the years where you didn’t get punished for missing dunks, he would’ve clearly won a few. He went after the win four times and ran into Dee Brown in 1991 and Isiah Rider in 1994. Kemp was so tall, but he was more athletic than most of the guards he dunked against. He was great with the bounce dunks. He and Dee Brown brought the dunk contest back in 1991 after an off two years.

11. Dee Brown

Signature Dunk: No Look
Highest Finish: 1st Place
He was only in it one time, but he was very memorable. Like I mentioned above, he and Shawn Kemp brought the dunk contest back into focus after two off years. Brown brought showmanship and crazy athleticism to the stage. He pumped up his Reeboks, got a shoe deal and became a bit of a sports celebrity for a year.

10. Spud Webb

Signature Dunk: Reverse Off The Bounce
Highest Finish: 1st Place
For one dunk contest, Spud Webb was awesome. In two others, he wasn’t so much. But no one single basketball player parlayed a dunk contest victory into gaining so much. Every basketball fan from that era knows who Spud Webb is. Nate Robinson is more explosive, but Spud never had the opportunity to miss so many dunks. Because of how the rules were different, Spud had to stick all of his dunks in one shot.

9. Isiah Rider

Signature Dunk: East Bay Funk Dunk
Highest Finish: 1st Place
In 1994, Rider used the music played over the speakers and incorporated it into his showmanship. He dance in between dunks and get the crowd involved. And he brought out a something that hadn’t been seen before, at least the way he did it. All contest long, Doug Collins was teasing that Rider had a signature dunk and he pulled it out at the perfect time. Chuck Barkley called it the best dunk he’d ever seen at the time. And in his Alabama accent, said it was, “Awesome!”

8. Desmond Mason

Signature Dunk: Left-Handed Between The Legs
Highest Finish: 1st Place
If not for Jason Richardson, Desmond Mason is probably a three-time dunk contest champion. After winning in 2001, he was beaten by J-Rich two years in a row in close battles. In fact, if either guy would’ve milked it for more, they would’ve had their own little dunk contest rivalry. Mason was super athletic and one of the most underrated contestants of all time. How many guys could do the dunk below?

7. Nate Robinson

Signature Dunk: Jumping Over Superman
Highest Finish: 1st Place
Nate Robinson was a buffed out Spud Webb. He was able to do all of Spud’s dunks, but do them more powerfully. He also had tremendous control of the basketball. He was pretty much the total package. He was creative. He danced. He hyped up the crowd. And he sold himself. The only thing that takes him down a notch was that it took him 14 turns to finish his dunk in 2006 to beat Andre Iguodala. Because of him, they added a shot clock.

6. Blake Griffin

Signature Dunk: Two-Hand Statue Of Liberty
Highest Finish: 1st Place
Blake Griffin is the perfect dunk contestant. He’s athletic enough to jump from far places and he’s powerful enough to throw down as hard as anyone. Being that he was only in the contest once and is as highly ranked as he is, shows how much of an impression he made on the contest. His most memorable dunk was the gimmicky one in which he dunked over the hood of the car, but his most impressive one was the ode to Terance Stansbury, but with two hands.

5. Harold Miner

Signature Dunk: Power Windmill From The Baseline
Highest Finish: 1st Place
Baby Jordan took the dunk contest by storm for two years. While his 1995 performance was good, his 1993 performance was one of the all-time greats. He wasn’t showy on the court, except when he dunked. I’m not sure I even know what Miner’s voice sounds like. Everything was power. And everything was clean. He was so good that he didn’t even need to complete his last dunk to win.

4. Jason Richardson

Signature Dunk: Between The Legs Reverse Dunk
Highest Finish: 1st Place
Richardson’s final dunk in the 2003 dunk contest is still the best dunk I’ve ever seen in the dunk contest, Vince Carter included. It was a video game dunk and even then, I’m not sure I imagined something like that ever happening. Richardson needed a 49 on his last dunk to beat out Desmond Mason and he came baseline, jumped off two feet, put the basketball under his legs, and in one motion, reversed dunked it. Amazing. Oh yeah, and he won the previous year and would’ve won the following year if he didn’t try to do the off-the-glass arm-stuck-in-the-rim dunk that Blake Griffin would do seven years later.

3. Dominique Wilkins

Signature Dunk: The Windmill
Highest Finish: 1st Place
I didn’t put any specific windmill dunk as a signature for ‘Nique because nearly every dunk he did was some version of a double pump or windmill. Everything he did was crisp, clean, powerful, and perfect. And the best ones usually involved him rotating his shoulder violently. ‘Nique’s dunk contest career spanned the longest. He was a third place finisher in the very first one in 1984 and won in 1990. He’s a two-time winner and could’ve won twice more. He lost close battles to Spud Webb in 1986 and Michael Jordan in 1988. When the players say that he may have been robbed in both contests, it’s probably close to truth.

2. Michael Jordan

Signature Dunk: Pump From The Free Throw Line
Highest Finish: 1st Place
Some think that Jordan lost to Dominique in 1988. Even if you believe that, their contest was so damn close that it might’ve been a coin flip. Both men scored two 50s in the final round and it was just a 47 for MJ and a 45 for ‘Nique that separated them. Because he was Jordan, his imprint is just a little bit bigger than ‘Nique’s. Even in ’85 when ‘Nique beat MJ, it was Jordan in his Air Jordans, his gold chains, and his approach to the contest that made it a must-see event. He improved on Dr. J’s famous foul line dunk. He gave other dunks names like “Kiss The Rim”. Rick Barry said Jordan was simulating flying with his legs. He was just a slightly bigger dunk contest pioneer than ‘Nique was. Okay, maybe not slightly. He was clearly bigger.

1. Vince Carter

Signature Dunk: Windmill 360
Highest Finish: 1st Place
Carter won arguably the league’s best dunk contest ever. He may also have saved the contest. The contest came back after a two-year hiatus, one of which was because of the league strike the year before. But after Vince Carter put on his show, you couldn’t put it back in hibernation. Carter had the single greatest repertoire of dunks for one contest. He started with the windmill 360 from the baseline, then did it again from underneath the basket, the between the legs off a bounce pass from Tracy McGrady, stuck his arm in the rim, and finished off with his weakest dunk which was a two-handed rip in which he took off from near the free throw line and still scored a 48. He had three perfect dunks out of five. His legacy is also perfect because he did it once, shocked the world, and never went back.

To me, the perfect dunk contest would be MJ, ‘Nique, J-Rich, and Vince. I think Vince would win, but just barely.

The LeBron Tax

LeBron tax

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

I blame the New Year’s day email from StubHub. Read More →

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