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5 Best Slam Dunk Contest Jams of All-Time

Nate Robinson slam dunk
Nate Robinson won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest three times from 2006-to-2010. Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher (Icon Sportswire)

The Slam Dunk Contest has been the crown jewel of the NBA All-Star Weekend since 1984 when Larry Nance went toe-to-toe with Dr. J in the event’s explosive first iteration. Legendary leapers like Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, and Dominique Wilkins continued to bring the event to new heights before giving way to the Jason Richardsons, Vince Carters, and Zach LaVines of the world. Year after year, the world’s highest flyers have found new ways to defy gravity and expectations with their thunderous slams.

I’ve looked back at every single drunk from the past 34 years and have come up with the definitive list of the five best of all-time. Let me know which rim-rockers you would include in the comments section below.

1. Zach Attack: Zach LaVine (2016)

Selecting just one of Zach LaVine’s dunks from the ridiculous 2016 event in Toronto is a little bit like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. Do you take his windmill dunk from the free-throw line? What about his insane behind-the-back off-the-bounce dunk? Or how about his Vince Carter tribute? They’re all dandies, but I’m ultimately going with his between-the-legs dunk from (roughly) the free-throw line. The slam combined two of my favorite dunking elements into a single pristine jam that resulted in a perfect 50 from the stunned judges.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at the reaction of LaVine’s fellow players, all of who stormed the court the moment the ball went through the hoop. Seriously, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins look like they just won the lottery.

2. Dragon Baller: Aaron Gordon (2016)

I’m generally not a fan of mascots being involved in dunk contests, but I’m willing to make an exception for Aaron Gordon’s transcendent throw down over Stuff the Magic Dragon in 2016. His 360-degree slam was the perfect blend of power, athleticism, and choreography, and rightfully earned him a perfect score. Take a moment to watch it a few times and fully appreciate the exquisite timing it took to pull it off. Bonus points for the tribute to Karl Malone at the end.

Growing up, the testament to a dunk’s difficulty was whether you could replicate it at home on your seven-foot-tall Nerf hoop. Even if you gave me 100 attempts and a Roomba, I still wouldn’t be able to pull this one off.

3. Krypto-Nate: Nate Robinson (2009)

The way you feel about this dunk will depend largely on how you feel about Dwight Howard. If you believe he’s one of the league’s biggest whiners and prima donnas, as I do, then you probably loved seeing 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson use him as an oversized prop at the 2009 Slam Dunk Contest. The dunk won Robinson the event while also reducing Howard to a bystander. It was, in many ways, a perfect microcosm of his entire career.

4. The Sound of Silence: Vince Carter (2000)

There are many amazing things about Vince Carter’s fourth jam from the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, but the most astonishing of all is the crowd’s response. Listen closely to their reaction after Carter put his forearm into the net. It’s not instant jubilation and thunderous applause like you typically hear. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s stunned silence. No one – not even Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd, or Kenny Smith – could believe what they had just witnessed.

Ironically, that wasn’t even Carter’s greatest dunk. His juiciest jam came that summer when he leapt over 7-foot-2 French center Frederic Weis during the Sydney Olympics. I guarantee you that Weis still wakes up in a cold sweat five times a year just thinking about it. The basket set American/French relations back by a decade and dashed any shot Weis had of pursuing an NBA career.

5. Spud-nik Goes into Orbit: Spud Webb (1986)

Upon first blush, Spud Webb’s alley-oop reverse dunk from 1986 may not look overly impressive, but you have to remember that the Hawks point guard was only 5-foot-7 in sneakers. The fact that he could dunk at all makes him the eighth wonder of the world. As it turned out, Webb needed every last bit of his 42-inch vertical to send the ball into the hoop and earn the title over teammate Dominique Wilkins. Check out Michael Jordan’s priceless reaction at the end if you have any doubt about whether Webb deserves a spot on this list.

Honorable Mentions

Michael Jordan’s Free Throw Line Dunk (1988) 

Dee Brown’s No-Look Dunk (1991) 

Cedric Ceballos’ Blindfold Dunk (1992) 

Dwight Howard’s Superman Dunk (2008) 

Blake Griffin’s Car Leap (2011) 

2018 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

You can place a wager on the 2018 NBA Slam Dunk contest.

Player Odds
Dennis Smith Jr. (Mavs) +175
Donovan Mitchell (Jazz) +225
Larry Nance Jr. (Cavs) +275
Victor Oladipo (Pacers) +450


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