The Greatest Slam Dunks of All Time

From Jordan to LeBron toGriffin, these are the greatest slam dunks of all time.

michael jordan dunk


michael jordan dunk

The slam dunk is more than just a play. It’s a cultural phenomenon.

While three-pointers, crossovers and buzzer-beaters may be as or even more impressive at times than the dunk, none of them have quite matched it in terms of cultural impact. There’s a reason the Jordan logo is the “Jumpman,” not the “Shootman” or the “Crossoverman.” The dunk is vastly different than other basketball plays.

Players’ legacies are often launched by their dunking abilities. Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter and Blake Griffin are all guys who launched their status as the league’s most popular players not just because they were the best players, but because they were also the best dunkers. They became the subject of your childhood posters because they could dunk.

There are plenty of sports posters with plenty of pictures and moments from all leagues and sports. But posters often focus on dunks because of the picturesque snapshot images they provide. Jordan won six rings, but his most iconic picture is the one of him flying in the air in the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest. That contest might not have counted for anything of substance, but it was the best dunk show the league had ever seen. And in many ways, that makes it just as memorable as Jordan’s other great moments.

So this brings us to the greatest dunks of all time. A lot of these dunks are great because of how physically impressive they were. Others are great because of the sheer embarrassment they inflicted on the the player who got dunked on. And others are great for the destruction they caused to their surroundings—backboards in particular. Regardless, all of these dunks are perfect examples of the best parts of basketball.

So without further ado, here is a definitive list of the 23 greatest dunks in NBA history.

Michael Jordan from the free-throw line, 1988

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This may not be an in-game moment, but the image of Michael Jordan dunking from the free-throw line in the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest is one of the most iconic in the history of pro sports.

Blake Griffin over Timofey Mozgov, 2010

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Dazzling dunks like this made Griffin the Clippers’ first true superstar after 40 years of misery. This one came as a rookie in 2010, against the Knicks’ Timofey Mozgov. Griffin’s added many more to his highlight reel since then.

LeBron James passing to himself, 2017

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This pass-to-self dunk from LeBron would be impressive enough on a playground court. But in the NBA Finals against perhaps the greatest team in league history? It looks even better.

DeAndre Jordan on Brandon Knight, 2013

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Most dunks by seven-footers are nothing more than a formality — hardly highlight reel plays. This one by Jordan, however, is a major exception. Jordan got all the way up, leaving Brandon Knight as a sitting duck. Had the rim been 12 feet instead of 10, Jordan still might have been able to throw it down on this one.

Dwyane Wade on Anderson Varejao, 2009

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Dwyane Wade is only 6-foot-4; Anderson Varejao is 6-foot-10. You wouldn’t know that height discrepancy from this dunk, though.

Baron Davis over Andrei Kirilenko, 2007

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Most so-called Warriors fans probably couldn’t name a player from the pre-Steph Curry days — let alone recall this Baron Davis dunk. Much of the pre-Curry Warriors’ history has been forgotten now that the franchise has become so dominant, but this dunk by Davis in the 2007 playoffs should remain on highlight reels forever.

Shaquille O’Neal vs. Chris Dudley, 1999

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Watching Shaq dunk on Chris Dudley was like watching Eminem against Papa Doc at the end of “8 Mile.” Shaq dominated Dudley as if he had all his 2K sliders turned up on this play, and he even gave Dudley a little disrespect on his way down.

J.R. Smith on Gary Neal, 2010

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J.R. hasn’t got that high since… Never mind.

Kobe Bryant over Dwight Howard, 2004

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In hindsight, this must be one of the most gratifying plays of Kobe’s career, given the feud he and Howard had during and after their lone season as teammates.

This also wouldn’t be the last time Kobe embarrassed Howard in public. He repeatedly called him “soft” during a game in 2014, and was ultimately vindicated as Howard’s reputation and performance around the league crumbled.

Kobe Bryant over Kevin Garnett, 2004

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Wherein Kobe goes 180 on a windmill to throw it down on one of the greatest players of his generation. Kobe was an elite dunker in the No. 8 days, before becoming a more complete player as No. 24. This play was classic No. 8.

Allen Iverson over Marcus Camby, 1998

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This play is a microcosm of Iverson’s Sixers career: He gets no help from his teammates, carries the team anyway, and does it all with a little bit of style. This is an elite display of ball skills by Iverson, who hopped over a 6-foot-11 Marcus Camby for the putback dunk. And it wasn’t enough for him to just throw it down over Camby: He had to hang over him for a few seconds, just to make sure his point was made.

LeBron James on Jason Terry, 2013

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LeBron posterized Jason Terry so badly here that Terry was listed as dead on Wikipedia after this posterization. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know here.

John Starks on Michael Jordan, 1993

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The Knicks played the Bulls in six series from 1989–1996, and the Bulls won five of them. So the Knicks don’t have many happy memories playing against the Bulls in the ’90s. John Starks dunking over Michael Jordan in the ’93 Eastern Conference Finals, however, is one of the few exceptions. Starks put Jordan on the receiving end of a posterization for once; “His Airness” finally received a dose of his own medicine. Knicks fans call this one “The Dunk,” and while that may be a bit of an overstatement, there’s no questioning its status as an all-time great one.

Tom Chambers over Mark Jackson, 1989

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You don’t usually see these kinds of players making highlight-reel dunks. (I’m referring to the fact that Tom Chambers was on the Suns, for the record. They weren’t very good.) Chambers flies through the air Superman style on this one, leaving Mark Jackson helpless on the ground. Not even the best defender could do anything to stop Chambers here.

Chris Webber on Charles Barkley, 1994

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The amount of focus, skill and athleticism it takes to run up court, switch hands behind the back, and throw it over a future Hall of Famer is incredible. Webber made one heck of an introduction to “Sir Charles” as a rookie with Golden State in 1994.

Dominique Wilkins vs. Bob Lanier, 1984

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You can’t have a compilation of great dunks without Dominique Wilkins. It’s hard to pick just one dunk from Wilkins, but this one takes the cake because of how he overcame tight double-coverage from the Bucks to throw it down.

Darryl Dawkins breaks the backboard, 1979

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Dawkins is most notable for destroying not one, but two backboards in his NBA career. Better yet, he broke them both in a matter of just a few weeks in 1979. No backboard would be safe in the presence of “Chocolate Thunder.”

Vince Carter over Alonzo Mourning, 2005

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Carter made Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning look like he belonged in the D-League on this play. This was a perfect showcase of the ball handling, strength and hops that made Carter one of the league’s best dunkers.

Michael Jordan over Patrick Ewing, 1991

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The dunk itself is what gets remembered, but it’s Jordan’s maneuvering leading up to it that’s perhaps even more impressive. Jordan is double-teamed the whole way through, yet finds a way to get past Kiki Vandeweghe, John Starks, Charles Oakley and, finally, Patrick Ewing, whom he absolutely embarrasses. Oh, and he drew the foul too.

Scottie Pippen on Patrick Ewing, 1994

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With Michael Jordan retired from basketball, Scottie Pippen had to carry the Bulls in 1994. And in this moment, he did just that, coming from beyond the paint to throw it down over Patrick Ewing.

Shawn Kemp on Alton Lister, 1992

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Shawn Kemp was one of the most dominant, in-your-face dunkers of the ’90s. And this was easily his most dominant, in-your-face dunk.

Julius Erving “Rocks the Baby” on Michael Cooper, 1983

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The best dunk by the best dunker in league history.

“Dr. J” helped make the slam dunk the cultural phenomenon it is today. He first did this in the ABA with the Nets, winning the league’s slam-dunk contest in 1976, the first of its kind. After coming to the NBA with the Sixers, Erving continued to establish himself as the game’s greatest dunker. This “Rock the Baby” dunk in 1983 was clearly his best; he takes the ball all the way upcourt and gets from the three-point line to the rim in just three steps.

Vince Carter over Frederic Weis, 2000

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This is the consensus best dunk of all time. Because it is the best dunk of all time. So even though it didn’t happen in the NBA, it makes the list.

Carter had a lot of impressive dunks in the Association, but none as dominant as this one from the 2000 Olympics. He didn’t just posterize France’s Frederic Weis, he hopped over him, clearing the entirety of his 7-foot-2 frame to slam it in.

Although some critics dismiss this dunk because it didn’t happen against NBA competition, Weis was no scrub. He was the 15th overall pick of the 1999 NBA Draft, and was a four-time All-Star in France. Jumping over him for a dunk seemed to be physically impossible.

But for Vince Carter in his heyday, “physically impossible” was just another term for something he hadn’t tried yet. And at 40 years old, he’s still making highlight-reel plays for the Kings. It would be great to see him in the dunk contest this year.

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