Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Greatest Dunkers of All-Time

Two things got me thinking about this topic. 1) The Slam Dunk Contest at the AAC during All-Star week, and 2) last week's blog post about attacking the rim. In response to one commenter, I asked him to list his top 50 dunkers ever. Then I thought "Wait a minute. I'm the seasoned, professional reporter here. Why don't I compile MY list of the greatest dunkers ever?" I talked myself into it.

I decided that ranking the top 50 would be too much. Does anyone, even an expert like myself, really know who the 47th and 48th best dunkers would be, and why I would put them in those slots and in that order? How about a simple top 10--with a few honorable mention categories? Sound good? It better, because that's what your about to sink your teeth into as long as you stay with this now world-famous blog.*

*World famous? I received an email from a reader in--get this--Canada! He was very complimentary of my work. Reaching across borders to promote world peace through sports observations--that's what I do.

My credentials: I've been studying dunks and dunkers for almost 40 years. I played countless games of pickup ball in college with my roomies against 8th graders on the dunkball courts in Denton (by Denia Rec Center--8 1/2 foot rims--perfect for 6 foot white guys to throw down on). I also (in college) was able to dunk a tennis ball on regulation 10-foot rims. I've seen every dunk contest from the original ABA classic in Denver to the recent farce in Dallas. The dunk is still the best moment in sports for me--better than a home run, a running back hitting the seam, a Tour stage winner punching the sky, or a close-up of a cheerleader's heaving bosom.

I've taken into account not only a player's ability and artistry, but his place in dunking history. So, with apologies to LeBron, Kobe, Shaq, and Darrell Griffith, here is the list:



I struggled with putting Spud in the top 10, but decided that what he did in the 1986 Dunk Contest was enough to earn this spot. His dunks would have been pedestrian had they been performed by a 6'7 guy, but because they were done by a 5'7 guy, they were spectacular. My friends and I were punching each other in the shoulder (and sometimes accidentally in the face) after each of his dunks. Couldn't believe it. I'm not sure if inch-for-inch he had the greatest hops ever, but he's got to be in the discussion. Gets the nod over Nate Robinson because Nate has a whopping two, maybe three, inches on The Hutch's own.


Nicknamed "Dr. Dunk", Hillman was better known for his huge afro (which was actually voted greatest afro in ABA history at the ABA Reunion in 1997). Hillman was 6'9 and a could dunk with either great grace or great force. He was a wonderful defender, and had he been a better offensive player (10 ppg and 7 rpg career averages) his legend as a dunker would be even larger than his afro.


One of the great power dunkers ever, with one of the greatest nicknames ever--Chocolate Thunder. I loved Dawkins. All he wanted to do was tear down the backboard, and he did just that in 1979--he dunked so hard that he shattered the glass in Kansas City, sending the late (now, not then) Bill Robinzine realing in a sea of fiberglass bits. Dawkins had nicknames for all of his specialty dunks, and he called that one his "Chocolate Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaking-I-Am-Jam." How can you not love a guy like that? For good measure, he broke another backboard three weeks later, prompting the league to issue fines for any more broken backboards. His power dunks also helped bring about the collapsable rim. Talk about an impact dunker. (Odd note: Darryl Dawkins never appeared in a dunk contest, yet Johnny Dawkins did)


Had more ferocious dunks than (insert baby joke here). Was a man-child. Dunked harder than even Dawkins did. Posterized so many players--it's impossible to count them all. 6'10, 280, and ridiculously explosive. If they had a little wattage counter on the rims, I'm sure Kemp would have recorded the most powerful dunks of all-time. I'm also sure that Kemp made more than one NBA player cry after slamming on him.


I wish Richardson were a more complete player, because he's one of my favorite pure athletes to watch. He moves with an ease that is mesmorizing. He's a former Dunk Contest champ, and that's probably his lasting legacy. Important note: Richardson is 6'6, which I believe is the perfect height for a dunker. Tall enough to perform any dunk with ease, yet short enough to make it look like you are really flying through the air. This dunk-height theory of mine can't be disputed.


You can argue that Carter is the most accomplished dunker ever, and you would have a pretty good argument. He really is a phenominal throw-down artist. He's a cut above Richardson as a player, and a dunker. But each will have a similar legacy--one of spectacular dunker and not-so-spectacular winner. But this is just about dunking, and trying to pick Vinsanity's best dunk is a futile effort. There is a 100-way tie for first. I think he has the most Dunk Contest-like-dunks performed in actual games than any player in history. 360, windmill, reverse, tomahawk--YouTube his dunks and you will see an endless loop of these types and more. Most of them finished on Dikembe Mutombo.


You think Brent Musberger goes crazy over Colt McCoy? Then you never heard Brent do a David Thompson game in the 70's. Thompson splashed onto the NBA scene right when Star Wars came out, and DT quickly earned the moniker "Skywalker" (a nickname that Kenny Walker never should have accepted, just like Jerry Reynolds never should have been called "Ice"). I bet Brent called Thompson "Skywalker" no less than one million times during the random Nuggets vs Whoever game I was watching when I was 12. But it worked on me. Having never seen Thompson play in college, and having only read about him and listened to the his games on the radio during his ABA days, I was in love.

Two legendary Thompson dunk stories:

1) The alley-oop was invented for Thompson. At N.C. State, Monte Towe and Thompson perfected the lob pass to the rim (by Towe) and the catch and flush (by Thompson). Nobody had done this before, and it became an unstoppable staple of the Wolfpack offense. Unfortunately, Thompson played college ball during the period when the dunk was outlawed (post Alcindor)--the worst rule in the history of college sports. So the in-game alley-oops were finished with Thompson catching at the rim and laying it in. But that rule led to my favorite dunk story of all-time...

2) Thompson's senior year. He hasn't dunked in a game all year, because of the rules. Early in the 2nd half of a late-season game against UNCC, he drives the length of the floor, rises, and slam dunks. He gets a technical foul, and the basket doesn't count. But the home crowd goes absolutley bananas. To try to comprehend the crowd's euphoria, think of it this way: you are married to the hottest woman on earth, but on your wedding day you are told you can't touch her for 5 years. Then, after 3 years of having to live with her and look at her but not touch her, she surprises you in the bedroom one night when she pounces on you and asks you to make love to her. This is the feeling of surprise/ecstasy that the Wolfpack faithful had that night. They knew they had one of the greatest dunkers ever on their team, but they never got to see him dunk. Then, out of nowhere, he flips the bird to the NCAA and dunks--hard--in a game. I would have paid a lot of money to be there that night.

Oh, and Michael Jordan has said that David Thompson was his idol growing up. Enough said.


My favorite dunk ever was authored by Dr. J. It happened in January of 1983 (not in the playoffs as many think) in a game between the Sixers and Lakers in Philly. Erving steals the ball at midcourt, has only Michael Cooper to beat, takes a wide angle to the rim, cups the ball, rocks the cradle, and delivers the single most beautiful dunk in NBA history as he rises while Cooper ducks out of the way. The crowd goes ape.

Here is a link to utter perfection

I love the poetry of the motion--the crowd rises, the Doc rises, Cooper fades, the flash goes off right as he dunks--it's perfect. It will always be my favorite dunk.

Erving was the first legendary dunker. His exploits at the ABA Dunk Contest in '76 are well known; his famous take-off-from-the-foul-line-dunk is probably the most famous dunk ever. He had massive hands which allowed him to do crazy things with the ball. We missed his best stuff (or stuffs), which occured when a younger, higher-flying Erving dominated the ABA.


Air. Jordan. You know the rest of the story.


My pick for the best all-around dunker in the history of recorded time. His nickname says it all: The Human Highlight Film. He was so explosive, his dunks so violent, his hops so great, and his moves so many that he earns the coveted top spot in my rankings with ease. Nique seemed to hang in the air longer than any of the great dunkers. His signature dunk was the double-pump, where he would go up for the dunk, bring the ball back down as far below his waste as he could, then bring it back up for the actual stuff--sometimes doing this while adding the 360 element to it.

Wilkins was born to dunk. He never seemed at ease doing anything else on the court--didn't have a smooth jumper, looked uncomfortable on defense--but when he dunked, it was sublime. If I could only watch one person dunk for the rest of my life, it would be Nique.

Coming Soon: The Best White Dunkers (Brent Barry, Rex Chapman, Dan Marjle), The Best Lebanese/Greek Dunkers (Rony Seikaly and nobody else) and The Best Mavericks Dunkers (Tony Dumas) and The Best Dunkers Drafted By The Mavericks Who Never Played For The Mavericks (Terence Stansbury).


  1. What about the Dunking Dutchman Rick Smits?

    With all due respect, the only person that could debatably be added is Larry Nance. That dude was filthy.

  2. Nice.

    An honorable mention should go to Larry Johnson
    who came in second in 1992. He flopped in the
    finals but his first two rounds were epic. He
    dunked with more power than had ever been seen
    before. He did one dunk that I've never seen
    repeated. He came baseline, tapped the ball on
    the glass on one side of the rim, pulled it down
    and threw down a monster two handed backwards
    jam on the other side.

    Check 1:44 and 3:15

  3. I like your top 10. One dunk you failed to mention that might be top 5 of alll time maybe number one. Although it was not a NBA game, Vince Carter's Olympic dunk over a 7 footer in the Athens games was mind blowing. We have seen many guys do that in the dunk contest, but to actually do it in the game. Greatest in game dunk of all time.

  4. What about Mavs Man?


  5. Putting Vince Carter 5th is a disgrase to basketball.... hands down the greatest dunker of all time