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Ranking the 12 Greatest Dunkers in NBA History

The Big Lead logo The Big Lead 3/7/2018 Andy Nesbitt

Let's forget about the debate over who is the best player to ever play the game (it's Michael Jordan) for a moment.

And instead, let's celebrate the art of the dunk. Here are the 12 best NBA players to ever rise up and throw one down.

12. Spud Webb

a person standing in front of a large crowd watching a game: Getty © Getty Getty

When you're 5-foot-7 and you win the NBA Dunk Contest (1986) you make this list. It's as easy as that.

11. Larry Nance

a basketball player in front of a crowd: Getty © Getty Getty

Who did Larry Nance edge in the finals to win the first NBA Dunk Contest in 1984? Oh, just Julius Erving. No big deal.

10. Darryl Dawkins

a man holding a basketball: Getty © Getty Getty

The big man might not have been the most artistic dunker but boy was he a powerful one. Dawkins didn't just damage backboards back in the day, he absolutely shattered them with his two-handed slams.

9. Shaquille O'Neal

a man jumping in the air in front of a crowd: Getty © Getty Getty

Like Darryl Dawkins before him, backboards were not safe when Shaq was around. He broke a few during his early days with the Magic and then continued to throw down monstrous dunks throughout his legendary career.

8. LeBron James

a man jumping in the air on a stage in front of a crowd: Getty © Getty Getty

While we've never seen LeBron James in a dunk contest, any time he takes off toward the hoop it becomes must-see TV.

7. Blake Griffin 

a group of people performing on stage in front of a crowd: Getty © Getty Getty

It's been a while since we've seen Griffin take part in a dunk contest but remember that time he won one by jumping over a car? Yeah, that was awesome.

6. Shawn Kemp

Getty © Getty Getty

Back during his days with the Sonics there might not have been a more exciting dunker in the game than Kemp. At 6-foot-10, he was could run the floor with the best of them, take a pass from Gary Payton, and absolutely embarrass defenders with high-flying dunks that left everyone in awe.

5. Kobe Bryant 

a crowd of people watching a baseball game: Getty © Getty Getty

Kobe Bryant was just a 19-year-old rookie when he stole the show at the 1997 dunk contest. The rest is history from there, as he became one of the greatest to ever play the game and one of the best dunkers who did his best work when a game was on the line.

4. Vince Carter

a group of men playing a game of basketball: Getty © Getty Getty

While Carter is still doing it at age 40, nobody will ever forget what he did in the 2000 dunk contest. Or what he did to that 7-foot-2 center from France in the Sydney Olympics. Poor guy.

3. Dominique Wilkins

Getty © Getty Getty

"The Human Highlight Film" could flat-out fly. He won two dunk contests and narrowly lost a third when he and Michael Jordan put on a show in what might have been the best dunk contest ever in Chicago in 1988. Dominique in the open floor during a game was something to be seen.

2. Julius Erving 

a crowd of people at a basketball game: Getty © Getty Getty

Dr. J lived above the rim and made dunking the art form that it later became. It's almost impossible to forget that time he took off from the foul line in 1984 and threw one down.

1. Michael Jordan 

a basketball player jumping up in the air: Getty © Getty Getty

Jordan's high-flying game mesmerized fans well before he started racking up all those championships. And even then, when his fall-away jumpers became absolutely lethal, Michael Jordan could dunk on anyone at any time - just ask John Starks and Patrick Ewing. Nobody did it better than His Airness.


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