Greatest Dunkers in Basketball History
Who doesn't love slam dunks? Since the 1970s, when Dr. J and David Thompson first wowed us by playing high above the rim, basketball fans have been obsessed with dunking and its role in the game.
Worldwide, the phenomenon of dunking exists almost as a sport within the sport of basketball. Part of the reason for this is our curiosity to see how the best dunkers can push the boundaries of what we think is possible.
The greatest dunkers of all time come from many different arenas in basketball. Not just the NBA. And their slams turned them into legends.
30. Dennis Smith Jr.
Hometown/high school: Fayetteville, North Carolina/Trinity (N.C.) Christian School
Teams: North Carolina State (2016-17), Dallas Mavericks (2017-19), New York Knicks (2019-present)
Famous dunks: Off the Backboard (1:47), Sorry, Duke (1:09)
Bottom line: Dennis Smith Jr. burst onto the scene as an elite dunker in one season at North Carolina State. He created a simple, signature move from the jump: cocking the ball back as far as humanly possible.
Smith Jr., the ACC Freshman of the Year in 2017, was picked No. 9 overall by the Dallas Mavericks in the 2017 NBA draft. Now, he's soaring with the Knicks.
Dennis Smith Jr. Dunking
29. Josh Smith
Hometown/high school: College Park, Georgia/Oak Hill (Va.) Academy
Teams: Atlanta Hawks (2004-13), Detroit Pistons (2013-14), Houston Rockets (2014-15, 2016), Los Angeles Clippers (2015-16), Sichuan Blue Whales (2016-17), New Orleans Pelicans (2017)
Famous dunks: At the Buzzer (2:32), Like ’Nique (:18)
Bottom line: Josh Smith went right from high school to the NBA and was the Slam Dunk Contest champion in 2005, thanks to an homage dunk to former Atlanta Hawks star Dominique Wilkins — a leaning, two-handed windmill.
Smith also had a knack for clutch dunks, winning several games with swooping, follow jams at the buzzer, including a magnificent one-handed slam to beat the Magic in 2010.
Josh Smith Dunking
28. Spud Webb
Hometown/high school: Dallas, Texas/Wilmer-Hutchins High
Teams: Midland College (1981-83), North Carolina State (1983-85), Rhode Island Gulls (1985), Atlanta Hawks (1985-91), Sacramento Kings (1991-95), Atlanta Hawks (1995-96), Minnesota Timberwolves (1996), Italia Verona (1996-97), Orlando Magic (1998), Idaho Stampede (1998)
Famous dunks: Showtime Spud (1:03), Elevator Double Pump
Bottom line: From the moment Spud Webb stepped on a basketball court, people said he was too small. But Webb could dunk by the time he was 5-foot-3 and led Midland College to a junior-college national title in 1983.
He gained worldwide fame by defeating teammate Dominique Wilkins in the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, held in Webb’s hometown of Dallas.
Afterward, Wilkins told reporters: "I’d heard Spud could dunk, but never seen it until tonight."
Spud Webb Dunking
27. Baron Davis
Hometown/high school: Los Angeles, California/Crossroads School
Teams: UCLA (1997-99), Charlotte Hornets (1999-2002), Golden State Warriors (2005-08), Los Angeles Clippers (2009-11), Cleveland Cavaliers (2011), New York Knicks (2011-16), Delaware 87ers (2016)
Famous dunks: RIP, Andrei, UCLA Behind-the-Back
Bottom line: Baron Davis was known for his dunking ability by the time he came to UCLA as one of the nation’s top recruits in 1997.
He left college after two seasons, and the Charlotte Hornets selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1999 NBA draft.
In the 2007 NBA playoffs, playing for the Golden State Warriors, Davis was the author of one of the NBA’s greatest in-game dunks with his one-handed finish over Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko.
Baron Davis Dunking
26. Darryl Dawkins
Hometown/high school: Orlando, Florida/Maynard Evans High
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers (1975-82), New Jersey Nets (1982-87), Utah Jazz (1987), Detroit Pistons (1987-89), Auxilium Torino (1989-91), Olimpia Philips Milano (1991-92), Libertas Forli (1992-94), Harlem Globetrotters (1994-95), Sioux Falls Skyforce (1995-96), Winnipeg Cyclone (2000)
Famous dunks: Shattered: Part I (1:34), Shattered: Part II (1:47)
Bottom line: "Dr. Dunkenstein" made sure he would be on highlight reels for infinity when he shattered two backboards over a one-month stretch in 1979, first against the Kansas City Kings on the road and then again at home against the Spurs three weeks later.
Dawkins' furious dunks forced the NBA to institute a rule that breaking backboards would result in fines and suspensions.
Darryl Dawkins Dunking
25. T-Dub (Terry Cournoyea)
Hometown/high school: St. Paul, Minnesota/Johnson Senior High
Famous dunks: The 540 (:35), Touch the Sky (:38)
Bottom line: T-Dub was one of the first dunkers to go viral, with a mixtape posted on YouTube by Team Flight Brothers racking up over 15 million views in 2008.
T-Dub spends so much time hanging in the air that his dunks don’t even seem real the first time you watch them, due to his reported 53-inch vertical leap.
His 540-degree reverse at the 2010 Nike Dunk Contest is one of the greatest competition dunks. Ever.
T-Dub (Terry Cournoyea) Dunking
24. J.R. Smith
Hometown/high school: Freehold Borough, New Jersey/St. Benedict’s Prep
Teams: New Orleans Hornets (2004-06), Denver Nuggets (2006-11), Zheijang Golden Bulls (2011-12), New York Knicks (2012-15), Cleveland Cavaliers (2015-present)
Famous dunks: Under the Rim (1:48), 360-Degree Alley-Oop
Bottom line: Basketball fans now know J.R. Smith more for his off-court antics and being one of LeBron James’ sidekicks on the Cavaliers. But man, could he fly.
Early in his career, some of the dunks are hard to comprehend.
One memorable dunk came against the Timberwolves in 2010, when Smith adjusted mid-flight on an alley-oop, catching the ball mid-air, back to the basket, then turning back to face the hoop for the finish.
J.R. Smith Dunking
23. Nate Robinson
Hometown/High School: Seattle, Washington/Rainier Beach High
Teams: University of Washington (2002-05), New York Knicks (2005-10), Boston Celtics (2010-11), Oklahoma City Thunder (2011), Golden State Warriors (2012), Chicago Bulls (2012-13), Denver Nuggets (2013-15), Los Angeles Clippers (2015), New Orleans Pelicans (2015), Hapoel Tel Aviv (2016), Delaware 87ers (2017), Guaros de Lara (2017), Homeneten Beirut (2018-present)
Famous dunks: Follow That! (2:00), Jumping Over Spud (:55)
Bottom line: Nate Robinson, who went to the University of Washington on a football scholarship, is the only three-time winner in the history of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
In his first dunk contest win in 2006, Robinson wowed the crowd by bringing out former dunk champion Spud Webb and using him as a prop for a dunk.
Robinson wasn’t just a contest dunker, either, and made a reputation for electric follow dunks.
Nate Robinson Dunking
22. Blake Griffin
Hometown/high school: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma/Oklahoma Christian School
Teams: University of Oklahoma (2007-09), Los Angeles Clippers (2009-18), Detroit Pistons (2018-present)
Famous dunks: Watch Your Head (1:40), Throwdown (3:50)
Bottom line: Blake Griffin, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, burnished his reputation in college with a series of ferocious dunks, including against Syracuse in the NCAA tournament, when he smacked his head against the side of the backboard.
He won the 2011 NBA dunk contest, then created a previously unseen form of dunking in which you jump high enough to throw the ball down and into the basket.
Blake Griffin Dunking
21. Brittney Griner
Hometown/high school: Houston, Texas/Nimitz High
Teams: Baylor University (2009-13), Phoenix Mercury (2013-present), Zheijang Golden Bulls (2013-14), UMMC Ekaterinburg (2014-present)
Famous dunks: High School Slams, Just Hanging Out (:44)
Bottom line: Brittney Griner caused a sensation in high school when she dunked seven times in one game. The video generated over 5 million views on YouTube.
Griner makes the list because of sheer consistency as the first woman to dunk in games on a regular basis — from high school to college at Baylor and in the WNBA, where she was the No. 1 overall pick by the Phoenix Mercury in 2013.
Brittney Griner Dunking
20. Ronnie Fields
Hometown/high school: Chicago, Illinois/Farragut Academy
Teams: La Crosse Bobcats (1997-98), Rockford Lightning (1998-99, 2002-05), Tanduay Rhum Masters (1999), Pennsylvania Valley Dogs (1999-2000, 2003-04), Grand Rapids Hoops (2000), Chicago Skyliners (2000-02), Florida Sea Dragons (2001-02), Guaras de Lara (2003, 2007), PAOK Thessaloniki (2003), Tratamundos de Carabobo (2004-06), Delfines de Miranda (2004), Pinar Karsiyaka SK Ismir (2005), Blue Stars (2006), Minot Skyrockets (2007)
Famous dunks: Cradle Will Rock (:35), Up and Over (:15)
Bottom line: Ronnnie Fields is one of the great "what if" stories in basketball history.
A high school teammate of NBA legend Kevin Garnett, Fields was the only three-time Parade All-American and reportedly had a 50-inch vertical.
Fields always played above the rim, and his legendary dunk over future Illinois star Sergio McClain (literally, he jumped over him) is still whispered about in Chicago hoops circles.
Ronnie Fields Dunking
19. Mac McClung
Hometown/high school: Gate City, Virginia/Gate City High
Teams: Georgetown University (2018-present)
Famous dunks: Windmill Reverse Alley-Oop (1:20), Illini Reverse (3:45)
Bottom line: Mac McClung set the internet on fire in 2017 when a mixtape of his dunks went viral and turned the three-star recruit into one of the most well-known prep basketball players in the country.
Critics of his high school highlights thought that McClung’s bounce wouldn’t translate to the college level.
But one look at his freshman highlights from Georgetown shows that was not the case.
Mac McClung Dunking
18. Fran Belibi
Hometown/high school: Aurora, Colorado/Regis Jesuit High
Teams: Stanford University (Fall 2019)
Famous dunks: Sailing to State, The Champ
Bottom line: Fran Belibi likes to fly. Her coast-to-coast, one-handed, sailing dunk in the 2018 Colorado state championship game (which her team won) was an internet sensation. It also wasn’t the first time the Stanford signee (who has a 40-inch vertical) dunked in a game.
But what sets Belibi apart is the style in which she finishes her dunks, including an up-and-under move that won her the 2019 McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk Contest.
Fran Belibi Dunking
17. Zach Lavine
Hometown/high school: Bothell, Washington/Bothell High
Teams: UCLA (2013-14), Minnesota Timberwolves (2014-17), Chicago Bulls (2017-present)
Famous dunks: Space Jam (1:16), Free-Throw Line Windmill (1:55)
Bottom line: Zach Lavine’s dunking prowess was well-documented long before he was a star at UCLA and a two-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion.
The son of a former USFL and NFL player, Lavine turned his childhood obsession with the film "Space Jam" into a perfect "50" score in the 2015 dunk contest when he wore Michael Jordan’s No. 23 jersey from the movie for one of his dunks.
Zach Lavine Dunking
16. Isaiah 'J.R.' Rider
Hometown/high school: Oakland, California/Encinal High
Teams: Allen Community College (1989-90), Antelope Valley College (1990-91), UNLV (1991-93), Minnesota Timberwolves (1993-96), Portland Trail Blazers (1996-99), Atlanta Hawks (1999-2000), Los Angeles Lakers (2000-01), Denver Nuggets (2001)
Famous dunks: Rebel Yell, East Bay Funk Dunk (:20)
Bottom line: Rare is the dunker who can take credit for creating something unique. But that's what Isaiah Rider did.
His "East Bay Funk Dunk" in the 1994 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, which he won, represented a seismic shift in the dunking game when he put the ball between his legs before a dunk.
The dunk was so popular it even spawned a rap by Rider, "Funk in the Trunk," featured on the 1994 album "B-Ball’s Best Kept Secret," a compilation of raps by then-NBA players.
Isaiah 'J.R.' Rider Dunking
15. Tekele Cotton
Hometown/high school: Mableton, Georgia/Whitefield Academy
Teams: Wichita State University (2011-15), Riesen Ludwigsberg (2015-17), Fiat Torino (2017-present)
Famous dunks: Make You Stand Up, Clear Out
Bottom line: Tekele Cotton is a fearless, undersized dunker who played on the great Wichita State teams of the early 2010s with future NBA players Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker.
Over a three-year run that included an undefeated regular season, Sweet 16 and Final Four, no one filled up the highlight reel like Cotton, who can count his name alongside the greatest in-game dunkers in history.
Roll the tape. Now you know.
Tekele Cotton Dunking
14. Tom Chambers
Hometown/high school: Ogden, Utah/Fairview (Colo.) High
Teams: University of Utah (1977-81), San Diego Clippers (1981-83), Seattle SuperSonics (1983-88), Phoenix Suns (1988-93), Utah Jazz (1993-95), Maccabi Tel Aviv (1995-96), Charlotte Hornets (1997), Philadelphia 76ers (1997)
Famous dunks: The One Over Mark Jackson, The One Over the Lakers (4:10)
Bottom line: Tom Chambers is best known for his legendary 1989 slam over Mark Jackson, when he finished the dunk with most of his upper body above the rim. The dunk was commemorated with a statue when Chambers was inducted into the Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor.
He also was great dunking in traffic and with contact, where he had the instincts (and size) to absorb the foul and finish the play. Usually with a reverse slam.
Tom Chambers Dunking
13. Kobe Bryant
Hometown/high school: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania/Lower Merion High
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers (1996-2016)
Famous dunks: Around the World (2:35), Over Yao (12:15)
Bottom line: Kobe Bryant won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie in 1997, but what separated him from the pack were his in-game dunks. Specifically, how much he relished dunking on people.
At times, it felt like he was just checking names off of a list. And the 18-time NBA All-Star seemed to enjoy dunking on the other team’s center more than anything.
For proof, look no further than his mind-blowing dunk over 7-foot-6 Houston center Yao Ming.
Kobe Bryant Dunking
12. Clyde Drexler
Hometown/high school: Houston, Texas/Ross Sterling High
Teams: University of Houston (1980-83), Portland Trail Blazers (1983-95), Houston Rockets (1995-98)
Famous dunks: Leaping Over Andre, Over the Admiral (1:44)
Bottom line: Clyde Drexler was part of the University of Houston’s legendary "Phi Slama Jama" fraternity in the early 1980s, when he famously jumped over Memphis State’s Andre Turner.
It’s also at Houston where Drexler earned the nickname "Clyde the Glide" because of the ease with which he dunked the ball.
His favorite move was leaping in the air, waiting for contact, then adjusting the dunk to that contact.
Clyde Drexler Dunking
11. Zion Williamson
Hometown/high school: Spartanburg, South Carolina/Spartanburg Day School
Teams: Duke University (2018-present)
Famous dunks: Windmill Alley-Oop (2:30), Clemson 360
Bottom line: Zion Williamson’s name and dunking have gone together since his freshman year of high school.
The remarkable thing about watching Williamson dunk is his hang time, combined with his size and weight — it’s striking to see a 285-pounder flying through the air like he does.
But Zion has more than power, as evidenced by his 360 dunk against Clemson and his wide array of windmill-style dunks.
Zion Williamson Dunking
10. Jordan Kilganon
Hometown/high school: Sudbury, Ontario, Canada/Ecole Secondaire du Sacre Coeur
Famous dunks: The Scorpion (:20), Lost and Found
Bottom line: Jordan Kilganon grabbed headlines by performing his no-look "Scorpion" dunk, in jeans, during a commercial break at the 2016 NBA All-Star Game. The dunk wowed All-Stars and rapper Drake, who was sitting courtside.
Kilganon has a 50-inch vertical leap and never played college basketball. He is a professional dunker and travels around the world for dunk contests.
One of his creations, "Lost and Found," is considered almost impossible to replicate.
Jordan Kilganon Dunking
9. David Thompson
Hometown/high school: Shelby, North Carolina/Crest High
Teams: North Carolina State (1972-75), Denver Nuggets (1975-82), Seattle Supersonics (1982-84)
Famous dunks: Follow Dunk (:20), Baseline 360 (:45)
Bottom line: Michael Jordan has credited David Thompson for being his inspiration to become a great player (and dunker), going as far as having Thompson do his Hall of Fame introduction speech in 2009.
Thompson and North Carolina State teammate Monte Towe are even sometimes given credit for inventing the alley-oop dunk to take advantage of Thompson’s 50-inch vertical.
Credit Thompson, always, as one of the players who brought dunking to the mainstream.
David Thompson Dunking
8. Dominique Wilkins
Hometown/high school: Washington, North Carolina/Washington High
Teams: University of Georgia (1979-82), Atlanta Hawks (1982-94), Los Angeles Clippers (1994), Boston Celtics (1994-95), Panathinaikos (1995-96), San Antonio Spurs (1996-97), Fortitudo Bologna (1997-98), Orlando Magic (1999)
Famous dunks: Dunking on Entire Team (1:47), Two-Handed Windmill
Bottom line: Dominique Wilkins is one of the NBA’s greatest dunkers, with one of the game's greatest nicknames: "The Human Highlight Film."
He’s one of five players with multiple NBA Slam Dunk Contest titles, winning in 1985 and 1990. And his runner-up finishes to Michael Jordan in 1987 and 1988 were arguably the greatest dunk contests ever.
'Nique’s signature dunks were earth-shaking windmills.
Dominique Wilkins Dunking
7. Allen Iverson
Hometown/high school: Hampton, Virginia/Bethel High
Teams: Georgetown University (1994-96), Philadelphia 76ers (1996-2006), Denver Nuggets (2006-08), Detroit Pistons (2008-09), Memphis Grizzlies (2009),
Famous dunks: Arizona Up-and-Under (1:24), Over the Top
Bottom line: Allen Iverson, the shortest dunker in our top 10, took things to the next level in two years at Georgetown, where the sight of the skinny guard dunking on giants began to change how people looked at the game itself.
Iverson was at his best dunking on putbacks, where his quickness off the ground didn’t give defenders time to react. Until it was too late.
Allen Iverson Dunking
6. Julius “Dr. J.” Erving
Hometown/high school: Roosevelt, New York/Roosevelt High
Teams: University of Massachusetts (1969-71), Virginia Squires (1971-73), New York Nets (1973-76), Philadelphia 76ers (1976-87)
Famous dunks: FT line ’76 (1:30), Rock the Baby (:20)
Bottom line: The 1-2 punch of Julius Erving and David Thompson in the ABA in the mid-70s is the reason dunking became mainstream.
Erving’s dunk from the free-throw line in the 1976 ABA Slam Dunk Contest represented a quantum leap in dunk contests.
His "Rock the Baby" dunk over the Lakers' Michael Cooper in 1983 is one of the greatest in-game dunks of all time.
Julius “Dr. J.” Erving Dunking
5. Shawn Kemp
Hometown/high school: Elkhart, Indiana/Concord High
Teams: Seattle SuperSonics (1989-97), Cleveland Cavaliers (1997-2000), Portland Trail Blazers (2000-02), Orlando Magic (2002-03)
Famous dunks:Double-Pump Reverse (1:49), Dunk and Point (2:17)
Bottom line: Shawn Kemp’s freakish size and athleticism made trying to stop him at the rim almost impossible in his prime.
He saved his most outlandish dunks for games, including rocking the ball back, almost like a baseball pitcher, before punching it in a blur.
Kemp seemed to thrive off mid-air contact, giving him the chance to improvise and contort his body on the way to the hoop.
Shawn Kemp Dunking
4. Michael Jordan
Hometown/high school: Wilmington, North Carolina/Laney High
Teams: University of North Carolina (1981-84), Chicago Bulls (1984-93, 1995-98), Washington Wizards (2001-03)
Famous dunks: Free-Throw Line '88 (1:15), On Ewing
Bottom line: Early in Michael Jordan’s career, he was known almost purely as a dunker after winning back-to-back NBA Slam Dunk Contests in 1987 and 1988.
Then, he flipped the script and won six NBA titles in his last six full seasons with the Bulls.
Jordan’s most famous dunk was his leap from the free-throw line in 1988, and a closer look shows he could’ve jumped from further out than he did.
Michael Jordan Dunking
3. LeBron James
Hometown/high school: Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent-St. Mary High
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-2010, 2014-2018), Miami Heat (2010-2014), Los Angeles Lakers (2018-present)
Famous dunks:Through the Legs (1:13), Mid-Air Collision (2:51)
Bottom line: LeBron James, the 2003 McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk Contest champion, was doing contest-level dunks in high school, including a famous, through-the-legs slam.
James never participated in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest but, like Kobe Bryant, has seemed determined to dunk on every opponent dumb enough to contest him at the rim.
James, eye-to-eye with the rim and ready to ruin another opponent’s day, is a familiar sight for NBA fans over the last 17 seasons.
LeBron James Dunking
2. The Air Up There (Taurian Fontenette)
Hometown/high school: Hitchcock, Texas/Hitchcock High
Teams: University of Texas El-Paso (2000-01), Richland College (2001-04), Paul Quinn College (2004-05), Dallas Generals (2009-10)
Famous dunks: The 720, The Axle-Rider (1:20)
Bottom line: The Air Up There’s college career was all just preamble to the dunking legend he would become. His rise came in step with the explosion of social media in the mid-2000s, and his timing was perfect.
He first traveled with the And1 Mixtape Tour and recorded the first known 720 dunk (two full spins).
His signature move is "The Axle-Rider," a 360 with the ball going between the legs on the spin.
The Air Up There (Taurian Fontenette) Dunking
1. Vince Carter
Hometown/high school: Daytona Beach, Florida/Mainland High
Teams: University of North Carolina (1995-98), Toronto Raptors (1998-2004), New Jersey Nets (2004-09), Orlando Magic (2009-10), Phoenix Suns (2010-11), Dallas Mavericks (2011-14), Memphis Grizzlies (2014-17), Sacramento Kings (2017-18), Atlanta Hawks (2018-present)
Famous dunks:High School Dunks, Best UNC dunks, Le Dunk La Mort ("The Dunk of Death"), 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest
Bottom line: Vince Carter sits alone as the greatest dunker of all time.
At Daytona Beach’s Mainland High, grainy video of his dunks began to filter out to the masses, and his rep was burnished by three highlight-filled seasons at the University of North Carolina.
In 2000, he cemented his status as the best to ever do it with his breathtaking performance in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, then at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, when he jumped over 7-foot-2 French center Frederic Weis. French media labeled the play "le dunk la mort," which translates to "the dunk of death."
That says it all.
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Vince Carter Dunking