Home Sports From Vince Carter to Michael Jordan: Dunk contests that defined the competition

From Vince Carter to Michael Jordan: Dunk contests that defined the competition

From Vince Carter to Michael Jordan: Dunk contests that defined the competition


On Saturday, four high-flying dunkers will participate in the 2024 NBA AT&T Slam Dunk Contest.

This year’s contest will feature Miami Heat rookie forward Jaime Jaquez Jr., Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, New York Knicks rookie forward Jacob Toppin, and defending champion Mac McClung of the Osceola Magic, the G-League affiliate of the Orlando Magic.

Though the dunk contest can contain varying degrees of star power from year to year, that doesn’t erase the history of the competition. Whether it’s Dwight Howard dressing up as Superman for a soaring slam or Gerald Green blowing out a candle on a cupcake mid-dunk, there are moments from this contest that live in the minds of fans long after a champion is crowned.

Here are some of the most memorable dunk contests:

2016, Toronto

Aaron Gordon kicked things off with a reverse between-the-legs jam. Zach LaVine matched the energy by tossing himself an alley-oop for a reverse behind-the-back slam.

The stakes increased each round: Gordon introduced Stuff the Magic Dragon — the Magic’s mascot — in a dunk that required him to jump over the mascot while performing a three-sixty Eastbay slam. LaVine followed up with an alley-oop from Andre Miller from the free-throw line.

With the aid of Stuff the Magic Dragon again, Gordon did something fans hadn’t seen before in a dunk contest. Stuff spun in a circle on a hoverboard with the ball in his left hand like a statue. After timing his next move, Gordon cuffed the ball while doing a tomahawk 360 before slamming it through the hoop.

LaVine and Gordon both earned perfect scores in three of the four championship rounds. The contest ended when Gordon received a 47 on a fake tomahawk backward dunk, and LaVine scored a 50 on a between-the-legs dunk from the free throw line to capture the win.

2000, Oakland

Since the NBA didn’t have an All-Star Weekend in 1999 because of a lockout, the league went big for its return.

What would be bigger than Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady?

Both dunkers fired the building up with their first attempts, each earning 50s. McGrady’s consisted of a self-alley-oop with a reverse double-pump dunk. Carter matched his then-Toronto Raptors teammate with a 360 windmill.

“I feel good, I’ve done it about two or three times in my life before that,” Carter said after the dunk. “I didn’t practice, that was a winger but it felt good.”

The famous “it’s over” quote came from Carter’s third dunk of the competition. Aided by McGrady, who bounced the ball off the ground, Carter caught the ball in mid-air to put it between his legs. He also performed a dunk where he stuck his elbow in the rim.

Carter won with 98 points compared to Steve Francis’ 91 and McGrady’s 77.

1997, Cleveland

After entering the league from Lower Merion High School, Kobe Bryant competed in the dunk contest at just 18 years old.

Bryant missed two dunks, which put a lot of pressure on the rookie. But a 49 from a between-the-legs dunk kept him in the competition.

Bryant’s 49 etched his name in the history books as the youngest player to win a dunk contest.

1988, Chicago

Representing the home team, the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan was up against a formidable lineup of dunkers that included Dominique Wilkins, also known as the “Human Highlight Reel,” Clyde Drexler, Spud Webb, Otis Smith and Greg Anderson. But all eyes were focused on the duel between Wilkins and Jordan.

Wilkins and Jordan exchanged perfect scores in the final round. The judges gave Jordan a 47 on his two-handed “rock the cradle” dunk and Wilkins a 45 for his two-handed windmill.

Wilkins finished the competition with 145 points, with Jordan still having one more dunk attempt. He needed to score a 49 to win the contest.

Imitating Julius Erving with his famous free throw line dunk, Jordan personalized the play by sticking his tongue out and holding a pose while he floated in the air, earning a perfect score and the title of 1988 Slam Dunk Contest champion.

1986, Dallas

Standing at 5-foot-7, Webb had to go against a lineup boasting an average height of 6-foot-7.

In the final, Webb went head-to-head with Wilkins — his teammate and reigning Slam Dunk contest champion. Webb posted two perfect dunks to put pressure on Wilkins. On his last attempt, the 6-foot-7 forward threw down a two-handed windmill that only received a 48, causing him to finish in second place.

“He put on a great show. … He had some dunks I didn’t think he had and he went after it pretty hard [and] he had some dunks off the rim that, hey, a lot of guys that’s 6-foot-7 wouldn’t be able to dunk,” Wilkins said.

1976, Denver

The 1976 dunk contest was the first professional dunk contest held by the ABA before the NBA introduced their first in 1977. Dunk contests then had strict rules. Each participant had five dunks they would perform, two of which were mandatory and three they could freestyle on.

For his standing dunk, Julius Erving took two basketballs and dunked them backward and immediately started measuring his steps from the free throw line.

Erving approached the foul line and took three strides before taking off into the air and dunking the ball.

“Doc’s hair was flying back,” George Gervin said, referring to Erving’s afro.


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