The Best Slam Dunks In NBA History
The best slam dunks are those moments NBA fans wait the whole game for. Slam it, jam it, throw it down and put it on a poster. Nothing gets the blood flowing and the crowd going like a monster dunk.
Between the regular season, NBA playoffs and the Slam Dunk Contest, hundreds of mesmerizing jams have blown our minds over the years. It’s no easy task to rank such an array of athletic feats, so let’s simply appreciate these 30 legendary slams in all their glory.
For the record, none of Blake Griffin’s “dunks” will appear on this list. Throwing the ball into the hoop without actually touching the rim does not count as a dunk. Reality check, basketball fam.
1. Julius Erving Injects Some Flavor
This is not only one of the best slam dunks, it’s one of the most iconic moments in NBA history.
Julius Erving is responsible for helping to popularize basketball in its early years. He played with the ABA and through the NBA merger. A move now known as “Rock the Baby” will forever be synonymous with Dr. J’s superior flow.
Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers were on defense in the final moments of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers when Dr. J picked off the ball and transitioned to a fast break. With one of the league’s toughest defenders, Michael Cooper, coming after him, Erving palmed the ball, rocking it from one side to other.
Erving circled the ball around Cooper and threw it down for an all-time classic slam.
2. Kobe Bryant Baptizes Superman
Before he was Superman, the Orlando Magic’s future All-Star center was a rookie who simply went by the name Dwight Howard.
The video below contains footage of pastor Kobe Bryant’s trip to Orlando to baptize the young center. Likely, this is the Sacramental basketball that dunked Howard’s head, welcoming him to NBA life under his new name, Superman.
Kobe played such a pivotal role in welcoming Howard to the NBA. Who’d have thought that when he eventually brought the center to Los Angeles the two would end up not getting along?!
If there’s one real takeaway from this moment, it’s to stay out of the restricted area. That place is like a baller graveyard.
3. Zach LaVine Takes 2016 Slam Dunk Contest Crown
The 2016 Slam Dunk Contest will forever go down as a momentous occasion in the evolution of the slam dunk. This particular jam by then-Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine sealed his victory over Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon. And what a victorious dunk it was.
LaVine took off from just inside the free throw line for a between the legs dunk. For reference, the horizontal distance (measured along the floor) between the free throw line and backboard is 15 feet. LaVine leapt 15 feet through the air AND put the ball between his legs. Holy hops, that man can fly.
Even more incredible, this isn’t the only jam to make the list from that unforgettable night.
4. JR Smith Takes Flight
“Don’t be a hero.” The number of times those words have been spoken always seems to be greater than the number of people willing to listen.
While J.R. Smith has been known as an eccentric personality throughout his basketball career, he’s also recognized as an incredibly gifted athlete. Whenever Swish felt like turning up the athleticism, he’d flip the switch and blow fans’ minds.
One of those beautiful moments in Smith’s time with the Denver Nuggets came against the San Antonio Spurs. Unfortunately for the Spurs’ Gary Neal, Smith ignored the adage to not be a hero. An attempt to take a charge ended up making the J.R. Swish highlight reel.
Gary Neal’s soul left the building that night. No word on whether its ever been laid to rest.
5. Vince Carter’s Le Dunk De La Mort
“The dunk of death.”
This aptly named dunk is the only one to make the list that was not actually in an NBA game or event. Vince Carter’s jam with Team USA against France in the 2000 Olympics is arguably the greatest in-game dunk of all time.
Leaving this off a list of the best slam dunks is a crime no one should be willing to commit.
Vince Carter unleashed the Vinsanity on 7’2″ French center Frederic Weis as he leapt over the center for an earth-shattering dunk.
Little did Weis know that getting a taste of Carter’s special delivery would prove more poisonous than a puffer fish. The New York Knicks had selected Weis with the 15th overall pick. As the story goes, this single moment kept the first-round pick from ever getting the chance to make an NBA appearance.
As for Carter, the Half-Man/Half-Amazing has blessed basketball with some of the best slam dunks of all time.
6. Nate Robinson’s Putback With Some Heat
No matter the team he played on, fans could always root for Nate Robinson. The 5’9″ point guard used every possible second of court time to showcase his athletic prowess. Even after winning three Slam Dunk Contests, his hops never looked any less amazing.
When Robinson’s Knicks visited the Miami Heat, a missed layup gave him a beautiful window to show off the bunnies. Miami’s Daequan Cook was the unfortunate victim of this putback slam. Judging by Robinson’s primal scream, Cook was well aware he just got put on the wrong end of a poster.
7. Kobe Rings Big Ben’s Bell
Kobe Bryant could make a feature film of his epic jams over the years. Still, his very first poster was a dunk for the ages.
As if Kobe’s first disrespectful dunk on an opponent wasn’t exciting enough, it happened to be on Ben Wallace… the same Big Ben that would finish his NBA career with four Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Whether he asked for it or not, Big Ben got himself baptized by young Kobe. And who knows, maybe this is the moment Big Ben was reborn as an elite defender? One can only look to Wallace’s incredible career once he was long gone from Washington. After all, Wallace went on to enjoy a fantastic career in Detroit.
Still, watching Wallace scrape himself up off the floor in this video never gets any easier.
8. Larry Nance Jr Dunks On Future Teammate Brook Lopez
This dunk came in a game between the team with the worst (Nets) and third worst (Lakers) record in the league for the 2016-17 season. At least some good came out of the game – one of the best slam dunks of the year.
When Larry Nance Jr. sees an open lane, he takes it. The only man left between Nance and the basket is Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez. In hindsight, Lopez likely would’ve made sure to give Nance all the room he needed for this throwdown.
The only thing better than Lopez getting posterized is the Lakers’ reactions. Timofey Mozgov runs back with his hands on his head in disbelief. The bench goes bananas. Even a closeup of Nance reveals how blown away he looks by what just happened.
In the offseason, the Lopez was traded to Los Angeles and found himself a new teammate of Nance’s. That likely made for some nice conversation.
9. Gerald Green Defies Gravity
If there is an argument that our current understanding of physics is wrong, then NBA journeyman Gerald Green is Case A-Z. Green bends the rules of gravity; his vertical is probably what the result of successfully replacing one’s calves with springs would look like.
The 2007 Slam Dunk Contest champion has delivered countless showstoppers. But even among the best slam dunks, Green’s windmill alley-oop simply doesn’t make sense.
Good googly-moogly. Green is literally looking down at the hoop he’s about eviscerate. MarShon Brooks may not have lived up to the hype as many hoped, but we can all thank him for this perfect lob.
Rumor has it, Green intentionally removed a digit on his hand to get rid of excess weight. Not really, but a ridiculous superhero deserves a ridiculous backstory.
10. LeBron James Sacrifices Jason Terry
Celtics fans still replay this atrocity over and over. This meeting between the Heat and Celtics near the end of the 2012-13 season included LeBron James murdering Jason Terry. Thousands of Boston fans and police were so stunned when LeBron took a life that no arrests were made.
Watching this dunk is like seeing two cars on a collision course heading for one another. It’s imminent, but no amount of screaming will change what’s about to happen. All that can be done is to helplessly watch the impact from afar.
A lot of people lost their innocence in this moment.
11. Michael Jordan Defines Best Slam Dunks
There are a number of monster dunks that have become career defining moments. Yet this one by basketball icon Michael Jordan arguably tops them all. Jordan is by no means the only player in the NBA to have made the leap of faith from the free throw line, but this. is. Jumpman.
Sit back and marvel at the moment that won MJ the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest.
Jordan needed a 49 to beat Dominique Wilkins. This flawless form went for 50. The tongue out, arm extended and legs outstretched turned into what is now known as the world famous Jumpman logo.
This one dunk transformed into the iconic Air Jordan and Jordan Brand. Now that’s a defining moment.
12. Blowing Stuff the Magic Dragon’s Mind
The scoring at the Slam Dunk Contest has left fans scratching their heads plenty of times (*ahem* Blake Griffin’s “car jump”). When Aaron Gordon pulled this stunt off, but still failed to beat out Zach LaVine for the 2016 Slam Dunk title, many were left crying foul.
Orlando’s mascot, Stuff the Magic Dragon, may have a permanently shocked expression painted on his face, but his reaction to AG taking flight perfectly reflected how blown away the crowd was in that moment.
There’s so much to say about this slam dunk, but in a word, “wow” will do just fine.
13. Shawn Kemp Dunks On Alton Lister
Shawn Kemp’s NBA career could be boiled down to one highlight reel of insane displays of athleticism and a whole bunch of power dunks.
When it was time for lift off, everyone on defense knew to get out of the way.
Unfortunately, Alton Lister did not get the memo.
With the Seattle Supersonics playing the Golden State Warriors at home, fans got an extra special treat. Lister apparently thought stepping in front of a freight train sounded like a great idea.
It totally was… for everyone except him.
Kemp dunked Lister into another dimension. As the barely conscious body of what was once Lister tried getting up, Kemp pointed to remind Lister that it was him… it was him laying on the ground that will forever be remembered in the worst of ways.
14. DeAndre Jordan Baptizes Brandon Knight
For years, DeAndre Jordan lived in a place the NBA world knew as Lob City. Seemingly all of the offense came from him and Blake Griffin getting an alley-oop from Chris Paul.
They created one of the more thrilling offenses in the league. Two bigs with insane hops were getting lobs from one of the best point guards to play the game.
When the Clips hosted the Detroit Pistons, point guard Brandon Knight learned the hard way what Lob City was all about.
It’s bad enough when Knight’s body gets tossed like a rag doll by Jordan’s massive body. Making it sting a little worse, the Pistons react by looking down to make sure Knight was indeed still breathing.
Some called this the dunk of the year. It definitely earns a place among some of the best slam dunks ever in an NBA game.
15. Vinsanity Strikes Again
Leave it to the craziness that is Vinsanity to make time stand still on live television.
In 2006, the New Jersey Nets traveled to South Beach to take on would-be NBA champions the Miami Heat. There, Vince Carter delivered a nearly life-ending dunk on Alonzo Mourning that looked to have momentarily frozen time.
It all happens so fast (or maybe so slow since time seemed to be paused), but the most likely sequence of events is this:
1. Carter dunked Zo into the afterlife.
2. Basketball god(s) did not want Zo to leave earth before getting his ring.
3. Carter escorted Zo’s soul back to his body.
4. Zo stumbles away, discombobulated and convinced he saw the other side.
16. Dwayne Wade Dunks Varejo Into Another Dimension
What Dwyane Wade did to Anderson Varejao in 2009 would be considered a crime in most countries. Fortunately for D-Wade, the only person punished for this monster jam was Varejao (and his hair if we’re chalking that up as sentient).
Grabbing a rebound off LeBron James’ missed layup, Wade goes coast to coat. Then, he cocks back and sends Varejao into the stanchion with the slam of a thousand suns.
Bless Wade, bless Varejao’s hair, and bless the fact that Varejao wasn’t shamed into buying a one-way ticket back to Brazil.
17. Jason Richardson’s Reverse Slam Dunk
Jason Richardson was known for his high-flying, explosive offense, especially during his time with the Golden State Warriors.
Richardson earned back-to-back Slam Dunk Contest championships in ’02 and ’03 with crazy hops and moves that reshaped the game.
When Richardson stepped up to the baseline, he opened a new door of potential slam dunk possibilities. A between the legs dunk had been done before, but Richardson switched it up. His game-changing move – passing the ball through his legs with his dominant hand and dunking lefty – was incredible.
18. Scottie Pippen To Ewing: How’s The Weather Down There?
The word “disrespect” often gets thrown around after a player’s explosive slam over an opponent. It’s no exaggeration to say this Scottie Pippen dunk on Patrick Ewing is one of the most disrespectful and best slam dunks in NBA history.
One of the biggest rivalries for the ’90s Bulls was against the Knicks. Chicago’s six championships to New York’s zero show who got the better of this rivalry, but this dunk effectively sums it up too.
Scottie Pippen puts Patrick Ewing on a poster with a vicious slam, then shoves Ewing to the ground to rub it in. Oh, the disrespect.
19. Allen Iverson Dunks on Marcus Camby
Leave it to Allen “The Answer” Iverson to find out what Marcus Camby’s favorite drink is. After all, Camby publicly enjoyed AI’s hand-delivered teabag on national television. Makes sense considering Bigelow is made in the Hartford native’s home state.
In all seriousness, AI has had a lot of ruthless moments. This putback slam is right up there with the his best slam dunks. As for Camby, he led the league in blocks for four years and earned DPOY in ’07.
For a supposedly 6’0″ point guard to rise up and give the 6’11” center a taste of his crotch is really remarkable.
20. Vince Carter’s Mind Eraser: The Reverse 360 Windmill Dunk
Drink this one in slow.
It’s borderline sacrilege not to put Vince Carter’s entire 2000 Slam Dunk Contest performance on this list. That being said, if there was one game changer to upstage them all, it was Carter’s reverse 360 windmill.
Warning: trying to process this without multiple slow-mo replays will short-circuit the brain.
First, note the direction Carter turns – it’s in the opposite direction of a normal plant foot. Second, despite already being turned on the plant, see how Carter continues to make the full spin. Third, shut up, grab some popcorn and appreciate the Vinsanity.
This mind-blowing moment was one of Carter’s best slam dunks ever.
21. Tom Chambers Proves White Men Can Jump
Mark Jackson had a long and successful career playing in the NBA before moving on to coaching and broadcasting. That being said, the Phoenix Suns’ Tom Chambers most definitely got the better of this exchange.
Major props to the video crew for choosing to air this “flashback” clip while Jackson was commentating.
Props to Jackson, too, for taking it in stride. This is a ruthless video to be blindsided with for no apparent reason at all.
Jackson even reacted with a great comment on the air, “In life, sometimes you’re the pigeon and sometimes you’re the statue.” That quote’s an all-time classic, right there.
22. LaVine Brings It Around Town
The 2015 Slam Dunk Contest revealed the first real look at Zach LaVine’s sensational dunking talents. LaVine’s hops make it look so effortless that it almost diminishes how impressive his dunks really are.
This instance is a prime example of how easy LaVine makes it look, so don’t be fooled.
Perfect toss for the setup. Flawless transfer from the left to right hand. Ferocious finish.
This jam sealed LaVine’s well-deserved victory. Moreover, the reaction of literally every single person in the building shows how this decisive dunk made the young star an undeniable champ.
LaVine is so smooth it’s stupid.
23. Russell Westbrook Flexes Like Muscle Chestbrook
Russell Westbrook dunks like the rim just publicly disrespected his mom. It’s vicious, pure, unadulterated power.
It’s unclear why Westbrook despises the hoop so much, but his brutal above-the-rim beatdowns always make for a satisfying flush.
Oklahoma City must have some lax laws on assault, because what Westbrook does to Milwaukee’s Thon Maker would land most of us a night in jail.
Thunder fans explode into cheers like Romans watching gladiators at the Coliseum. “Off with his head! We want blood!”
Respect to OKC fans for enjoying this good old fashioned execution by dunk. They recognize a talented slayer of bigs, and the best slam dunks, when they see one.
24. Pippen Dunks on Knicks At MSG
The intense rivalry between the ’90s Bulls and the Knicks brings a Round 2 dunk off… and New York does not fare any better than it did the first time.
Once again, Scottie Pippen steals NYC’s soul, only this time he does it in Madison Square Garden.
RIP Charles Smith.
Pippen dunks the ball so hard it looks like he actually hurts his wrist. Undoubtedly, though, Smith’s pride is suffering far more.
On the plus side, at least this time Pippen didn’t put the face of the Knicks franchise on the wrong end of a poster.
25. D-Wade Destroys Two Worlds
Dwyane Wade was dialed in for this nasty highlight. To make it even more incredible, this jam went down on the big stage – during the NBA Finals.
First, Wade puts defensive stud Serge Ibaka in a blender. Then, he puts Kendrick Perkins on a poster.
It looks like Serge decided “I-blocka the next one,” amirite?
The amount of adrenaline pumping through Wade’s body after shattering Perkins’ soul into a billion pieces was probably enough to give a rhino a heart attack. That’s quite possibly the reason for his chest pounding – to keep the blood flowing.
26. Shaq Shoves It
The Knicks! Oh, the poor, woeful, broken Knicks.
If Madison Square Garden was in The NeverEnding Story, it’d have to be the malevolent force called “The Nothing.” Basically a whole bunch of sadness and despair that devours everything in its sight.
Next up on the Knicks’ K.I.A. list: Chris Dudley.
This is vintage Shaq right here. O’Neal puts up a monster dunk that looks like it’s going to bring the entire hoop down. Still not satisfied, he then asserts himself via public humiliation.
It ain’t basketball without a public shaming.
27. Stromile Swift Scores Big On Bulls’ Tyrus Thomas
This game between the Bulls and Nets was on St. Patrick’s Day, so don’t be confused by Chicago rocking the green threads.
Stromile Swift never lived up to the hype in his NBA career. Still, the high-flyer got his share of highlight reel-worthy dunks over the course of his nine years in the league.
Swift’s time with the Nets lasted all of 27 games. It was long enough for Swift to get this nasty poster over the Bulls’ Tyrus Thomas, though.
Not only does Thomas jump out of his shoes at the pump fake, he makes a ridiculous effort to get back… just in time to get himself destroyed under the hoop.
Swift nailed the trifecta: juke the defender, jam on him, celebrate on court with signature bird wings.
28. Michael Jordan Dunks On Dikembe Mutombo
When His Airness says it shall be done, then it shall be done.
This behind-the-scenes clip shows mega All-Star trio Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Dikembe Mutombo off the court at first. While getting taped up, they talk trash about how MJ wants to put Mutombo on a poster. Mutombo assures Ewing that “It’s not happening.”
Oh, his sweet, innocent soul.
Jordan got his opportunity to serve up some sweet jam on Mutombo. Just in case the dominant shot blocker forgot about their conversation earlier in the season, MJ served Mutombo a taste of his own finger wag.
In this moment, MJ officially planted the GOAT flag on Mount Mutombo.
29. Kevin Johnson Soars Over Hot Rod Williams
Throughout most of the ’90s, the Phoenix Suns were one of the must-watch teams in the NBA. While they owed much of that success to the four years Charles Barkley spent in Phoenix, the show-stopping talents of point guard Kevin Johnson also played a part.
For further proof, check out one of Johnson’s best slam dunks in this game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
KJ had actually spent the majority of his rookie season in Cleveland, before the Cavs traded him to Phoenix. Here, Johnson saw an opportunity against his former teammate, John “Hot Rod” Williams, and took it.
The 6’1″ Johnson used an open lane to sky over Hot Rod’s towering 6’11” frame. Let’s be real, everyone loves seeing the little guy getting his on the big man.
30. Baron Davis Takes Down Kirilenko
Hopefully, the basketball gods were not watching the 2007 NBA playoffs, because Baron Davis’ dunk on Andrei Kirilenko was one of the most disrespectful slam dunks of all time.
The No. 8 seed Warriors were coming off an unbelievable upset over the No. 1 seed Mavericks; which put them on the map. This jam against the Jazz cemented the Dubs as the underdogs everyone was rooting for.
During Kirilenko’s heyday with the Jazz, the Russian rifle known as AK-47 was a beast on defense. Beast in the paint or not, he still couldn’t stop the high-flying enigma Baron Davis.
The two athletes went toe to toe, bodying up in mid-air. Clearly, Davis won the battle.