The 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contests lifts off on Saturday, Feb. 15, in New Orleans. The Raptors' defending Slam Dunk Contest champion Terrence Ross, Pacers’ 360 windmill man Paul George, Wizards' John Wall, Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, Warriors' Harrison Barnes and Kings' Ben McLemore will follow in the flight paths of MJ, Dr. J and Dominique.
With that in mind, we judge all 23 Slam Dunk Contest champions since the ABA introduced the competition in 1976 and the NBA brought it back in 1984.
One-name icons with star power, style and the ability to jump out of the gym — or from the free-throw line, as it were — no one in history has had the hang time or staying power of these four fly guys.
1. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (1987, 1988)
“Air” Jordan was an aerial artist who transcended the act of putting a ball through a rim.
2. Julius Erving, New York Nets (1976 in ABA)
“Dr. J” was the originator — complete with an Afro and red-white-and-blue ABA ball.
3. Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta Hawks (1985, 1990)
The “Human Highlight Film” windmilled and tomahawked his way into dunk history.
4. Vince Carter, Toronto Raptors (2000)
“Half Man, Half Amazing” could jump over French dudes and through 10-foot hoops.
There’s just something about watching a sub-six-footer or near-seven-footer take over the Dunk Contest that adds to the spectacle of Saturday night’s three-ring circus.
5. Spud Webb, Atlanta Hawks (1986)
The shortest (5’7”) champ ever beat his teammate in front of his hometown crowd.
6. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (2008)
Superman’s hand missed the rim on his most famous dunk, but it was out of this world.
7. Nate Robinson, New York Knicks (2006, 2009, 2010)
The only three-time champion in event history was 5’9” of Kryptonite for Dwight.
Big Names, Bigger Air
No matter how great the dunks are it’s always better when there is a name that matters on the marquee. Lately, the lack of cachet has taken the air out of the slam-dunk sails.
8. Larry Nance, Phoenix Suns (1984)
The underrated Nance could get high in his high socks, winning the NBA’s first contest.
9. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks (2005)
The ATL native paid homage to Nique with a throwback jersey to go with pogo hops.
10. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (1997)
Remember when Kobe was bald, Brandy was his girl and Adidas was his shoe of choice?
11. Kenny Walker, New York Knicks (1989)
“Sky” Walker could rise with the best of them, rocking Knicks No. 7 before Carmelo did.
12. Jason Richardson, Golden State Warriors (2002, 2003)
One of three repeat champs in history, along with Michael Jordan and Nate Robinson.
Props Plus Hops
The All-Star Game sideshow has featured its fair share of gimmicks, third parties and prop comedy that almost always ends in winning over the crowd and the trophy.
13. Dee Brown, Boston Celtics (1991)
Brown Pump-ed up his Reeboks and covered his eyes with his arm to take the title.
14. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (2011)
Jumping over a car — the type of Kia he endorses — was Griffin’s modus operandi.
15. Cedric Ceballos, Phoenix Suns (1992)
Ceballos put on a blindfold that he may or may not have been able to see through.
To contest connoisseurs, these are two of the more exciting dunkers. Each had a signature dunk that every kid who ever had an eight-foot goal attempted over and over.
16. Harold Miner, Miami Heat (1993, 1995)
“Baby Jordan” matched his namesake with two Slam Dunk Contest statement wins.
17. Isaiah Rider, Minnesota Timberwolves (1994)
Wild child “J.R.” went between the legs midair in front of the Twin City crowd.
White Man Can Jump
His dad Granny-shot free-throws but Bones could throw down like no one this side of Woody Harrelson — and he remains the only white guy to win it all in event history.
18. Brent Barry, Los Angeles Clippers (1996)
Not quite from the free-throw line, but Barry did take off from near the charity stripe.
Hi and Bye
Who are you? And why are you here? Okay, you can dunk. Nice job. But I still wish the field had more star power. After all, literally every player in the NBA can dunk…
19. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors (2013)
Wearing a Vince Carter jersey does not make you Vince Carter.
20. Gerald Green, Boston Celtics (2007)
Sure this wasn’t the NBDL Dunk Contest?
21. Desmond Mason, Seattle SuperSonics (2001)
The Sonics? Is that a WNBA team?
22. Fred Jones, Indiana Pacers (2004)
You mean the character from Scooby-Doo?
23. Jeremy Evans, Utah Jazz (2012)
Is that the Ray Bandit who stole sunglasses?