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The home run. The touchdown. The slap shot. Every sport has its pinnacle play that electrifies the crowd and makes for highlight-reel history. But there is simply nothing sexier in professional sports than the slam dunk. Powerful, graceful and acrobatic, a slam dunk is the trademark of dominance portrayed by the athletic elite. History has graced basketball with many brilliant dunkers, but only one can be king. Here’s a list of Kobe Bryant’s very best.
5 Over Josh Smith
While playing Atlanta in March 2013, Kobe Bryant stood at the center of the three-point line, dribbling slowly, sedating the defense the way a snake charmer moves in front of a cobra. With a blinding flash of speed—and only four dribbles to the hoop—Kobe darted in and out of defenders, the last, unfortunate one being Josh Smith, leaving the stunned announcer to exclaim, “That was something special!”
4 Vs. Brooklyn Nets
In February 2013, the shot clock was running out as Kobe Bryant was dribbling down the left side of the court. With the score tied at 80 late in the fourth quarter, Kobe got tangled up with one defender before bypassing him and speeding to the basket. With a flash, the score was no longer tied. What the instant replay would reveal was that he dunked on every single defender on the court at the same time—except the one who wasn’t fast enough to keep up with him in the first place.
3 2011 All-Star Game
In 2011, in the game when only the best of the best are on the court, the two dominant players of their time came together in a battle of NBA Goliaths in which only one could win. Kobe won. After his legendary instincts found him placed perfectly to receive a downcourt pass after a rebound, Kobe was speeding toward the hoop all alone — except for one man. LeBron James raced side by side with Kobe and jumped simultaneously in an attempt to defend. Better luck next time, LeBron.
2 1995 Beach Ball Classic
In a 1995 slam dunk contest in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a high schooler named Kobe Bryant dazzled judges with a series of acrobatic dunks that would intimidate most NBA pros. First a self-assisted alley-oop, followed by a through-the-legs dunk that would become his trademark, followed by a double-pump power dunk, a wide-legs power dunk in which he dangled from the rim for what seemed like an eternity and several more that scored nothing but 10s from overwhelmed judges.
1 1997 Slam Dunk Contest
In 1997, Kobe Bryant entered the NBA Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie and won. One of the most remarkable dunks in history, Kobe came in from the left side of the court, dribbling with his right hand, jumped and—in midair—put the ball between his legs and finished with a power dunk. One baffled announcer said to another, “Some people can’t dribble between their legs. He just dunked between his legs.”