5 Vince Carter
Every dunk Vince Carter nailed on his way to winning the 2000 slam dunk contest seemed better than the last. But among his legendary dunks that day, one stands out for sheer athleticism: the “honey dip,” in which Carter not only jammed the ball, but got so much air that he ended up elbow-deep through the hoop, hanging from the rim. Everyone watching was left stunned by the sheer audacity of the dunk. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the fact that it took 11 years for anyone else to repeat the feat shows just how rare it truly was.
4 Dee Brown
If Michael Jordan’s 1988 dunk made “Air Jordan” the favorite sneaker brand of hoopsters everywhere, Dee Brown’s dunk at the 1991 slam dunk contest did its part to fuel the popularity of a rival, the Reebok Pump. Before he lined up for his dunk, Brown—until then a little-known Boston Celtics rookie—paused to pump air into his shoes, taking advantage of Reebok’s new sneaker feature. Then he went up and nailed the winning dunk…while covering his eyes with his elbow. Other dunkers have performed no-look jams, but no one else has added an iconic sales pitch to the mix.
3 Spud Webb
It wasn’t so much the dunk itself, though the one-bounce reverse jam was impressive: it was the man doing the dunking. Spud Webb, at the time of the 1986 slam dunk contest, was the shortest player in NBA history at 5-foot-6 or -7 (depending on whose account you believe). Yet he proved in front of a national audience that you don’t need height to slam, just a little determination and a whole lot of leaping ability. Even though Webb played more than a dozen years in the NBA, he was forever remembered for soaring past his rivals that day.
2 Darryl Dawkins
If there is an exception to the slam dunk contest rule, it is Darryl Dawkins’ November 13, 1979, jam over Bill Robinzine in Kansas City. That was when Dawkins almost literally brought the house down, shattering the glass backboard with his thunderous slam. He would go on to repeat the feat a few weeks later, cementing his legacy as something more than a loveable eccentric. Dawkins – who liked to name his favorite dunks – dubbed his greatest hit the “Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam-Glass-Breaker-I-Am Jam.” That about says it all, doesn’t it?
1 Michael Jordan
At the 1988 slam dunk contest, Michael Jordan took off from the free throw line and threw down—and a legend was born. Jordan was already basketball’s Next Big Thing when he leaped, but by the time he landed, he was Air Jordan. A gazillion dollars in sneaker sales later, and the iconic “Jumpman” logo is one of the world’s most recognizable. Sure, Julius Erving did the free-throw-line leap first, but that was in the ABA and before hoops’ television heyday. No matter how many scoring titles, league championships or even scandals make up Jordan’s Hall of Fame career, for certain NBA fans, there will only be one image of Jordan: in mid-air, on the way to one of the greatest dunks in NBA history.