10 greatest dunkers in NBA history

Vince Carter
"Vince Carter and Yi Jianlian (易建联)" flickr photo by eviltomthai https://flickr.com/photos/eviltomthai/3032020311 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

There’s more electrifying and crowd-hyping move in basketball than a slam dunk. This gets fans out of their seats while the bench celebrates like crazy. Throughout history, we witnessed thousands of monster dunks from some of the greatest dunkers of all time such as Vince Carter, Michael Jordan, and Dominique Wilkins.

Greatest dunkers of all time

Nowadays, dunks are creative more than ever. There are different variations and combinations of tomahawks, windmills, 360s, and between-the-legs. The best dunkers in NBA history have no trouble doing these kinds of dunks due to their freakish athleticism. Many of them even throw it down against taller defenders!

Here are the ten greatest dunkers of all time.

Honorable mentions: Darryl Dawkins, David Thompson, Clyde Drexler

10. Shaquille O’Neal

One of the greatest dunkers of all time, Shaquille O’Neal is the definition of sheer force and brute strength. Shaq was a 7-foot-1 center but moved incredibly well and was uber-athletic for his size, especially in his Orlando days.

Shaq has hundreds of posterizing dunks against hapless defenders who tried to stop him. It was a normal thing for him to dunk over opposing big men since he uses his strength to overpower them down low. On fast breaks, he could also run the floor for the uncontested slam.

Due to his weight and the power of his dunks, Shaq shattered a few backboards. That just shows how powerful his dunks were.


9. Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady had a short-lived career due to injuries. However, he was a dunking machine early in his career. His athleticism was off the charts as he tried to throw everything down whenever he got the chance.

T-Mac wasn’t afraid to go to the rim even against the league’s premier shot blockers. His most famous dunk was the one against 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley in the 2006 Playoffs.

In 2000, McGrady participated in one of the greatest dunk contests ever. He put up some spectacular dunks and battled neck-to-neck against the league’s top dunkers such as Steve Francis, and his teammate Vince Carter.

8. Blake Griffin

The “Lob City” Clippers were a thing of beauty. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan were the centerpiece of this squad. However, it was Griffin who shined amongst these three since he was always on the receiving end of the alley-oops.

Griffin’s size and vertical leap allowed him to catch lobs with ease and throw it down with anger and passion. His game was similar to Shawn Kemp‘s. They were both virtually unstoppable when catching lobs or driving to the basket. This allowed Griffin to posterize 7-foot players. His posters against Pau Gasol, Kris Humphries, and Kendrick Perkins were amongst the most humiliating dunks in NBA history.

Griffin is also a one-time dunk champion.

7. LeBron James

Despite not joining the dunk contest throughout his entire career, LeBron James is still considered one of the top dunkers ever. Instead, he made the real NBA games his own dunk contest. Here, he’s not afraid to go up against taller defenders with his patented tomahawk dunk.

James is a physical monster at 6-foot-9. There’s simply no stopping him from dunking the ball when he attacks the basket due to his strength and explosiveness. He already caught a lot of bodies in his career, and he’s still doing it at age 37.

6. Kobe Bryant

Before he was a master of the midrange game, Kobe Bryant was a freakish athlete who constantly attacked the rim. Earlier in his career, he had a fair share of highlight dunks ranging from windmills to 360s.

Bryant caught a lot of bodies throughout his career. And these are not just average defenders. Rather, he dunked on all-time greats such as Yao Ming, Dwight Howard, and Kevin Garnett.

Let’s also not forget that Bryant was a slam dunk champion in 1997 as a rookie. He was just 18 years old at this time.

5. Shawn Kemp

No other player in NBA history threw dunks harder than Shawn Kemp. He’s definitely one of the most entertaining dunkers ever, especially since he played with Gary Payton in Seattle. Payton would just throw an alley and Kemp would throw down the oop with malicious intent.

Aside from the alley-oops, Kemp could also throw it down emphatically on drives to the basket. This is evident from the iconic poster dunk he made against Golden State’s Alton Lister. Throughout his career, Kemp caught bodies left and right.

4. Julius Erving

Nicknamed “Dr. J”, Julius Erving is the godfather of dunking. He paved the way for players who played above the rim to flourish in the league. The way he revolutionized dunks early in the NBA made him one of the greatest dunkers of all time.

Erving palmed the ball with ease with his huge hands which allowed him to move freely in the air. Combine that with his vertical leap and size, there’s no other player that can stop him from throwing it down at the rim.

Perhaps his most memorable one is the “Rock the baby” dunk where he cradled the ball in the air and dunked it over Michael Cooper.

3. Dominique Wilkins

One of the best dunkers in NBA history, Dominique Wilkins will always be remembered for putting up highlight dunks every game. He dunked the basketball with creativity like Carter and power like Kemp. His 6-foot-8 size and explosiveness gave him a huge advantage to throw it down against taller defenders.

The 1988 Dunk Contest between Wilkins and Michael Jordan is one of the greatest dunk contests ever. It was a head-to-head battle from start to finish—a battle of power vs hangtime. Ultimately, Jordan won but there was a controversy that Wilkins was robbed. Even though Wilkins didn’t win the 1988 trophy, he was a two-time dunk champion.

2. Michael Jordan

Other than having an unstoppable midrange jumper, Michael Jordan had another major weapon in his arsenal—a dunk. His hangtime was what made him deadly when attacking the rim. Defenders were going down after the initial jump while Jordan still floated in the air.

Jordan was known for his competitiveness. He would constantly dunk on defenders to put himself at an advantage mentally. Mutombo, one of the league’s best shot-blockers back then, was famous for his finger-wag celebration after getting a block. But Jordan got his revenge in the playoffs when he dunked on him and gave the finger-wag back. That’s how competitive he is.

No other player in NBA history made dunks with style and grace like Jordan. In the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest, Jordan performed one of his best dunks of all time, a free throw line dunk. He literally looked like he was flying in the air as he glided towards the rim with his tongue out.

1. Vince Carter

There’s no doubt that Vince Carter is the greatest dunker of all time. Whether in-game or in a slam dunk contest, Vinsanity made his dunks look so effortless. He could jump out of the building and throw it down emphatically even against taller defenders.

His most famous dunk is the “Dunk of Death” where he jumped over 7-foot-tall Frederic Weis in the Olympics. This ended Weis’ career as he never made it to play a single game in the NBA despite being drafted by the Knicks in the first round.

Carter didn’t slack in the dunk contest either. In the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, he performed one of the greatest dunks in dunk contest history, a 360 windmill dunk. His iconic “It’s over” celebration is the icing on the cake for this amazing performance.

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About Jeremy Mallari 128 Articles
Jeremy lives and breathes basketball. He's an avid NBA fan for almost a decade now.

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