In the NBA, dunking is an extreme power play that riles up fans and leaves a lasting impression on those who witness it, giving them a peak as to the greatness that lies before them.
But seriously, if you’re not really a basketball fan, you may be asking yourself “isn’t everyone in the NBA tall enough to dunk? How exactly does that determine the greatness of a player when most players can already reach the rim?”
The reality is that being able to slam dunk a basketball takes an incredible amount of athleticism, and while nearly all NBA players train to improve their strength, speed, and explosiveness on the court, few reach the level of mastery required to throw dunks like the best.
It takes a lot of work, training with both plyometrics and weights, and it takes time. The few that do reach that level manage to go against all logic, and seemingly defy both gravity and reason with the prowess they show for dunking.
We’ll be looking at these select basketball players who are some of the best dunkers in all of NBA history and ranking them in order of their abilities and their impact on the dunking scene.
Now I will say that there are way more than just five NBA players that are good dunkers, but to make this list a bit shorter, we’ll only be looking at the top 5 best dunkers of all-time in NBA history.
To form this list, we’ll be looking at both the NBA Slam Dunk Contest that the players have participated in, as well as the in-game dunks that these players have thrown down.
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The 5 Best Dunkers in NBA History
The positions of the 5 NBA players mentioned on this list are based on both research and personal preference, with each spot being unique.
However, keep in mind that some of the positions on this list are interchangeable, but rest assured there’s no questioning that these are the 5 best dunkers of all time.
5. LeBron James
Now typically, LeBron isn’t exactly seen as one of the best dunkers, and part of the reason is that he’s never participated in a Slam Dunk Contest, something that’s disappointed fans for years.
However, that in no way reduces the sheer magnitude of LeBron’s dunks, and with the amount of speed and power they have, this gives him a definite spot on this list.
His strongest trait when it comes to basketball is his consistency as a player. When he was on the Cleveland Cavaliers, he would dominate in traffic and space with nasty slams, with his head frequently going above the rim.
After many years LeBron has still retained his athleticism, with a vertical jump high enough to dunk effortlessly.
Part of the reason can be attributed to the amount of money he invests in his body, spending over one million dollars a year just to keep himself in peak condition. The other part is his drive for the game, something that’s been with him in all of the years he’s played.
To give an example of his longevity as a player, in 2018 he performed a strong finish on Jusuf Nurkic, showing that his greatness is still very much there.
His endurance alone makes him a likely contender for the greatest player in NBA history, and although he may never reach that title, it’s definitely up for discussion.
However, there’s no debating his ability to habitually slam dunk a basketball better than most can in the entire NBA, especially at his age.
4. Dominique Wilkins
Although Dominique Wilkins never lived up to his true potential, having been overshadowed by the Holy Trinity and never making the conference finals, there is no denying his spot on this list as one of the best dunkers to exist.
You could even argue that he’s a better dunker than Jordan, and his placement on this list is very much up for debate.
Looking at his history, Wilkins participated in five Slam Dunk Contests, winning two of them, one in 1985 and one in 1990.
In those contests, he went against a stacked competition with the likes of Jordan, Julius Erving, Nance, Shawn Kemp, and more, and in both cases, he came out with a surprising win.
This proved to be a high point in his career, propelling his status as one of the leading aerial athletes of his time, and a remarkable player.
In-game he had just as much flair, showcasing his skill with an array of windmill slams and many other dunks that baffled viewers and brought plenty of attention.
Similar to Carter, Wilkins seemed destined to become a great dunker, and his approach was just as vicious which made his dunks a certainty that they would land, regardless of who stood in front.
Having such a large repertoire of dunks, Wilkins has conjured enough clips of those moments to earn himself the title of “The Human Highlight Film” with a sea of reels exhibiting his talent.
3. Julius Erving
Julius Erving, also known as “Dr. J”, is one of the most iconic and influential dunkers in all of the NBA.
Starting in the ABA as far back as 1971, he was used to being explosive on the court and playing with flair, and he even went on to win the 1976 ABA Slam Dunk Contest.
So when the NBA came in 1976 and the leagues merged, Erving brought his style of playing along with him, introducing many to the spectacle that was dunking.
As a player, he was overall well-rounded, and aside from the contest he won in 1976, there isn’t much else to go off of since Slam Dunk Contests wouldn’t be introduced until 1984, which was long after his prime (he retired in 1987).
However, thanks in part to his long frame, he was able to freely pull off a variety of moves throughout his entire career that left spectators in awe at his athleticism.
In-game he would dunk with style and grace, which hadn’t been seen up until then. This would forever escalate the excitement and entertainment aspect of basketball, and just from watching his reels, you can see how his dunking capabilities left everyone in absolute awe.
Although others were helping to set the stage for future dunkers, Erving was unique because of the effort and energy he put into his slams, being the most captivating above-the-rim dunker of his time.
A few examples include dunking over portland’s Bill Walton in the 1977 NBA Finals and slamming a basketball over Micheal Cooper in 1983 to end a regular season.
He was a pretty big deal, and although you could make the claim there were better dunkers to put on this list, it would be an injustice to not include him.
For the time, Dr. J stood out, and very few can compare with the impact he had on the NBA as a whole.
2. Michael Jordan
Regardless of the list, Micheal Jordan will rank somewhere high on all things basketball, and that no doubt speaks more true than on this one.
Regarding what earns him this spot, there isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said about him. Not only did he dominate in every area of basketball, but his dunks were also one of his strongest points.
Having won the slam-dunk competitions in 1987 and 1988, while staring down Dominique Wilkins, the montages that would ensue showcasing MJ’s highlights would prolong his reputation as an all-time great dunker.
In-game he was just as devastating, pulling incredible slams out of nowhere that absolutely humiliated defenders.
Regardless of whether it was a simple lob pass or a dribble drive, MJ just seemed to leave a lasting impression on the opposing team.
Although he didn’t have the same power behind his dunks as did Carter or even Wilkins, he made up for it with his competitiveness and the approach he took when playing a game.
He was meticulous with how he delivered the ball, yet he viciously made sure the basketball went in the hoop at all cost.
MJ was mentally tough with a clear and straightforward approach when playing. His aerial game was equally unmatched, being able to move the ball in the air and maneuver with ease to fit the situation.
He was graceful yet ferocious on his way to the rim, and that gave him the edge that would be present in every other part of his game.
1. Vince Carter
Ok, I may have lied a bit. Some of the spots in this list are interchangeable, but Vince Carter will always be number 1, and I’m sure many of you will agree with that.
Carter’s inclusion on this list is a no-brainer and his position is simply not up for debate, especially when you take into consideration his past.
From his college years at UNC to his rookie year in the NBA, he was electric on the court casually throwing down slam dunks. This explosiveness only continued to escalate as he would go on to play with the Nets and the Raptors.
During this time he would perform some of the most insane dunks ever recorded, casually performing a windmill dunk over 7-foot tall Michael Olowokandi, and putting the entire 2000 Slam Dunk contest in Oakland on lockdown with his performance.
You can tell he’s done his fair share of jump training, and it’s definitely paid off. Of course, even with these impressive achievements, his most notable dunk, and quite literally the best dunk in all of NBA history, was during a game against France in the 2000 Olympics.
Having picked up the basketball, he headed for the rim and shot up and over 7-foot-2 Frenchman Frédéric Weis, giving us the famous “Dunk of Death”.
What’s even more surprising is a 2018 youtube video that the NBA posted of Carter reminiscing over his top 10 greatest dunks.
He goes on to describe his thought process going into each dunk, and he admits that most of what he did was pure instinct, with the majority of it being improvised on the spot.
This gave us an inside look at his thought process, and even he has a hard time explaining what happened. Carter’s superhuman abilities solidified his reputation as a dunker like no other, granting him the title of “Half Man Half Amazing” and of course, “Vinsanity.”
Do you agree with this list?
I realize you may not agree with some parts of this list, and that’s perfectly fine. I can’t expect to please everyone, and some other players also deserve to be mentioned here.
The placement of each player was an especially tricky part of making it, but regardless, I can confidently say that these are the 5 NBA players that I believe to be the best dunkers in all of NBA history.
However, I’d also like to hear what you have to think about this list. If you feel as though someone has been incorrectly positioned, or if you want to add someone to the list, I’d be more than interested to hear what you have to say in the comments below.
Making this list was hard, and I’d like to see someone else try and make their own list, but trust when I say that it ain’t easy.
After all, to add new players to the list you need to get rid of the ones already there, and if you really think any of these 5 players don’t deserve to be here, then by all means be my guest.
There are plenty of other great dunkers to choose from, but the limit here is five, and I personally can’t see any of these players not being mentioned here, but a differing opinion would be interesting to hear (maybe Shawn Kemp could contest fifth place, but that’s a maybe!)