Monday, February 15, 2010

The NBA's Top Six Dunkers Of All Time

LeBron James is a punk.

Sitting courtside at last year's NBA dunk contest, LeBron looked on as the crowd in Phoenix poured their adulation upon Dwight Howard and Nate Robinson for putting on one of the better shows in recent memory. When it was over, he (suddenly inspired to do what he declined to do every year before) boldly proclaimed he would participate in this year's contest. However, as all star weekend approached, the prospect of being the only all star in the contest proved (as with so many others in recent years) beneath his dignity and he backed out at the last minute. Small wonder the NBA is losing money when its stars won't sell the game.

Not surprisingly, Friday's slam dunk contest turned out to be a snoozer. Gone are the days of Dr. J vs. Larry Nance. No more Jordan vs. 'Nique. So why not look back on the greatest slam dunk artists to rattle the rim. With only six spots, many worthy dunkers will be left off the list, including guys like Kobe Bryant, Larry Nance, Jason Richardson, Nate Robinson, David Thompson, Darryl Dawkins, and Spud Webb.

Why six? Because I believe these six guys stand alone above the rest. They have reached another level of artistry, athleticism and originality in one of sport's biggest statement plays. My criteria favors a player's ability to dunk effectively in games, not just dunk contests (although they count as well). And I give preference to guys under 6'10" because they have to work a little harder. Sorry Dwight. (Click on the names to view their Top 10 dunks).

6. Shawn Kemp
It's hard to remember, based on the last years of his career, the kid in Seattle that would leap across the gym, catching half-court alley oop passes from Gary Payton, and punish the rim with thunderous dunks. What set "The Reign Man" apart was his combination of size, freakish athleticism and bad feelings for the basket.

The "Doctor" wasn't the first man to dunk the basketball, but he is the blueprint for how it's done today. Erving combined style with his considerable physical attributes to revolutionize the art of dunking. During the wild west days of the ABA, Erving, more than anyone, transformed the dunk into a form of self-expression and a mainstay of the game. Who can forget the sight of the afro taking flight during his famous dunk from the foul line in the 1976 ABA Slam Dunk contest?

Drexler's dunk credentials were already impeccable when he reached the NBA thanks to his membership in the high flying "Phi Slama Jama" during the early 80s. Nicknamed the Clyde "The Glide" for his graceful style, it was his phenomenal speed and soaring dunks that made him one of the game's great finshers, and the exclamation point in the Blazer fast break of the 80s and early 90s.

No one since Dr. J has done more to revolutionize the dunk than Jordan. The image of him midflight, tongue wagging has become iconic, and his aerial innovations have inspired a whole generation of kids who dream of playing above the rim. At just 6'6, Jordan was also a fearless dunker, willing to go over anyone for the bucket as evidenced by his sick drive-feint, drive-dunk over Patrick Ewing in the opening round of the 1991 Eastern Conference playoffs.

Vinsanity's performance at the 2000 dunk contest was the single greatest dunk exhibition EVER, and alone enough to get him on the list. However, Carter's game time throwdowns have proven every bit as impressive. His jaw-dropping hurdle over 7'2 French center Frederic Weis in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, was dubbed "Le dunk de la mort" (The dunk of death) by the French media.

His feats have earned him the title "The Human Highlight Film." The best in-game dunker ever, 'Nique would dunk at anytime, from anywhere, over anyone and in every possible way. Not content with a simple flush, Wilkins would employ violent, one-handed, two-handed, double-pump, reverse, and windmill dunks. The only apparent criteria being that it look spectaclar. Only Vince Carter comes close to 'Nique's combination of athleticism, aggression and flair. Consequently, I doubt anyone has posterized more players than Dominique. The winner of two dunk contests (back when the league's best participated), it was his epic 1988 showdown in Chicago versus Michael Jordan that became part of NBA lore.*

*Although many observers thought Wilkins was better, the home crowd got their wish as Jordan won with a perfect score on his final dunk (one that he already performed earlier in the competition).

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