Selecting the 25 dunkers who rocked the world was no easy task. Do you defer to the power dunkers, men who have literally taken down backboards with their thunderous jams? What about the finesse dunkers, who slice through the air in ways previously unimaginable?
Given that no two dunkers are alike, we settled on a simple premise: A list of the 25 dunkers, big or small, who made the biggest impact during their professional careers. Dunk contests are no doubt a part of that impact, but preference was given to players whose influence extended beyond All-Star weekend.
Could anyone unseat Michael Jordan for No. 1? Did Blake Griffin crack the top 10? Find out as we rank the high-flyers and gravity-defiers who forever changed the game.
25. Darrell Griffith
Dr. Dunkenstein, who jammed his way into the spotlight at Louisville, displayed a variety of running slams and above-the-rim spins during his 10-year stint with the Jazz from 1980-91, though knee problems curtailed his explosiveness late in his career. ("Dr. Dunkenstein was paying his toll," Griffin, reflecting on his diminished hops, told ESPN in 2003.) But despite his flair, the 6-foot-4 Griffith remained humble, saying, "I don't name my dunks, I just do 'em."
24. Josh Smith
The 6-9 Hawks forward brings power, creativity and top-shelf athleticism to almost every dunk. The combination led him to the 2005 dunk-contest crown, but wasn't enough to win the 2004 McDonald's All-American Game dunk contest, which went to future WNBA star Candace Parker. Smith, however, is a lot more than a contest dunker; his transition finishes are among the most spectacular in the game.
23. Gus Johnson
Long considered a prototype of the modern NBA player, Johnson earned the nickname Honeycomb at the University of Idaho because of his sweet style of play. One of the first players to adopt the dunk as a regular weapon, the 6-6 swingman shattered three backboards during his decade-long NBA career, from 1963-73.
22. Tracy McGrady
An emphatic dunk at a high school showcase in 1996 put McGrady on the map, and it proved to be a harbinger of things to come for the swingman. Like his former Toronto teammate Vince Carter, the 6-8 McGrady used his lanky frame and limitless hang time to make even the most difficult dunks look effortless throughout his 15 years in the NBA.
21. Amar'e Stoudemire
Before he underwent microfracture surgery in 2005, Stoudemire was one of the fiercest dunkers in the league, using his unparalleled explosiveness and length to throw down monster slams. His aerial exploits have slowed, but the 6-10 Stoudemire is still a highlight waiting to happen around the rim.
20. Tom Chambers
Who says white man can't jump? "I know I'm not among the many NBA players who people think of as dunkers,'' the 6-10 Chambers said before the 1987 dunk contest, ''but I've had some good ones." He's right. Just ask Mark Jackson.
19. Elgin Baylor
Before Michael Jordan and Julius Erving, there was Baylor, one of the NBA's first high risers. Though the 6-5 Baylor was never a high-frequency dunker, his style of play laid the foundation for the players who came after him. "Elgin was the first one that I remember that could hang up there for 15 seconds, have some lunch and a cup of coffee," Celtics Hall of Fame point guard Bob Cousy said. "His hang time was incredible."
18. Connie Hawkins
The 6-8 forward's picaresque journey to the Hall of Fame included tours with the Harlem Globetrotters, the Pittsburgh Rens of the American Basketball League, the Pittsburgh Pipers of the American Basketball Association and three NBA teams during his last seven pro seasons. But the real legend of Connie Hawkins was forged on the playgrounds of Bedford-Stuyvesant, where his soaring, acrobatic dunks have entered Brooklyn folklore.
17. Wilt Chamberlain
Considered the original power dunker, Chamberlain terrorized rims throughout his 14 years in the NBA. Critics faulted the 7-footer for this, saying that it was representative of his me-first attitude. But it was all part of the game for Chamberlain, whose size, strength and intimidating dunks made him one of the most dominant players ever.
16. Dwyane Wade
Wade entered the league in 2003 with a reputation for jumping out of the gym -- and he didn't disappoint. The 6-4 Heat star was a regular highlight-reel presence in his prime, flying through the lane and slamming on anyone regardless of height. He's since lost some of his explosiveness, but, as Dwight Howard found out, the 31-year-old guard is far from grounded.
15. Larry Nance
Nance was already known as one of the league's elite dunkers on the eve of the inaugural NBA dunk contest in 1984. But not until the 6-10 Phoenix forward defeated the old guard -- dunk revolutionary Julius Erving -- would his legacy be secured. Nance rose to the challenge before the McNichols Arena crowd in Denver, throwing down a reverse jam, a wrap-around and a two-fisted reverse using two basketballs to win the event and cement his status as an all-time dunker.
14. Shaquille O'Neal
Aesthetic critics might object to Shaq's inclusion among the greatest dunkers ever, as his artless, matter-of-fact dunks won't score too many points for creativity. But few athletes could rival the raw power of an O'Neal dunk during the big guy's physical prime. Just ask the two backboard support units that the mammoth 7-footer ruined on national TV during his rookie season.
13. Dwight Howard
Lingering back issues have grounded the former dunk artist this season, but, when healthy, Howard is one of the league's most impactful dunkers. A constant presence atop the regular-season dunk list, Howard also won the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest. "I thought Dwight, with his size and athleticism, being 6-foot-11, you just don't see guys that tall and that big having that type of athleticism in the dunk contest. So I was blown away," then-Hornets coach Byron Scott said at the time.
12. Jason Richardson
Richardson entered the NBA from Michigan State in 2001 and instantly became one of the league's premier dunkers. The only player other than Michael Jordan to repeat as slam-dunk champion, the 6-6 Richardson regularly redefined physics with his jaw-dropping windmills and 360-degree spins.
11. Clyde Drexler
Known as Clyde the Glide for his extraordinary leaping ability and effortless elevation, the 6-7 Drexler remains one of just two players (along with Dominique Wilkins) to participate in five dunk contests. The University of Houston product first gained renown for his dunking skills playing alongside Akeem Olajuwon on the "Phi Slama Jama" teams that advanced to three straight Final Fours during the early 1980s.
10. Blake Griffin
The youngest player on this list, Griffin has launched himself into the dunking Hall of Fame in just three active years in the NBA. He catches balls off the glass, reverses on the baseline and embarrasses lumbering big men whenever he can. And just this week, he completed with authority a between-the-legs alley-oop pass from Clippers teammate Jamal Crawford, who called Griffin "the best jumper in the world." Still only 23, the 6-10 Griffin could find himself higher on this list before all is said and done.
9. Kobe Bryant
The dunk-contest champion as a rookie in 1997, the 34-year-old Bryant can still slam with the best of them. This year alone, the 6-6 Bryant has embarrassed the Hawks' Josh Smith and the Nets' Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, adding to an already extensive slam catalogue amassed over 17 NBA seasons.
8. Darryl Dawkins
One of the game's most colorful personalities during its most colorful era, Chocolate Thunder gained equal parts notoriety and respect for his ferocious dunks -- and their subsequent nomenclature. The eccentric big man famously gave his dunks names such as the Go-Rilla, the In-Your-Face Disgrace, the Yo-Mama and the Spine-Chiller Supreme.
7. David Thompson
Nicknamed Skywalker thanks to his supposed 48-inch vertical leap, the 6-4 former ABA and NBA All-Star popularized the alley-oop during his legendary collegiate career at North Carolina State and continued his above-the-rim act in nine pro seasons from 1975-84. "The whole term and the whole measuring of vertical leap began, I think, with David Thompson," Michael Jordan said. "He vaulted off the ground, exploded off the ground.
6. Shawn Kemp
The 6-10 Kemp entered the NBA in 1989 as the league's youngest player and quickly captured the imagination of Seattle fans with his exciting style of play and violent dunks. The Reign Man famously battled weight problems during the latter stages of his 14-year career, but few stars burned brighter during their prime.
5. LeBron James
King James has earned a reputation as one of the league's most aggressive and impressive dunk artists. The three-time MVP has jumped over other players and demoralized countless opponents with his breakaway jams. Unlike many on this list, the 6-8 James has never participated in a dunk contest -- despite prodding from fans and even Magic Johnson.
4. Julius Erving
The 6-6 Erving was not only a dominant player but he also pushed the limits of creative expression in flight -- executing moves in games that many wouldn't attempt in practice. His throwdown from the free-throw line during the 1976 ABA dunk contest remains a watershed moment in the slam's evolution.
3. Dominique Wilkins
A prolific scorer and imaginative dunker, the Human Highlight Film wowed crowds with his powerful, breathtaking slams. The 6-7 Hall of Fame forward is known by many for playing Frazier to Michael Jordan's Ali in the unforgettable 1988 contest, but Wilkins' aerial acrobatics weren't limited to All-Star weekend. "Dunking for me was just a tool, for intimidation and to get the crowd involved," Wilkins said. It was a tool he used quite well during his 15 years in the NBA.
2. Michael Jordan
Jordan soaring toward the rim, tongue extended, remains one of the most enduring images in sport. Throughout his Hall of Fame career, His Airness set a remarkable standard for aerial proficiency, inspiring generations of younger players with his boundless hops and competitive spirit. The 6-6 Jordan earned a perfect score of 50 a record seven times during his three dunk-contest appearances.
1. Vince Carter
The 6-6 Carter first garnered national attention for his electrifying brand of play during his three years at North Carolina. NBA renown came with his novel "elbow dunk" to clinch victory in the 2000 dunk contest. And international acclaim would follow months later during America's run to the gold medal at the Sydney Olympics, where his eye-popping dunk over French 7-footer Frédéric Weis became known worldwide as le dunk de la mort ("the dunk of death"). With his unique blend of creativity and easy athleticism, Carter set the gold standard to which all other dunkers aspire. Don't believe us? Here's the tape.