Who Is The Best NBA Slam Dunk Contest Champion EVER?

Best Slam Dunk Champion

Who is the best NBA slam dunk champion ever? in ranking the best slam dunk champion ever, I want to completely exclude their overall skill as basketball players, and focus solely on their ability to dunk the basketball.

Also, I think era in which they were dunking in is very significant, as is height.

With those parameters laid out, let me throw this list of NBA Dunk Contest Winners at you, in no particular order. Of these five, I will rank them by reader comments via Hoopsvibe.com, Facebook and private emails. The player who gets the most vote moves into the “Final Four” of great dunkers, from which a mythical champ will be crowned; open wide, here they come!!

Nate Robinson- Three Time NBA Slam Dunk Contest Champion (2006, 2009, 2010)

There has always been something peculiar about Nate Robinson’s three titles as “best dunker”.

Sure, he’s the only three time winner in Dunk Contest history, but fans rarely mention any one of his three wins among the best contests of all time. All of them were sort of unmemorable.

Sure it’s impressive to see how a guy who is so short can do almost any dunk imaginable, kind of like watching a midget do porn and hit it from all angles successfully, but with him you always feel like you’re missing something. It’s arguable that the format change of the dunk contest benefitted him more than any dunker in history, but he shouldn’t be docked for capitalizing, should he?

Or maybe he should. Even on these highlights from his 2006 win, the top ranked comment is “Andre Iguodala was ROBBED!! Plain and simple.” That sort of sums up the general consensus of Nate Robinson’s performances.

Isaiah Rider- 1994 Champion

Rider was just nasty, plain and simple. He just came with a completely different energy than anyone else in the competition that year. His “East Bay Funk Dunk” was a dunk that was so ground breaking at the time that it’s still used to this day, and has become an absolute standard.

Plus, he won his dunk contest when it meant something against a pretty impressive field of Robert Pack, Shawn Kemp and Antonio Davis to name a few.

Larry Nance- 1984 Champion

Historically, Nance never got the credit he deserved as a dunker who was completely ahead of his time. Sure at 6-10, it’s easy to not dole out credit when it’s deserved and I think that’s why he isn’t mentioned on any “Greatest Dunker” lists.

Plus, as the winner of the first Dunk Contest ever, he made as much of a historical impact as any dunker ever. His dunks in 1984 were replicated for the next five years in particular and even beyond that. Check them out here.

Kenny Walker- 1989 Champion

Kenny Walker was an enigma. “Sky Walker” was like a dunking robot from planet “Dunk-Tron”. Based on my criteria listed above, he may have been the most perfect dunker ever.

The gold chain, his high top fade, and his over flowing confidence meant he had two career choices upon birth: He was either going to be a great dunker or play wide out/defensive back for the Dallas CowboysHe just overwhelmed the entire field from dunk one.

Gerald Green – 2007 Champion

Green deserves a certain amount of credit for being inventive. In 22 years of Dunk Contests before him, almost every dunk had been conceived and used repeatedly. But he came up with some inventive stuff which really keyed his victory in 2007.

In the 2008 Dunk Contest, his “Birthday Cake” dunk is possibly the most creative dunk ever.

Read part one of this series here. In ranking these champions, I want to completely exclude their overall skill as basketball players, and focus solely on their ability to dunk the basketball. Also, I think era in which they were dunking in is very significant, as is height.

Vince Carter – 2000 Champion

For anyone who didn’t watch this entire contest from start to finish, you are only hurting yourself. VC’s performance was no doubt elevated by Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis. Everybody knew VC was the best leaper and “in game” dunker in the NBA at the time, but that doesn’t always translate to Dunk Contest success. After two years of no Dunk Contests, VC’s performance is exactly what the NBA needed.

Before the contest VC stated he had four dunks he was going to do that no one had ever done- and he wasn’t lying.  His reverse 360 windmill to start it set the tone. His between the legs off the bounce pass “East Bay Funk Dunk” blew people’s minds. Hanging on the rim with his elbow, then finishing with a two handed dunk from near the free throw line wrapped up the title. Kenny Smith said it best when he said, “Carter is like a combination of Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan.” True that.

Harold Miner – 1993, 1995 Champion

“Baby Jordan” sure looked the part, due to his mannerisms and style, but as a dunker, he was limited. In 1993 Miner’s dunking was defined by his power, including the indelible image of his two handed reverse dunk. In 1995, it was really interesting to that he won again because he used almost the exact same repertoire of dunks. But the field performed so badly (Antonio Harvey, Tony Dumas, Isaiah Rider) he was sort of the default champ. Another factor was the change to a timed series of dunks, rather than one at a time like in past years.

Spud Webb – 1986 Champion

Spud will always be the “People’s Champion” of the Dunk Contest. At 5-6, going up against the most fearsome dunker in his era in Dominique Wilkins, it is still the ultimate “David vs. Goliath” story. And it just looked so surreal to see this little guy jumping so freakishly high. Before the Dunk Contest two years ago TNT ran a piece that compared Nate Robinson to Webb- in my mind, there is no comparison whatsoever.

Kobe Bryant – 1997 Champion

Historically, the 1997 NBA Slam Dunk contest isn’t that highly revered. And even watching it, it really wasn’t great. Personally I blame Bob Sura who looked like he could barely even touch rim that day, but the field as a whole was just sort of disjointed. A young Kobe Bryant capitalized and was by far the most athletic and entertaining dunker in the field.

Dee Brown – 1991 Champion

This was always one of my favorite NBA Slam Dunk Contests. It was early enough where you didn’t see the same played out dunks as always. Seeing a 6-1 inch Dee Brown elevate and impress over a field of significantly larger men was very compelling. And even though the “No Look Dunk” sealed the deal for him, he had several other very impressive dunks that everyone forgets about. But what this Dunk Contest is even known for more than that was Brown’s endless hyping of his Reebok Pumps, especially right before the final dunk where he “Pumped Up” his shoes and a new marketing campaign was borne; if 6-1 inch Brown can do it, why can’t YOU??

Read part one of this series here and part two of this series here. In ranking these champions, I want to completely exclude their overall skill as basketball players, and focus solely on their ability to dunk the basketball.

Also, I think era in which they were dunking in is very significant, as is height. With those parameters laid out, let me throw the second five names at you, in no particular order. Of these five, I will rank them by reader comments via Hoopsvibe.com, Facebook and private emails. The player who gets the most vote moves into the “Final Four” of great dunkers, from which a mythical champ will be crowned; open wide, here they come!

Cedric Ceballos – 1992 Champion

The dunks in this NBA Slam Dunk contest sum up in one contest why the 90’s Dunk Contests were better than the 2000’s. First off no player was “too big” for the contest (Nick Anderson, Starks, etc. no third rate players), showing up and enthusiastic to compete, something that was lost in later years. In this contest there were all kinds of dunkers, which was perfectly epitomized in the final match-up pitting the power of Larry Johnson versus the agility of Ced Ceballos. Ced’s two handed blindfolded dunk sealed the deal and the battle still rages about whether he could see or not.

Fred Jones – 2004 Champion

After annihilating the competition the previous two years, Jason Richardson was attempting to win his third contest in a row.  Though he arguably completed the two best dunks in the contest, they came in the first round and after multiple attempts; Fred Jones’ two perfect scores on four attempts snagged him the title. Jones’ lob, 360, one handed dunk is maybe one of the best of its kind of all time.

Brent Barry – 1996 Champion

In my opinion this was one of the most anti-climactic final rounds ever. I was never a fan of Brent Berry winning the contest thanks to doing the free throw line dunk twice. Even in 1996 the “Free Throw Line Dunk” was played out by then. So a guy doing it twice really shouldn’t have won it. Not a great Dunk Contest.

Josh Smith – 2005 Champion

After the previous couple of NBA Slam Dunk contests had lacked creativity, this one made up for at least three boring contests. Amare Stoudemire’s off the head alley-oop from Steve Nash was pretty cool and novel, but it couldn’t hang with Josh Smith’s dunks that were even more creative. The first one was having Kenyon Martin, seated in the chair in the lane, flip him an alley-oop while he jumped over him and finished the dunk. Once in the finals Smith had the most creative round in years. First he donned a Dominique Wilkins jersey and finished a windmill slam from the right block.

Stoudemire countered with a sweet between the legs reverse dunk on the baseline with his head nearly hitting the rim. On his final dunk, Smith completed a one handed 360 windmill, spinning backwards. Both of Smith’s dunks got 50’s and sealed the deal.

Desmond Mason – 2001 Champion

2001 may be one of the most underrated Dunk Contests ever. The field was stacked with similar dunkers and hotly contested, consisting of Baron Davis, Jonathan Bender, Corey Maggette, Stromile Swift, Deshawn Stevenson and Desmond Mason.  After a first round 31, Mason recovered to make the final round by a one point margin, besting Bender and Swift. Mason’s seven foot wingspan and ability to dunk with both hands saw him finish dunks at crazy angles and seemingly hang in the air longer than any other competitor, ultimately sealing the victory. 2001 is definitely worth watching for four minutes in your cube at work.

Michael Jordan- 1987, 1988 Champion

“His Airness” redefined the slam dunk in a lot of ways. How much of his greatness can be attributed to the competition and equal skills of Dominique Wilkins? Jordan was the ultimate finesse dunker, “Nique” the ultimate power dunker. The one thing I have to argue against Jordan is the fact he used the “Free Throw Line Dunk” twice in two competitions to win both. And how much of his second title (over “Nique”) can be attributed to the fact it was at Chicago Stadium? To this day I think “Nique” got robbed.

Dominique Wilkins- 1985, 1990 Champion

“Nique” to this day in my opinion is the most thunderous dunker I’ve ever seen. Just his sheer force, combined with his endless athleticism, is still unparalleled even to this day. You could argue VC, but “Nique” hit it with such passion, force and creativity, he may have been the most electrifying dunker ever. And if his buddy and teammate Sup Webb hadn’t stole the show in 1986, he would’ve been a three time winner when it meant something. The ultimate competitor, Wilkins and Jordan were the most perfect rivals ever to square off against each other, perhaps in any sport.

Jason Richardson- 2002, 2003 Champion

A lot of people forget J-Rich won back to back NBA Slam Dunk Contests. Partially because of how gimmicky 2002 was- NBA legends spinning a giant wheel to determine what dunks the competitors would do? How lame. If there was ever a sign all the dunks had been created and executed, that was it. The 2002 reverse two hander off the bounce that Richardson pulled off was atletic as it was inventive. The only thing better than that was his between the legs, off hand, off the bounce dunk he did to win the 2003 contest.

Blake Griffin – 2011 Champion

I read all the time how the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Contest was “weak” in a lot of people’s minds. But was it weak, or is it because it’s so hard for competitors to come up with such imaginative dunks year after year? I will admit though something felt amiss during the contest- no matter what anyone else did, Griffin was going to win. It was at least the most commercialized, over blown final dunk ever- what’s that special about a 6-10 guy jumping over the hood of a car to dunk a ball? Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell certainly wasn’t impressed.

Dwight Howard – 2008 Champion

Howard will never get the credit he deserves because he’s 6-11. It’s funny to think that Larry Nance was 6-10 and they’re such completely different dunkers.

Howard’s “Superman Dunk”, which was essentially a dunk off an alley-oop from just inside the free throw line, may not have been the most technically sound dunk ever, but the ingenuity, theatrics and overall concept was what ensured him the victory.

So, which one of these guys is the best?

Here’s the full list of NBA Slam Dunk Contest Champions from Wikipedia:

YearHost cityPlayerTeam
1984DenverLarry NancePhoenix Suns
1985IndianapolisDominique WilkinsAtlanta Hawks
1986DallasSpud Webb
1987SeattleMichael JordanChicago Bulls
1988Chicago
1989HoustonKenny WalkerNew York Knicks
1990MiamiDominique WilkinsAtlanta Hawks
1991CharlotteDee BrownBoston Celtics
1992OrlandoCedric CeballosPhoenix Suns
1993Salt Lake CityHarold MinerMiami Heat
1994MinneapolisIsaiah RiderMinnesota Timberwolves
1995PhoenixHarold MinerMiami Heat
1996San AntonioBrent BarryLos Angeles Clippers
1997ClevelandKobe BryantLos Angeles Lakers
1998New York CityThe WNBA–NBA 2Ball Competition replaced the Slam Dunk ContestN/A
1999PhiladelphiaLockout-shortened season, no NBA All-Star Game
2000OaklandVince CarterToronto Raptors
2001Washington, D.C.Desmond MasonSeattle SuperSonics
2002PhiladelphiaJason RichardsonGolden State Warriors
2003Atlanta
2004Los AngelesFred JonesIndiana Pacers
2005DenverJosh SmithAtlanta Hawks
2006HoustonNate RobinsonNew York Knicks
2007Las VegasGerald GreenBoston Celtics
2008New OrleansDwight HowardOrlando Magic
2009PhoenixNate RobinsonNew York Knicks
2010Dallas
2011Los AngelesBlake GriffinLos Angeles Clippers
2012OrlandoJeremy EvansUtah Jazz
2013HoustonTerrence RossToronto Raptors
2014New OrleansJohn WallWashington Wizards
2015New York CityZach LaVineMinnesota Timberwolves
2016Toronto
2017New OrleansGlenn Robinson IIIIndiana Pacers
2018Los AngelesDonovan MitchellUtah Jazz
2019CharlotteHamidou DialloOklahoma City Thunder
2020ChicagoDerrick Jones Jr.Miami Heat
2021AtlantaAnfernee SimonsPortland Trail Blazers
2022ClevelandObi ToppinNew York Knicks
I’ve been a freelance journalist since 2000 and have had my work published via AskMen, Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, Busted Coverage, and Autotrader. I’ve done stand-up comedy. I'm a dad, youth soccer club President, and former team statistician for the oldest indoor football team in the world, the Omaha Beef. I’ve married six couples in 10 years and my Marriage to Still Married ratio is 6:6. I always say, it isn’t so much about the “love,” as it is the tasteless jokes that became vows. I started the I-80 Sports Blog to have all the work I've published located in one place and to write about things I want to write about. I don't take anything too seriously and it is a real time saver.