I grew up as a huge fan of the dunk contest in the late 80's/early 90's-M.J., 'Nique, Grandmama, Baby Jordan, Dee Brown, Ced Ceballos, J.R./Isaiah Rider, Kobe, etc. It was the ultimate spectacle event for a kid -- seeing your favorite players go "Can you top this?" with amazing dunks.
I remember a "Dazzling Dunks and Basketball Bloopers" video tape (when that was a thing) from about 1990 (with Marv Alberts and Frank Layden), which I watched like 900 times, with, among others, all the classic Jordan/Wilkins battles. In fact, for me, All-Star Saturday Night was always a much bigger deal than the actual All-Star Game on Sunday.
The dunk contest went through a decided lull in the late ‘90’s, but was brought back with a fury by Vince Carter in 2000. Since then, the contest, for the most part, has been pretty awesome. The last five or six years have been just "okay", but the 2016 iteration -- really the battle between Zack LaVine and Aaron Gordon -- upped the ante even more and led some (including ESPN's J.A. Adande) to declare it the best dunk contest ever.
After much deliberation, many, many worthy honorable mentions being cut, and some time to marinate upon the aforementioned LaVine/Gordon battle, I give you my top ten dunk contest dunks of all time.
10.) Jason Richardson off the backboard, through the legs, 2004. We'd seen dudes go through the legs many times, but no one had ever done it off the backboard. Think of how high the ball was at its apex, and the dexterity and athleticism it took to bring it through. Plus, taking it straight on looks so much cooler.
9.) Andre Iguodala off the back of the backboard, pump reverse, 2006. Again, the innovation here is unbelievable. This was the first time anyone thought to use the back of the glass. Ridiculous. Plus, to grab the ball, duck under the board, then dunk is crazy. And off a teammate (Allen Iverson)’s pass.
8.) Jason Richardson off the bounce, reverse 180 windmill, 2002. Richardson, from the left wing, goes off the bounce and catches the ball squarely facing the basket. Then in the most graceful, yet violent way, while bringing the ball down, turns 180 degrees and slams the ball backwards, and as purely as could be. This is one of the more "Cirque Du Soleil"-type of dunks I've seen. Beautiful.
7.) Dwight Howard Superman, 2008. This wasn't truly a dunk in the strictest sense (more of a throw), but the fun factor, imagery, and the fact that he took off from behind the bottom of the circle, make this one immortal.
6.) Vince Carter hanging off the rim, 2000. This was one of those dunks that made you laugh hysterically, wondering if you really saw what you thought you saw. To get high enough to hang off the rim by your elbow is amazing, and to pull it off cleanly on the first try puts it in the Hall of Fame. Gerald Wallace and Richard Jefferson have attempted it in competition and failed, and Blake Griffin did it, but VC did it first and best.
5.) Aaron Gordon 360 grab from the hoverboard-spinning mascot, 2016. As soon as the Magic mascot, Stuff, started spinning on his hoverboard, you wondered what exactly was coming. For Gordon to go up, off two feet, grab and cup the ball in a fluid motion, add a Karl Malone pose, then go smooth 360 windmill hammer was bananas.
4.) Zach LaVine off the bounce, behind the back, 2015. Iguodala did this first, back in '06, but LaVine gets the edge because his was slightly more explosive and Iggy had a few attempts to nail it. I kind of tune out when guys go off the bounce since it's so played out, but to go up and bring the ball around your back with the off hand -- in mid-air -- and dunk it, with all that timing, is incredible.
3.) Jason Richardson off the bounce, backwards through the legs, left-handed blind reverse, 2004. Several things about this dunk make it outstanding: it was from the baseline, off the bounce, and he dunked it blind with the off hand. Plus, it was a contest-clincher. And having Kenny Smith go bonkers only adds to the luster.
2.) Vince Carter off the (teammate) bounce, through the legs, 2000. This dunk is the godfather of any through the leg variation (with an honorable mention to LaVine's through the legs from semi-free throw line this year). Before this, no one had done anything but a "standard" through the legs dunk, typically from the baseline and jumping off one foot. Timing it to take Tracy McGrady's bounce pass, and then to go off two feet, and cleanly through (from head on left lane) was sick. Carter's pointing to the sky with both hands pose and subsequent "it's over" gesture only added to how sick it was. The crown jewel dunk of the crown jewel dunk contest performance. This was the resurrection of the dunk contest.
1.) Aaron Gordon under both legs grab from -- and over-- the mascot, left-handed, 2016. Vince had been the king for over a decade and a half and I honestly didn’t know if anyone would ever unseat him for the greatest dunk contest dunk of all-time. As soon as I saw this nonsense Mr. Gordon pulled, however, I began to think we might have a new contender. Now that various iterations of the dunk have gone viral (including a Matrix-esque mid-air pause and camera rotation version) and I’ve watched it numerous times, this dunk is the new G.O.A.T. to me. Between the legs is common (number 10, 3, and 2 herein were exceptional) but no one had ever gone under both. To do that while jumping over a mascot, off two feet, with your off hand is unbelievable. Clearly Arizona fans will cry that Gordon got robbed (and I am firmly one of those) but they can take solace in the fact that this dunk is -- deservedly so -- getting so much attention.
So there you have it. Many, many exceptional dunks over the years simply didn't quite make my list. I'm sure there are many glaring omissions. Feel free to add any (or your own top 10) in the comments section.