Whether it was alley-oops, one-handed jams, or jumps from the foul line, these players could lay down the jams better than anyone.
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The heyday of Jordan’s career came pre-millennium, but His Airness remained one of the best dunkers in the NBA until the day he retired in 2003. Jordan earned the nickname "Air Jordan" for his amazing airborne dunks, many of which started from behind the free throw line. Jordan won multiple championships, MVPs, a gold medal, and scoring titles, but many fans remember his wins in the NBA Slam Dunk contest as much as finals appearances. Jordan took flight in the 1987 contest and wiped the floor with his competition—famously sticking his tongue out and slamming the ball into the hoop—before winning the contest again in 1988. Check out some of Jordan’s best dunks from the 1987 contest and some of the most amazing slams from his career.
“King James” is one of the best athletes in NBA history—and one of the best dunkers. James uses his 6’8”, 250-pound frame to barrel through defenders in the lane and then unleash punishment on the hoop. During his time in Miami, James often threw down some amazing alley-oops with his teammate Dwyane Wade, and once he returned to Cleveland with the Cavaliers, he continued to put on high-flying displays of athletic ability. Some of his best dunks have come when the games counted the most, including in the NBA finals in 2016 against the Golden State Warriors. At one point, James nearly fell over on his way to the hoop, but he was able to recover for a powerful alley-oop slam from a pass by point guard Kyrie Irving.
After playing his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant has firmly planted himself as one of the best NBA players of all time. But long before he turned himself into a Hall of Fame player, Bryant was a young star with a rocket's worth of ups—and the ability to get way above the rim for slam jams. Bryant had the hops to get airborne over defenders and the athletic ability to pull off 360-degree spins on his dunks. Bryant has gone head-to-head with some of the best defensive players in the league—and he slammed dunked on all of them. Big men and strong defensive stars like like Yao Ming, Ben Wallace, Kevin Garnett, and Dwight Howard were no match for the “Black Mamba.” Bryant’s reverse dunk against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden was one of his career highlights.
Carter’s aerial displays during his NBA career earned him a number of nicknames, including "Air Canada" while he was playing with the Toronto Raptors. Carter’s star rose in the NBA due to his leaping ability, his fantastic slam dunks, and athletic alley-oops. One of the most memorable dunks in basketball history didn’t come in the NBA for Carter, but he sure made an impact with it—during the 2000 Olympics, Carter dunked over 7’2” French center Frédéric Weis, instantly making front pages around the world. The play was called "the Dunk of Death” by some in the media and helped cement "Vinsanity" as one of the most athletic dunkers of all time. Carter, also known as "Half-Man, Half-Amazing,” won the Slam Dunk contest in 2000 with an almost unbelieveable showing of athletic ability at the hoop, and was an All-Star for eight straight seasons in the league.
The former Michigan State Spartans star made a name for himself in the early 2000s with his creativity and originality when it came to dunking. Richardson’s performance in the Slam Dunk Contest in 2003 was one of the best in the history of the contest. For one dunk he pulled the ball all the way down between his legs before bringing it back up for a huge slam, and in the final round he pulled of an all-time athletic feat of dunking: Richardson started at the three-point line, threw the ball to himself, jumped and caught it in mid-air, brought the ball through his legs and then slammed it with a one-handed reverse dunk. Richardson became just the second player after Michael Jordan to win back-to-back dunk contests when he did in 2002 and 2003.
The Los Angeles Clippers forward is one of the most powerful dunkers in the NBA—at 6’10” and 251 pounds, he can power through opponents to get to the hoop. Griffin has become a human highlight reel for his posterizing dunks and he has pulled off some slams with major hang time, including in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 2011, which he won with a dunk jumping over a parked car in front of the hoop—yes, that actually happened. Griffin’s dunking reign didn’t just start in the NBA—he won the Powerade Jam Fest slam dunk contest and was the McDonald's All-American Slam Dunk Champion in high school. Griffin even turned his frequent dunking into a good cause: The Clippers star donated money for every dunk he made during the 2010-11 season to charity.
Green came into the NBA straight out of high school and he brought his dunking talents with him to the pros. Green won the 2005 McDonald's All-American Slam Dunk Contest and soon after that he took home the title at the 2007 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. That performance included a rebound dunk off the side of the backboard, a blind dunk over the head of fellow competitor Nate Robinson, as well as a super-athletic windmill dunk from behind the foul line to seal his victory. Green has been able to perform some fantastic dunks in NBA games as well, but his dunk contest performance was his finest dunk moment.
Part of the “new wave” of NBA dunkers, the Orlando Magic star has proven he has the skills to slam with the all-time legends of the game. The 6’9”, 220-pound athletic beast has dunked in almost every way imaginable—off rebounds, missed shots, from the foul line, from under the hoop, and on 360-degree spins. Gordon’s most legendary dunk performance was in the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest when he went head-to-head with Minnesota Timberwolves star Zach LaVine.
The two stars put on a ridiculous display of athleticism during the contest, going through two tie-breakers in the finals before LaVine won. Gordon gave LaVine his best shot though: he dunked over a mascot, did a one-handed windmill slam after grabbing the ball from a mascot on a hoverboard (yeah, this one got wild), and he also pulled off a one-handed, under the legs reverse windmill slam during his run.
The Toronto Raptors guard has shown off some super-athletic dunks over the course of his career, including in the 2010 Slam Dunk Competition when he came in second place to Nate Robinson. The former USC Trojans star was part of the Team USA roster in Rio for the Summer Olympics, and he brought his athleticism to the world stage, putting down a 360-reverse slam on the Chinese national team.
The Minnesota Timberwolves point guard currently has the mantle of the most exciting dunker in the NBA—his performance in the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest helped him get that crown. LaVine may be on the small side when it comes to the league (he’s 6’5”, 189 pounds), but his recorded vertical leap of 46 inches keeps him slamming above the rim. The compilation of LaVine’s best dunks are like an artistic display—he can hit them from any angle and from almost anywhere on the court. The battle with Aaron Gordon in the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest is considered one of the best ever, and his championship run included a one-handed windmill 360-dunk, a one-handed slam that started one step in front of the foul line, and a behind-the-back, hand switching reverse dunk.
The former Oklahoma City Thunder star and current Golden State Warriors forward is known for being a pure scorer over a dunker, but he can ball with the best of the NBA when it comes to rocking the hoop. Durant’s 6’9”, 240-pound frame gives him the length and the size to cut through defenders, and now that he’s going to play alongside long-range specialists like Draymond Green, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson, he should have even more opportunities to jam. Durant has perfected the two-handed slam, but he also has put in some beautiful alley-oop passes from former teammate Russell Westbrook. Durant's patented move is called the “step and the stuff” by most announcers—Durant takes the ball, takes one step past an opponent, and then slams the ball home.