By: Martin Sumners

The ABA didn’t invent the dunk but it did introduce the high-flying dunk contest at the 1976 ABA All-Star Game at the fitting site of Denver known as the Mile High City. This sideshow spectacle would become a lasting legacy of the league that played with a Globetrotteresque red, white and blue basketball and would later merge in that bicentennial year with the NBA.

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In 1984, the NBA, with its all-star game in Denver, resuscitated the event and it has been a windfall of woe and wondrous proportions. At times it has been the scapegoat of all what is wrong with professional sports as nothing more that superfluous calisthenics. Yet, it can’t be denied how much excitement that the dunk contest has provided as at its best it is sublime. No other singular athletic feat encompasses emotion, movement, modulation and imagination. Any other similar human expression would be called an art form.

Major League Baseball’s home run derby has booming majestic shots but it’s almost an accidental act of timing that pales in comparison. Also, the intimacy of the athletes with the audience in a dunk contest can transform an exhibition to exuberant theater with the current ad lib narrative of TNT’s Kenny Smith adding the soundtrack.

Without further ado, here are the top five dunk contest dunks of all-time.

5. Gerald Green’s Cupcake Dunk (2008)
Perhaps one of the most underrated dunk contest dunks of all-time. Green actually was the 2007 Dunk Contest Champ the previous year while with the Boston Celtics. But returning the next year in a Minnesota Timberwolves uniform he and the cupcake dunk have been overshadowed by the fact that he has produced very little in the NBA other than his dunk contest moments. And with Dwight Howard’s Superman throw-down non-dunk that same year helped him capture the contest nobody seems to remember who finishes second. But for originality and difficulty it also is the best prop dunk of all-time.

4. Julius Erving’s – Foul Line Dunk (1976)
Dr. J at his athletic apex sprinted effortlessly the full length of the court much like the long jumper Bob Beamon making “the leap of the century” at similar high altitude at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. The only indication of any wind resistance was his free-flowing afro. The foul line was the place of Erving’s lift off as he soared to the hoop with only his legs as propellers. At the 5:00 minute make of the video you can see the dunk that remains the barometer for all aspiring dunk legends.

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3: Vince Carter – 360 Windmill (2000)
The contest had gone out of favor in the 1990s as lesser players claimed the title with superstars passing on the affair for various reasons. Critics assailed that dunk creativity was exhausted. The competition was dropped from the 1998 All-Star weekend and the lockout shortened 1998-99 season resulted in the cancellation of the entire all-star weekend. But in his first dunk of the night, Carter spins with the torque of a superhero and in one fell swoop his Ruthian rim-rocker revived the dunk contest. It was clear to all who would win and Kenny’s chorus of “Let’s go home!” summed it up.

2. Jason Richardson – Backwards Instead of Forward (2003)
Kenny again adds flavor to the proceedings with his now famous praise: “I’ve seen something I’ve never seen before!” J-Rich takes the Vince Carter It’s Over Dunk from 2000 a step further like a jazz musician reinterpreting a refrain. He adds a bigger bounce pass and a backwards ball transition while throwing it down lefty for the funk of it.

1. Michael Jordan – Kiss the Rim (1987)
Probably the inspiration for the R.Kelly song “I Believe I Can Fly” featured in Jordan’s 1996 movie Space Jam. Jordan is almost parallel to Mother Earth below as he initially launches like a rocket then floats to the goal as an orbiting satellite. Rick Barry on the microphone for this contest although not as effusive as Kenny would be dissects the dunk beautifully. Barry alludes to the thought that often a dunk is demystified after several viewings. However, he reveals that the more you study this dunk the more complex it becomes like seeing new life form under a microscope.

Honorable Mention (In Chronological Order):

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Nique- Spud Teammate Battle (1986)
Dee Brown Pump up Sneakers Dunk (1991)
Cedric Ceballos Blindfold Dunk (1992)
Harold Miner, Power Dunk from Down Low (1993)
J.R. Rider, East Bay Funk Dunk (1994)
Josh Smith Nique Tribute (2005)
Amare Stoudemire, Nash Header Dunk 2005
JR Smith, Behind the Back Dunk (2005)
Andre Iguodala, Off the back of the Backboard Dunk (2006)
Nate Robinson, Dunk over Dwight Howard (2009)
Dwight Howard, 12-Foot Dunk (2009)
Blake Griffin, Car Dunk (2010)