A dunk is worth just two points, but the best dunkers in the world always find ways to make it feel like more.
From signature in-game slams to unforgettable posterizations to you-had-to-be-there dunk contest moments, players from generations past and present have left an indelible mark on the game with their ability to finish at the rim.
But which player holds the crown for each franchise? To answer the question, we asked our group of NBA Insiders to vote on the most iconic dunker for each franchise. Let the debate begin.
Note: The criteria used for selecting iconic dunkers for each team included a player’s in-game dunks, performance in the slam dunk contest, innovation and signature moments.
Michael Jordan reclaimed his throne in Chicago, edging Dominique Wilkins in a showdown for the ages at the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
Wilkins’ double-handed windmill in the finals of the 1988 dunk contest he lost (controversially? dubiously? Hawks fans have their suspicions) to Michael Jordan might be Nique’s most noteworthy dunk, but his most potent weaponry was discharged in live games. Few could unleash an electric dunk in traffic quite like Wilkins, and his signature double pump while jumping off two feet among the trees was a marvel of body control. The true spectacle? When he got a running start and gussied up the double pump with the reverse. — Kevin Arnovitz
Others receiving votes: Spud Webb 4.2%
Brown’s 1991 dunk contest victory over another legendary dunker, Shawn Kemp, became iconic for two reasons: Brown “pumping up” his Reeboks and his no-look final slam to cap his victory. While Brown had a solid but unspectacular NBA career playing for the Celtics, Raptors and Magic, his performance as a rookie in that 1991 dunk contest will ensure he remains a part of NBA lore. — Tim Bontemps
Others receiving votes: Gerald Green 29.2%
Vince Carter threw down more impossible and head-shaking dunks. No Net had more power dunks than Kenyon Martin. And Richard Jefferson collected his share of high-flying alley-oops from Jason Kidd. But despite being a Net for only three ABA years, Julius Erving was simply iconic. Dr. J’s style, flair and creativity were groundbreaking and spawned a generation of innovative dunkers. — Ohm Youngmisuk
Others receiving votes: Vince Carter 12.5%, Richard Jefferson 4.2%, Kenyon Martin 4.2%
Johnson was the man when it came to throwing down ferocious dunks early in his career. Before his back injury zapped some of his high-flying abilities, Johnson was a walking highlight during his early days with the Hornets. At 6-6 and 250 pounds, Johnson was a scary sight coming down the lane — even scarier if he was wearing the Grandmama getup. — Andrew Lopez
Others receiving votes: Baron Davis 16.7%, Jason Richardson 12.5%
Michael Jordan spins by Charles Oakley, then throws down a one-handed exclamation point on Patrick Ewing.
His Airness was one of three players to receive 100% of a team’s total votes, and it’s obvious as to why. Whether it was in a game or in the dunk contest, Jordan always rose to the occasion. MJ’s most memorable dunk of all time came in the 1988 dunk contest when he took off from just inside the free throw line to earn a perfect score inside a raucous Chicago Stadium. Just as noteworthy are the times he would rise up to posterize big men like Dikembe Mutombo and Patrick Ewing. He is the gold standard in this category because of his style, grace and power in the air. — Nick Friedell
Others receiving votes: None
On May 12, 2008, LeBron James accelerates by Paul Pierce, then rises for the monster jam on Kevin Garnett.
If there’s a category in Cavaliers history LeBron doesn’t own, it’s not readily available. He has probably the two most impressive dunks in Cavs history: the “no regard for human life” dunk on Kevin Garnett in the 2008 playoffs and the Jusuf Nurkic poster in Portland in 2018. LeBron’s constant teasing of participation in the slam dunk contest made us wonder what he could do on All-Star Saturday night, but his signature tomahawk dunks and a long list of posters make up for it. — Brian Windhorst
Others receiving votes: Larry Nance 20.8%, Ricky Davis 8.3%
Finley had one of the funniest attempts in a dunk contest when he represented the Mavericks in 1997. After throwing himself a lob off the floor, he did a (really bad) cartwheel and missed the two-hand jam, cracking up the crowd and himself. Finley, the runner-up in the contest as a Suns rookie the previous year, has a highlight reel full of ferocious dunks over big men, typically one-hand tomahawks after two-foot takeoffs in traffic. — Tim MacMahon
Others receiving votes: Josh Howard 12.5%, Dennis Smith Jr. 12.5%
One of Thompson’s biggest accomplishments is that he helped popularize the alley-oop while in college during an era when dunking was outlawed by the NCAA. But his biggest dunk accomplishment is that he was the one to inspire Michael Jordan. Jordan idolized the former North Carolina State standout while growing up in nearby Wilmington. Once in Denver, the high-flying guard was a showman. He caught his fair share of bodies over seven seasons in Denver, flying in for dunks over taller defenders and, of course, throwing down alley-oops. — Ohm Youngmisuk
Others receiving votes: JR Smith 16.7%, Antonio McDyess 8.3%, Robert Pack 4.2%
The two biggest stars in Detroit in the 1990s were Barry Sanders and Grant Hill. While Sanders crossed up defenders on the gridiron, “G-Money” was crossing up elite defenders like Scottie Pippen to deliver vicious two-handed jams in his signature Filas. Hill’s most disrespectful dunk came in Miami when he crossed up Dan Majerle and drove to finish over Alonzo Mourning at the rim. Hill’s time in Motown hasn’t merited putting his jersey in the rafters yet, but his status as best dunker in franchise history remains unchallenged. — Eric Woodyard
Others receiving votes: Darvin Ham 34.8%, Jerry Stackhouse 17.4%
Baron Davis’ dunk on Andre Kirilenko with the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors is the greatest in franchise history. But Jason Richardson is the greatest dunker in franchise history. “J-Rich” won two NBA slam dunk championships as a member of the Warriors and is the only player in franchise history to win. And in lean years for the team during his six-year tenure, Richardson was one of the few reasons Warriors fans felt like they got their money’s worth. — Marc Spears
Others receiving votes: Baron Davis 12.5%, Latrell Sprewell 4.2%, Chris Webber 4.2%
You might not remember the runner-up in Vince Carter’s legendary dunk contest performance, but Steve Francis put on a pretty good show that night, too. Stevie Franchise had a 40-plus-inch vertical and a lot of flair, and his dunking resume just squeaks by T-Mac for best Rocket dunker ever. The three-time All-Star was a ruthless rim attacker off the dribble, but a lot of his best in-game dunks came on alley-oops, a rarity for a 6-foot-3 guard. — Tim MacMahon
Others receiving votes: Tracy McGrady 40%, Clyde Drexler 12%
Paul George’s performances in the dunk contest are criminally underrated — don’t sleep on his reverse through-the-legs dunk in 2014 — but what cements his place as the Pacers’ all-time dunker is, simply, the Birdman poster. Game 2, 2013 Eastern Conference finals, under 10 seconds left in the third quarter in a two-point game. George beats LeBron off the dribble, and to say he demolished Chris Andersen isn’t even enough. He sent Andersen into another realm. — Royce Young
Others receiving votes: Victor Oladipo 37.5%, Fred Jones 12.5%, Glenn Robinson III 4.2%
On January 30, 2012, Blake Griffin dunks all over Kendrick Perkins to the delight of the Staples Center.
Apologies to DeAndre Jordan, but there is no “Lob City” without Blake Griffin. For seven and a half seasons with LA, Griffin terrorized rims and defenders with power and athleticism. Griffin was a nightly guest on highlight shows with his latest poster victim or an incredible alley-oop finish. Not only were big men not safe in the paint, but cars could get it too, as evidenced by his winning jam in the 2011 slam dunk contest. — Ohm Youngmisuk
Others receiving votes: Brent Barry 4%, DeAndre Jordan 4%, Darius Miles 4%
On Feb. 8, 1997, Kobe Bryant won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie.
From the moment Kobe Bryant snatched Ben Wallace’s soul, taking off just inside the foul line to dunk over a future all-world defender in a 1997 preseason game, his dunking legacy as one of greatest began. Sure, his slam dunk contest win preceded it — he took home the trophy with an Isaiah “J.R.” Rider-inspired between-the-legs dunk — but his best dunks came when it mattered. The playoff posters on Steve Nash and Emeka Okafor. The baseline reverse jams eluding Latrell Sprewell at the Mecca and Kevin Garnett at the Target Center. His baptism of Dwight Howard. And the sweet footwork, creativity and command he showed catching a full-court outlet pass against Denver and putting the ball behind his back as he corkscrewed his body to launch a 180 slam might have been his best. He is a dunking icon. — Dave McMenamin
Others receiving votes: Shaquille O’Neal 28%, Eddie Jones 4%
Ja Morant’s most memorable highlight might be a missed dunk after leaping over 6-10 Kevin Love, who joked on Twitter, “Ja almost ended my professional career with this dunk.” Morant has already dunked on plenty of bigs, most notably then-Suns center Aron Baynes, the victim of a vicious, off-the-dribble, tomahawk dagger in a close game. Morant, in only his second season, has a unique combination of explosiveness and fearlessness, giving the Grizzlies’ skinny point guard a case for the league’s most entertaining pound-for-pound dunker. — Tim MacMahon
Others receiving votes: Rudy Gay 25%, Stromile Swift 25%
Harold Miner was voted the Heat’s best dunker mostly on the back of his winning two slam dunk competitions in dominant fashion. Miner, who was nicknamed “Baby Jordan,” used his incredible leaping ability and power to beat the 1993 defending champion Cedric Ceballos and 1995 defending champ Isaiah “J.R.” Rider. His signature dunk, a reverse double-pump dunk, became a go-to move for future dunkers in the competition. Miner played only four seasons in the NBA, but his in-game dunks, including a putback slam over Hakeem Olajuwon, make for a worthy highlight reel. — Jorge Sedano
Others receiving votes: Dwyane Wade 29.2%, LeBron James 25%, Derrick Jones, Jr. 8.3%
Antetokounmpo is at his best going downhill, Euro-stepping his way around defenders to deliver a thunderous jam followed by his patented mean mug as an exclamation. Dunking isn’t so much an art form as a reminder of how forceful and dominant the two-time MVP can be to opponents. Sure, the Bucks have had rim rockers over the years such as Desmond Mason and Ray Allen, but none like Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo personifies the team’s “Fear the Deer” slogan, one poster dunk at a time. — Eric Woodyard
Others receiving votes: Desmond Mason 36%, Ray Allen 8%
Zach LaVine breaks down his dunks from the 2016 NBA Slam Dunk Contest vs. Aaron Gordon.
Zach LaVine has worked hard to let it be known that he’s more than a dunker, as the two-time slam dunk champion earned his first All-Star selection in his seventh season. However, LaVine’s run in the dunk contest is arguably the greatest in NBA history. His duel in the slam dunk contest versus Aaron Gordon in 2016 reminded many of Jordan vs. Wilkins in 1988. When your name can stand tall next to MJ, Vince Carter and Julius Erving in dunk contest lore, you’ve done something special. — Eric Woodyard
Others receiving votes: Isaiah Rider 25%, Kevin Garnett 12.5%, Gerald Green 4.2%
New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans: Baron Davis 40%
If you ask this question again at the end of the season, the answer will likely change to Zion Williamson. But by a slim margin, B-Diddy holds the dunk crown in the Big Easy. While some of his more memorable slams came in other uniforms, Davis put on a show in the 2001 slam dunk competition with his homage to Harold Miner and a comedic display of dunk brilliance with a headband covering his eyes on a missed slam. It’s important to note that Davis did all of this after tearing his ACL in 1998 while at UCLA. Do yourself a favor and look at his dunks while in Westwood. — Andrew Lopez
Others receiving votes: Zion Williamson 28%, JR Smith 16%, Anthony Davis 16%
Kenny “Sky” Walker had the nickname, power dunks, high-top fade, gold chains and was the successor to back-to-back winner Michael Jordan as the slam dunk champion in 1989. But Nate Robinson wins this tiebreaker for me due to becoming the first three-time dunk champion — and doing it while standing 5-9. While they came in the dunk contests, only Robinson can lay claim to dunking over former dunk champs in 5-7 Spud Webb and 6-10 Dwight Howard. Plus, Robinson’s penchant for putback dunks in Madison Square Garden made him consistently worthy of SportsCenter’s Top 10. — Ohm Youngmisuk
Others receiving votes: Patrick Ewing 16.7%, John Starks 8.3%
It’s a forgotten story, but Westbrook tried to be in the dunk contest. The fans just turned him down. He was part of a vote in the 2009 All-Star Game in which Rudy Fernandez got the nod. Since then, one of the greatest athletes in NBA history has sworn off the dunk contest because it no longer fits his ideology: “I only dunk on people,” he said in 2015. A fair point, because if you type in “Russell Westbrook dunk” on YouTube, you’ll find a treasure trove of posters. Westbrook’s dunk approach mimics his game at large: They are uncompromising, ambitious, aggressive and at times, head-scratching. Even his failed attempts are magnificent. If you pay close attention, you can see the moment of realization he’s going to attack. And that instant is one of the most exhilarating because there’s no telling what might happen next. — Royce Young
Others receiving votes: Kevin Durant 4.5%
With Aaron Gordon returning to the slam dunk contest, take a look back at his top highlights from the 2016 contest.
Gordon’s dunk legacy as one of the all-time greats is secured without his actually winning a contest. His performances in the 2016 and 2020 slam dunk contests still spark debate about whether he deserved to win, as his desire to dunk over and around team mascots made for incredible moments. Gordon’s athletic ability and ferocity at the rim have always been a staple of his dunk repertoire whether in games or not, but his ability to fly through the air while taking the ball from Stuff spinning on a motorized hoverboard might be Gordon’s best achievement. — Nick Friedell
Others receiving votes: Dwight Howard 34.8%, Shaquille O’Neal 17.4%, Tracy McGrady 4.3%
On Jan. 5, 1983, Julius Erving completes his famous “Rock the Baby” dunk, with Michael Cooper wanting no part of the vicious jam in a 76ers win.
Julius Erving might not have ever competed in an NBA slam dunk contest, but he didn’t need to — his victory in the first-ever dunk contest, at halftime of the ABA All-Star Game in 1976 — set the standard for all who followed. Erving’s dunk from the free throw line was later imitated by Michael Jordan, and players for generations to come — including LeBron James, who wore Dr. J’s No. 6 in Miami — credit his style on the court, including his incredible combination of athleticism and grace soaring through the air, as an inspiration for how they tried to play the game.
Of note, Erving is the only player to represent two franchises on this list. — Tim Bontemps
Others receiving votes: Darryl Dawkins 37.5%-
Phoenix Suns: Amar’e Stoudemire 54.2%
During his time with Phoenix, Stoudemire would try to dunk on anybody and anything that was in his path. Just ask Anthony Tolliver. Or Michael Olowokandi. Or any other number of former NBA players who felt S.T.A.T.’s wrath during his eight years with the Suns. Over that time, Stoudemire threw down 1,177 dunks — only Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard had more over that stretch. Plus, his soccer-style collaboration with Steve Nash during the slam dunk contest in 2005 resulted in a memorable runner-up finish. — Andrew Lopez
Others receiving votes: Larry Nance 20.8%, Tom Chambers 16.7%, Kevin Johnson 8.3%
When your nickname comes from your leaping ability, it probably means you’ve got a good dunking résumé. And “The Glide” was an entirely appropriate moniker, because Drexler’s dunks had a certain gracefulness to them. He soared, he levitated, he hovered. He … glided. He was both an in-game highlight reel and a contest dunker, showcasing creativity to go along with his practicality. The way he would palm the ball high as he galloped into two big steps just added to the artfulness of his dunks. — Royce Young
Others receiving votes: Jerome Kersey 12.5%, Brandon Roy 4.3%
Wallace made two appearances in the contest, one as a member of the Kings in 2002. He always had the hops to get people’s attention, but it was the athleticism and ability to contort his body in different directions that created some impressive throwdowns through the years. Wallace’s gift was being able to strike at any moment through the air, like his fast-break poster and twirl on Boštjan Nachbar. — Nick Friedell
Others receiving votes: Chris Webber 29.2%, Kenny Smith 25%
The finger roll wasn’t the only thing George Gervin could do. The “Iceman” competed in the ABA’s groundbreaking 1976 dunk contest — a windmill after taking off from the dotted line being the highlight of his performance. Gervin, often with a gold chain dangling on his neck, usually frustrated shot-blockers by floating that finger roll over them, but the lanky legend took off and punched it in plenty of times, too. — Tim MacMahon
Others receiving votes: Manu Ginobili 26.1%, David Robinson 21.7%, Johnny Dawkins 4.3%
After Shawn Kemp and Alton Lister got into it several games earlier, Kemp gets his revenge with a poster slam and points at Lister in ridicule.
Seattle SuperSonics: Shawn Kemp 100%
Despite never winning a dunk contest — he finished second to Dee Brown in 1991 — Kemp was the clear pick here. Kemp’s dunks remain symbolic of the Sonics’ successful 1990s run and have gained new life on YouTube. Whether he was throwing down alley-oop lobs from Gary Payton or finishing over Alton Lister, Kemp’s dunks were singular. Who else could dunk on a player (Chris Gatling) and then get dapped up by him? — Kevin Pelton
Others receiving votes: None
Celebrate Vince Carter’s birthday by reliving some of the greatest dunks from his illustrious career.
It is hard to argue against Vince Carter being the greatest dunker in NBA history, not just Raptors history. In 2000, “Vinsanity” had the dunk contest’s most dominant and beautiful performance ever, with elbow-in-the-rim dunks and two-handed finishes from the free throw line standing out. Carter also made a name for himself by regularly posterizing big men, most notably with his dunk over France’s 7-2 center, Frederic Weis, in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. — Marc Spears
Others receiving votes: None
Nicknames are earned, not given. And there’s not too many cooler than Darrell Griffith’s “Dr. Dunkenstein.” Before current Utah star Donovan Mitchell made the move from Louisville to Salt Lake City, there was another high flier who already laid that foundation in Griffith. Griffith’s No. 35 is currently hanging in the rafters of Vivint Arena after he treated fans to countless dunk shows. At 6-4, Griffith could fly with the best of them, both in the dunk contest and during in-game action. That’s the reason the iconic Nike poster of him dressed as a doctor — holding two half basketballs with smoke coming out of them — is forever a classic. — Eric Woodyard
JaVale McGee not only could dunk two balls in two different hoops, but he also slammed three balls consecutively on one attempt in a memorable slam dunk contest. Perhaps no Wizard had more punishing power dunks on opposing big men in games than Chris Webber. But the greatest Wizards dunker ever (sorry, Michael Jordan was mostly playing below the rim during his Wizards days) is John Wall. Loaded with speed and athleticism, Wall often looked like he was shot out of a cannon before he would dunk in games. He could dunk right-handed or left-handed, and the 2014 slam dunk champ could even dribble behind his back on the sprint before throwing down a filthy dunk. — Ohm Youngmisuk
Others receiving votes: JaVale McGee 20.8%, Chris Webber 16.7%
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