Top 10 NBA Dunk Contest Debuts

Four first-time dunkers are competing in the All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest this year, and they’ve got 28 years of history to live up to when it comes to dramatic dunk debuts.

Chase Budinger, Derrick Williams, Paul George and Jeremy Evans take part in Saturday night’s Sprite Slam Dunk Contest in Orlando, where they’ll be chasing the precedent of the best dunkers in their first contest. From Spud to Kobe to J.R. and Jordan, we bring you the top 10 of those moments here.

Kobe Bryant, 1997
A year before he’d tangle one-one-one with Michael Jordan in the actual All-Star game, Bryant showed what the world what Lower Merion High opponents were seeing the years before. Bonus points for the between the legs off one foot and the two-foot slam where he brought it to his hips. The color commentator that year did have a word of warning, however: “You hope he doesn’t have the slam dunk winner curse after this.” No problem there.
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Isaiah Rider, 1994
From the baseline J.R. went between the legs, one-upping Orlando Woodbridge from a decade earlier and stealing the dunk contest on his first try. It was literally, to Charles Barkley at least, an “Oh my god” moment. On the color commentary Chuck thought this of Rider’s winning slam: “That might be the best dunk I’ve ever seen.”

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Dee Brown, 1991
No-look city. Brown was the first to win and never compete again after covering his eyes for his final dunk. He’d already beaten Shawn Kemp — a vicious throwdown assassin in his own right — but decided to up the ante one last time.

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Blake Griffin, 2011
He had the hometown crowd behind him, Kenny Smith in his corner playing the ultimate hype man and a Kia sitting in the paint. Add it up and Griffin pulled off the most theatrical, if not the best on pure dunking, All-Star debut. An L.A. production, through and through.

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Cedric Ceballos, 1992
How do you top Dee Brown’s no-look? Put on a blindfold, obviously. One of the father’s of theatricality in the dunk contest took off from half-court with a blindfold. Points are taken away, just like with Brown, for pulling out the risky dunk once he’d already had the title won, but it’s still impressive.

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Nate Robinson, 2006
A winner in his first try, fan favorite Nate knew how to set up his clinching dunk perfectly. His entry was a return to the short-men-can-fly era of Spudd Webb before him, so naturally he brought the contest full circle in Houston by jumping over Webb with plenty of air to spare.

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Jason Richardson, 2002
Kenny the Jet saw flashes of Dominique in the man from Michigan State’s debut win. He’d win in 2003, too, but 2002 featured three dunks that were purely power.

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Michael Jordan, 1985
Before his wins in 1987 and ’88, His Airness ripped off a right-hand cradle reverse (2:30 on the second video) and his first free-throw line dunk in his loss to Dominique Wilkins. Unlike his free-throw in ’88, he doesn’t double-pump on the Jumpman, free-throw dunk, not that it was any less impressive for the then 22-year-old MJ.

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Spud Webb, 1986
Only two years after the contest’s beginning, everything changed. A year after Jordan and Wilkins put together a classic duel, 5-7 Spud took down all comers in Dallas and showed hops, no matter a guy’s height, is king. My favorite is the one at 1:24 on the video, off a bounce, with his back to the basket. Its clincher is the full extension he’s reaching at while still turned around.

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Vince Carter, 2000
Jordan and Wilkins gave life to the dunk contest, but Vinsanity is still the standard bearer for how thorough his domination was in Oakland that night. It was the album you love that has no weak tracks, even in its deepest cuts. Reverse 360 from the hip. Windmill from the baseline. Elbow in the rim. And who can forget Kenny Smith‘s classic call after the between-the-legs alley-oop: “It’s ova! It’s ova!”

Who will have the best dunk debut this year?

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