The 10 Best 50-Point Dunks In Dunk Contest History, Ranked

The NBA closes its All-Star Saturday Night every year with the same thing: the Dunk Contest. It’s a unique event in that it’s either spectacular or horrible, and the line between the two is incredibly thin — think of how differently we’d look back on some of the really bad editions of the Dunk Contest if one or two of the ultra-ambitious flops are successful.

But over the years, there have been some extremely memorable dunks that have taken that year’s competition to another level. Of course, I’m talking about the ones that get a 50 from the judges, the highest possible score that can be handed out for a single dunk. There have been a whole lot of them over the NBA’s history dating back to when this became an annual event in 1984, and today, we wanted to identify the 10-best dunks that have earned a 50 in the competition’s history based on two criteria:

1. How good was the dunk? This means looking at how good the dunk was. It’s nice when things are self-explanatory!

2. How memorable was the dunk? This goes beyond just the dunk. When you say the name of it, do people automatically remember what you are talking about? How did the crowd react? How did the single most important person for selling a dunk — Kenny Smith — react, assuming he was on the call? Were there fun elements about the dunk that add some panache to the whole thing? (Ex: The Dwight Howard Superman dunk, which does appear on this list, is not as memorable if not for the jersey and the cape he put on, which makes it iconic.) This one is much more difficult to describe, but you know it when you see it.

If you’d like to see every 50-point dunk in the competition’s history, you can check out this video from the fine folks at the NBA. And with all of this now out of the way, let’s begin:

10. JaVale McGee dunks two basketballs in two hoops, 2011

Picking which dunk was going to round out this list was extremely difficult — there have been a lot of good ones over the years! — but this is on here for two reasons. One, it’s one of the most unique dunks we’ve ever seen in the Dunk Contest. Two, the list of guys in NBA history who could pull it off is remarkably short. McGee is one of the few players with the height, wingspan, and athleticism to be able to make this work, and even though it took him six tries to pull it off, he didn’t get dinged on the judges’ scorecards. That’s a testament to how difficult this dunk was, and as an added bonus, we get the very funny moment of Dwight Howard (who was on the call for this one) clearly hating that Reggie Miller thinks McGee is the only guy who could pull this one off.

9. Andre Iguodala takes off from behind backboard, 2006

The fact Iggy managed to not hit his head here continues to amaze me. It’s one of the most athletic things you’ll ever see, as he doesn’t have a super long run-up, but he’s still able to go up, grab the offering from Allen Iverson that hits off the back of the backboard, do a windmill (perhaps because if he did not, he was going to smash into the backboard), and dunk while his momentum is taking him away from the rim.

8. Nate Robinson jumps over Spud Webb, 2006

Few guys have ever been more fun in the Dunk Contest than Nate Robinson, the 5’9 journeyman guard who could absolutely fly and won the competition three times. His best dunk paid tribute to the guy with whom he’s always been compared, as Robinson got an assist from fellow diminutive high flyer Spud Webb. Robinson grabbed Webb’s Atlanta Hawks jersey, had him throw it on, and told him to hang out in the middle of the paint. Webb bounced the ball perfectly and Robinson did the rest, as he went up and over Webb en route to winning the Dunk Contest for the first time in his career. Capping it all off with Magic Johnson screaming “50, Kenny! 50!” really is an unintended great touch.

7. Dwight Howard Superman, 2008

I know what you’re saying: This wasn’t a dunk. Instead, this is one of the most impressive things that someone has done during the Dunk Contest. Being able to get up high enough that you could take a basketball and just throw it through the rim is completely insane, and everything about this was a joy. The tape getting put down was a nice touch, Jameer Nelson’s pass from behind the backboard was absolutely perfect, the cape and the Superman jersey are both iconic, and the person who decided to play the Superman music after Howard successfully did this deserved a raise that I hope they got. This also might be the single-best Kenny Smith performance, as he sells every bit of it perfectly. Even Magic Johnson decides to get in on the fun from his spot at the judge’s table. As a dunk, sure, I’ll hear the case it doesn’t belong here. As a spectacle during the Dunk Contest? Few have ever been better.

6. Vince Carter goes between the legs off the bounce, 2000

The dunk rocked — Tracy McGrady bounced it perfectly, and Carter made an extremely difficult thing look remarkably smooth. No one in the history of dunking is as good as mixing smoothness and power as well as Carter, and this was his masterpiece. He makes going up, getting the ball, and putting it between his legs look so easy, and then, that little hitch as he’s putting the ball into his right hand makes this look all the more explosive when he finally brings his arm up and dunks. And then, there’s everything else about this one: Marv Albert screaming. Kenny Smith’s iconic “IT’S OVER! IT’S OVER LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!” Multiple judges ignoring that judges are supposed to be impartial by throwing their arms triumphantly in the air. Vince looking right at the camera and saying “it’s over,” presumably without any clue that The Jet was screaming this same thing. In terms of meeting the moment that the Dunk Contest tries to create, this is No. 1 by a country mile. The dunk itself? Well, it’s really good, too.

5. Zach LaVine puts on a Space Jam jersey, 2015

LaVine’s appearances in the Dunk Contest were events — he went back-to-back in 2015 and 2016, with that second appearance being the single best competition I’ve ever seen in the event when he and Aaron Gordon threw haymakers against one another. Trying to ID his single-best 50 from those two performances is awfully difficult, as seven of his 10 dunks got a perfect score, but let’s go with his very first one. LaVine lobs the ball into the air, grabs it, puts it between his legs, and dunks with one hand. It’s ultra smooth and ultra explosive, and the Michael Jordan Tune Squad jersey from Space Jam really was an excellent touch. He almost made this look too easy, which is ridiculous.

4. Jason Richardson goes between the legs and does a one-handed backwards dunk, 2003

Going into this, I figured Richardson was going to be awfully high. He’s one of the most incredible dunkers the NBA has ever seen, and not many guys could ever go back-to-back in the Dunk Contest, so he was certainly going to be up on the list. And then, for the first time in years, I went back and reminded myself of what he threw down and realized that he had to be really, really high on this. For my money, his best dunk came in 2003, when he made it to the finals against Desmond Mason, giving us a matchup of the last two champions. For his final dunk of the night, Richardson stood in the corner, hoisted the ball into the air, and went between the legs from back to front. With his back to the rim, he dunked with only his left hand. Kenny Smith screamed that he’s never seen that before — because, while I do not know every detail about Kenny Smith’s life, he had not. It was remarkably athletic, remarkably powerful, really just remarkable in every way.

3. Michael Jordan from the free throw line, 1988

No athlete in my lifetime (or your lifetime, or any lifetime that came before us, or any lifetime that will come after us) was as cool as Michael Jordan, which he put on display every time he took off from the free throw line. There are a few options here for his best free throw line dunk, but let’s put in his 1988 dunk, which happened in front of a partisan crowd in Chicago Stadium. Jordan and Dominique Wilkins put forth the most famous Dunk Contest battle in history — the former won the event in 1986, the latter won it in 1987 — and while the whole thing featured some controversy over whether the judges scored Wilkins’ final dunk correctly. He did a two-handed windmill that only got a 45, meaning Jordan needed at least a 49 on his final dunk to win the whole thing. Jordan instead closed out with a perfect score by running the length of the floor, taking off from the charity stripe, going up with one hand, and keeping his shoulders squared towards the basket the entire time. Nique was clearly hard done by the judges, but this was a no-doubt 50.

2. Aaron Gordon up and over the mascot, 2016

The best Dunk Contest performance to ever come in second place. The best dunk ever thrown down by someone who did not win the Dunk Contest. He sat down in mid-air! No matter how many times I watch his showdown with Zach LaVine — which, for my money, might be the most incredible Dunk Contest we’ve ever seen, a true heavyweight prize fight between two of the best competition dunkers of all time — the one that blows me away without fail is Gordon having Orlando’s mascot stand in the restricted area with the ball on top of its head. “He’s just standing there,” Charles Barkley tells the rest of the booth.

And then, Gordon runs in, takes off, and jumps over everything before putting the ball underneath him and throwing down. Watch Andre Drummond, who flops onto the ground because he knows he has zero chance of winning after this. Draymond Green starts skipping. Anthony Anderson looks like he is ready to fight someone in that moment on Aaron Gordon’s behalf while Jon Stewart is declaring this year’s event over. Kenny Smith even busts out an “IT’S OVER, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN” for the first time in more than a decade. It, of course, was not over, as LaVine went on to win. I disagreed with it then and I disagree with it now, because come on, how can anything be better than this?

1. Vince Carter’s reverse 360 windmill, 2000

You don’t need to take my word for it, just watch the dunk, which looked as smooth as anything you’ll ever see, despite the fact that this should not be a thing that a human can do this easily. And then, the camera cuts to NBA players who are in complete and utter awe of what he just did. Shaq’s blown away while he’s trying to catch this all on camera, Dikembe Mutombo and Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and Chris Webber all cannot believe what they just saw. Kenny Smith wanted to end the competition right then and there, because he knew that no one had any chance to beat Vince. He was correct. Fortunately, Carter did not take that advice, and he ended up giving us the single-best Dunk Contest performance that we have ever seen. It did not get better than his first dunk, though, because nothing will.