Since Grantland did their oral history of the iconic Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson streetball buddy comedy, White Men Can’t Jump, we thought there were exceptions to stereotype. So we wanted to give credit to those white guys with some ups. Regardless of Woody Harrelson’s aw shucks playground hustle, the man is not a beacon for white athleticism.
Fortunately, throughout the course of NBA history – and more specifically, the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest -there have been a few white guys with enough hops to get invited to the annual contest over All-Star Weekend. But the list isn’t limited to those contestants. Some white guys can even get up and throw it down in the flow of an actual NBA game.
So without further ado, here are five starting white guys and a sixth man that CAN jump.
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6. CHRIS “BIRDMAN” ANDERSEN
The former Denver Nugget had a tough 2012, but even with his future (with the Heat?) up in the air, it’s his actual ability to get up in the air that we’re interested in for this list. He’s participated in the NBA Dunk Contest a couple of times, in 2004 and 2005, the latter of which he famously attempted (and missed) the same dunk a record eight times. Sure, the 6-10 Birdman and the celebratory flapping of his 7-foot wingspan (like a bird, get it?) provides him with a decided advantage when taking to the air with a basketball in hand, but he can still get up pretty good – enough for a reserve spot on this list. Plus, Andersen’s pale skin offset by the labyrinthian ink (“not mink”) on his body, makes his dunks an entertaining hallucinogenic blur.
5. BOBBY SURA
The 6-5 Wilkes-Barre, PA native, Bobby Sura once had a triple-double in back-to-back NBA games (and it would have been back-to-back-to-back if the NBA hadn’t rescinded his rebound to himself in the third game). During a 12-year career that saw him last play for the Houston Rockets in 2004-2005, Sura participated in both the Slam Dunk Contest and the Three-Point Shooting Contest during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend (not the only player on this list that achieved both those invites), so his game wasn’t predicated on a single concept (ahem, Harold Minor, take note).
But it was his aerial game and pigment that landed him on this list. His off-guard height is more traditional for dunk contestants than the larger Birdman, and he has a highlight tape filled with in-game dunks that cut right through the white men can’t jump postulate put forth by the movie. We only wish he’d avoided the cliched raising of the roof after throwing it down.
4. REX CHAPMAN
The 6-4 Chapman was sending SEC fans into hysterics well before he graced the NBA’s hardwood. Once he stepped up to the NBA level, his jumping continued and he was invited to the 1990 and 1991 Dunk Contests, the latter of which he finished tied for second (that was the year Dee Brown “pumped up” his kicks and did his no-look dunk to win the contest over Chapman and Shawn Kemp).
Chapman was also a pretty decent scorer during a 13-year NBA career. He never averaged under 10 points a game until his last season in the league. But his first couple of seasons, after dazzling Kentucky fans in college, saw him jumping all over the place at the highest level of basketball. He was an athlete’s athlete even on the grandest stage of the National Basketball Association, regardless of race, and his dunking chops make him a must-have on our list.
3. MANU GINOBILI
Ahh yes, the balding Argentinian is as fearless going towards the rim as his native Gauchos are stalking the South American grasslands for dinner. Compared to the rest of the players on this list, Manu is the most accomplished: he has three NBA titles, two All-Star nods (2005 and 2011) and a Sixth Man of the Year award during the ’07-08 season. He’s been one-third of the Spurs’ dynastic triumvirate that won titles seemingly every other year during the mid-aughts (2003, 2005, 2007), and he has a gold medal from playing with the 2004 Argentinian National Team that upset the calamitous Stephon Marbury and Larry Brown squad that barely medaled.
But aside from that gorgeous right to left runner he often banks high off the backboard against any defender foolish enough to forget his strong hand, Manu can throw it down as well. He posterized Yao Ming, and when he has a full head of steam in the open court, defenders better watch out because he’s just as liable to throw it down on them as throw up that pretty left-handed runner.
2. TOM CHAMBERS
Perhaps no dunk is replayed on highlight tapes and dunk anthologies more than a helmet-haired Tom Chambers climbing the ladder on poor Mark Jackson as he appears to jump clear over the Knicks’ point guard in 1989. That dunk was incredible, but it wasn’t his only highlight reel dunk, and he certainly wasn’t a one-dimensional player during his 16-year NBA career. He was a four-time NBA All-Star – and even won the All-Star Game MVP during a sick 1987 showcase featuring every ’80s superstar you can remember. During the 1989-90 season, Chambers averaged over 27 points a night for a Suns team that was just a couple games away from making the NBA Finals.
But most contemporary fans of the NBA remember him for that dunk over Jackson, and it really is incredible. However, there other instances of his gravity and stereotype-defying leaps towards the rim. He didn’t limit himself to Mark Jackson on the Knicks as this dunk over Patrick Ewing shows. And it wasn’t just the Knicks that felt his dunking wrath, either: another time, he appeared to have reverse dunked on the entire Celtics squad. Finally, Robert Reid of the Sonics knows a little something about how Mark Jackson must have felt with Chambers’ bony knee coming right at his face.
1. BRENT BARRY
The white guy’s dunking messiah; progeny of the mercurial Rick and sibling to the ESPN talking head, Jon, Brent Barry can flat-out soar. He was a basketball star from a family of basketball savants, and he ended up becoming the answer to the trivia question: has a white guy ever won the Slam Dunk Contest? By winning the 1996 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, in his Clippers warm-ups no less, he is forever immortalized as a white man that can not only jump, but jump higher, farther and with more flair than most NBA players.
Sure, we could put Tom Chambers in this spot, but the man never dunked from the free throw line and he certainly didn’t do it in a warm-up jacket. Yes, Brent Barry dunked from the free throw line in the first round of the 1996 NBA Slam Dunk contest, but he went on to win the event and become the first white guy to do so. For that alone, he is in our top spot.
But let’s not forget that just seven years after Barry won the dunk contest, he showed up to 2003’s All-Star Weekend for a different competition: the Three-Point Shooting Contest. After advancing past the first round, he Crip Walked back to his seat to collect $1,000 from fellow Sonics (R.I.P.) teammate, Gary Payton (who didn’t think he would break out the dance move on national TV). Brent Barry can jump, but he can also shoot (he is 13th all time for three-pointers made and shot 40 percent from beyond the arc for this career), pass (he averaged over five assists per game three times in his career) and Crip Walk. Jon Barry is more than a little jealous.
Brent Barry and the rest of the white guys on this list can jump. Most of the rest of us can’t.
Who is the best dunker on this list?
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