When great performances in the dunk contest are mentioned there are a few names that will immediately come to mind. Vince Carter in 2000 is usually the first in everyone’s mind after he put together one of the most spectacular performances in contest history. From that point on what fans say first usually comes to what era they’re from. Older fans speak of the epic duel of Michel Jordan and Dominique Wilkins in 1988, while younger fans will think of the instant classic from 2016 between Aaron Gordon and Zach Lavine.
All of these performances were spectacular and deserve mention, but one name is always overlooked among the all time greats: Jason Richardson. Never an NBA star, a lot of fans might remember Richardson for the latter half of his career when he became a deadeye 3-point shooter, but early in his career when he was on the Warriors he was the NBA’s greatest high flyers. A spectacular in-game dunker that would pull out a 360 dunk mid-game when the chance afforded itself, he also had one of the greatest dunk contest runs ever from 2002-2004. Of that run, his 2003 dunk contest win stands above the rest.
Richardson burst on to the dunk contest scene in 2002, but his performance was largely overshadowed by the NBA’s introduction of the disastrous “dunk wheel” meant to harken back to dunkers of years past. It was a failure of an idea and for Richardson really only limited his creativity. He won that year but in 2003, unshackled, he was able to pull out all the stops.
Below, we’ll take a look at all four of his dunks from his winning performance in one of the finest dunking displays the contest has ever seen.
What made Richardson’s dunks so spectacular is how creative he could be off the bounce. We’ll see players attempt to do similar today in a lot of contests where they try to time themselves with the ball, but usually, it’s just a little extra theatrics to a dunk that would have been just as impressive in a normal situation. Richardson, however, would time these slams in a way to showcase just how high he could go up, grab the ball, and throw it back down. His opening windmill in 2003 is a great example of that.
He catches the ball at the peak of its bounce while he’s still rising into the air, he completes the windmill with his head above the rim, and because it’s timed so perfectly he’s able to add the power necessary to make it stand out. This opening is how he set the tone for what his night was going to be.
Going off the bounce is going to be a theme for Richardson. It’s the way he best showcased how much air he was getting without using a prop or jumping over someone and because he timed them so perfectly it always looked like he was skying to the rim, but he was also just so fast.
Richardson’s 360 dunk is over before you even realize it. He spins so fast that he has extra time to cock the ball back and clutch it before he powerfully throws it down. The only mark I would take away from this is that he technically doesn’t complete the 360 before the dunk is complete, but this is also, in my opinion, his weakest dunk of the night.
I am still upset about the score here. In what world is a reverse, going off the bounce, and featuring a full clutch below his knees not a 50? This dunk fits all the criteria of an awesome slam. It looks amazing in real time. It looks even better on replay. It has power. There’s speed. He even gets extra extension going which, ironically enough, might be why the judges knocked Richardson down a few points.
You see Richardson really has to extend to complete this, but that’s part of why the dunk is cool. He’s able to bring out that extension without sacrificing power. Most guys do this dunk and it’s cool, but the finish is weak. Listen to the rim rattle after he’s finished! The judges were far too spoiled by what Carter did in 2000 to appreciate just how difficult this dunk is.
Between the legs reverse
The best dunk of Richardson’s entire contest career. The between the legs reverse, on the baseline, is one of the most spectacular athletic feats you’ll witness. To this point, nobody had really done something like this and like the rest, he once again did it off the bounce. Look at him catch the ball at its highest point, quickly bring it below, and then finish with one hand while his head was still at rim level. There are just so few
Even to this day, no one has done this specific dunk as well as Richardson did it. Which, considering how many athletic guys there are in the NBA, should be impressive in itself. It’s like a dunk that only Richardson can perform. He even brought a variation of it in 2004 when he went off the glass to himself.
Impressive, but still not as cool as the one on the baseline. What made Richardson special as a jumper is that it seemed like he was able to last in the air just as long as he needed to. Typically you can classify a dunker’s athleticism into two areas. There are the floaters like Zach Lavine and Michael Jordan. These guys just effortlessly fly through the air as they jump with ease. Then there are the power dunkers Nique and Gordon. Guys that might not float, but they get up there and then finish with an authority that shakes the entire arena. Richardson was somehow a mix between the two. A guy that made jumping look easy but still finished with the ferocity of a power dunker. It’s just a shame that NBA history doesn’t remember him the same way it remembers other incredible dunkers. His moment came too soon after Carter, and while Richardson’s doesn’t stand out in the same ways, it’s still a performance worth remembering.