The NBA All-Star Game has always held a laissez-faire attitude towards defense. The game doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of a season, and players are content to let each other wow the crowd without harping too much on fighting over screens, or hustling back to stop a transition bucket. Still, honor is at stake, and that’s what makes the top collection of All-Star Game dunks so intriguing.
This isn’t to say defense goes shunned entirely, it’s just usually up to the players to put forth the effort. If they’re determined to stop someone, they’ll try. Other than a personal rivalry, or a chance to show another star they won’t back down, even in a meaningless exhibition, offense — as is so often the case — wins the day.
And when we write offense, we mean slam dunks. Yes, there’s a dunk contest the night before, but nothing beats a spur-of-the moment flight of fancy. Spontaneity will often evoke even greater moments than prearranged aerial blueprints, so lets look at the top 10 All-Star Game dunks from a the long history of the game itself.
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10. Michael Jordan putback dunk off missed free throw in 1997
Yes, MJ is just No. 10 on our list, and this gem off a missed Grant Hill free throw happened during his second-to-last season with the Bulls. But it’s an MJ trademark, and he only broke out his more iconic dunks for his 1980s Dunk Contest battles with ‘Nique, or the in-game variety that routinely destroyed the pysche of his opponents.
9. Kevin Garnett throws it down on Ray Allen in 2002
This was before KG joined forces with Allen and Paul Pierce with the Celtics to win the 2008 NBA Title. It was also before they stopped communicating entirely after Allen fled Boston to join forces with their arch-rival, Miami. At the time of the slam, it was all in good fun, though, and Allen cannily avoid posterization by only half-heartedly going up to stop The Kid (yes, people use to call Garnett that — he wasn’t always an old timer).
8. Russell Westbrook over everyone in 2012
Russ doing Russ, and everyone smartly got out of the way when it became clear the hammer was on its way down.
7. Tim Duncan smashes on Alonzo Mourning in 2000
The Big Fundamental would win the MVP of the All-Star Game that year with Shaquille O’Neal, and there were a bevy of other dunks during the same game. But this destruction of Alonzo Mourning stands above all the rest, even though it’s nearly impossible to track down on YouTube.
6. Vince Carter 360-Degree jam past Kobe Bryant in 2001
There’s no way Kobe would have let anyone pull this once he got older, but this was before his feud with Shaq, and he was in the midst of winning titles every year with the Big Fella inside. Vince takes Kobe baseline, and there’s no one to back Mamba up, so Vinsanity decided to spin for a full revolution before easily putting in the two-handed slam. Just another reminder why many consider Vince the GOAT of throwing it down.
5. Charles Barkley scales Mount Mutombo in 1992
[Insert finger wag joke here]. There aren’t many people built like Chuck (listed at 6-6, but probably closesr to 6-4, and weighing in well over 250 pounds) who can levitate off such a small runway and smash it on Dikembe Mutombo. But that’s exactly what Barkley does off the feed from Isiah Thomas. Many considered Chuck the one of — if not, the best — the top performers on the 1992 Dream Team who captured gold, and it’s fair to call this season and the next — when Barkley won his only MVP and took his Suns to the Finals — Barkley’s peak.
4. Shaquille O’Neal over David Robinson in 1996
The Admiral should have been court martialed for getting owned on this jam by Shaq. The Big Aristotle was nearing his peak years, and had no qualms rising up and embarrassing the austere Robinson. This gets ignored on most of these ASG dunks lists, but because Robinson is actually trying to block Shaq, a rarity in all-star contests, it’s that much more impressive.
3. LeBron James dunks over everyone, but primarily Dirk Nowitzki, in 2008
Perhaps the memory of this dunk is what led Dirk Nowitzki to own James and his superstar teammates in Miami during the 2011 NBA finals. We highly doubt that bit of speculation, but James thumped it on Dirk after driving through nearly the entire Western Conference defense late in the game, thus reminding everyone he was about to take over the NBA.
2. Tracy McGrady alley-oop to himself off the backboard in 2002
This had never been done before. Well, we’d never seen it done before. And it came so suddenly, thank God for replay or else we wouldn’t have had time to watch it over and over again. Unfortunately, there’s no HD version, but it’s a criminally underrated All-Star moment as well as a mind-numbing dunk.
1. Tie: Dr. J over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1977 and over Artis Gilmore in 1983
The Good Doctor was able to throw it down on Jabbar in ’77, before the ravages of time had worn down the athleticism of the man who once went by Lew Alcinder.
The fact Erving was able to do the same over Artis Gilmore in such high-flying fashion six years later, is awe-inspiring. This could be No. 1 and No. 2, but they’re both worthy of respect, though we like the ’83 version a smidgen more because we find the video more aesthetically pleasing. Bonus points if you can name the player who threw the outlet to Erving before his smash on Gilmore.*
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