The Top 10 Dunkers Since 2000

In the new issue of Dime Magazine, we took a look at the best – and worst – the game has offered since the turn of the century. From the players to jerseys to sneakers to teams to even trends, you can relive the past 12 years by scooping up the new issue currently on newsstands nationwide. In those pages, you’ll find the following feature…

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Keep telling yourself it’s only two points.

While you’re busy doing that, basketball players from New York to New Guinea, from pre-school to the pros, will be using the dunk as the game’s most enduringly potent weapon.

The dunk took Wilt Chamberlain from mundane dominance to celebrity superstar. It took Michael Jordan from celebrity superstar to global icon. Once upon a time, it forced the NCAA to rewrite the rulebook for fear of Lew Alcindor single-handedly destroying competitive balance. And some day in the future, it may single-handedly make the WNBA competitively profitable. It is the common denominator that links basketball novices to experts, that ties fat guys doing laundry to elite athletes chasing diamond rings and gold medals.

The dunk can start momentum and stop momentum. It can define a game, a player, a team, a season or a series. It can make careers (T-Mac, 1996) and break careers (Fred Weis, 2000). Just two points on the scoreboard? Sure. But credit the men listed here for reaffirming that the dunk is worth so much more.

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Keeping in line with sports media’s contractual obligation to compare Derrick Rose to his Chicago forefathers as often as possible, here is the optimist’s view: What if he turns out like Michael Jordan? What if Rose can get the Bulls to come fly with him for a handful of NBA championships, scoring and dishing and stealing and dunking his way through a decade-long reign of aerial terror not seen since MJ flied the Second City’s skies?

[RELATED: Derrick Rose Is The Realness]

Now here is the pessimist’s view: What if Rose turns out like Gale Sayers? What if the torn ACL he suffered in April robs him of just enough explosiveness, aggressiveness and hang time to – if not ruin a potential Hall of Fame career – anchor the best dunking point guard of all time closer to “pretty good” instead of “great”?

The doctors and D-Rose himself will have to answer those questions. Until then, we’ll never forget Goran Dragic.

Nowhere was it written that one has to be a great NBA player to be a great NBA dunker.

Gerald Green hasn’t produced the numbers you’d expect from a No. 18 overall draft pick, averaging 8.3 points per game spread amongst five teams in five years. But what he was expected to bring to the table – an otherworldly athleticism and fearless creativity – he has certainly delivered.

[RELATED: Gerald Green’s Insane Windmill Alley-Oop]

G-Money introduced cupcakes, candlelight, ankle socks and tabletops to the NBA’s Slam Dunk contest. He didn’t just jump over people; he jumped over then with his eyes covered. And remember the off-the-glass dunk in Boston and the alley-oop windmill in New Jersey? Those would have caused Kenny Smith to act a fool in any dunk contest. Only Green did those dunks during games.

It was a March night in 2010, well into the fourth quarter of one of those countless late West Coast games that rarely see the light of highlight shows and morning-after recaps. The Phoenix Suns, down by three to the Golden State Warriors and looking for something to turn the tide, began a fast break that ended with Golden State’s Anthony Tolliver under the rim and Stoudemire above the rim.

[RELATED: Amar’e Stoudemire’s Abusive Dunk Over Tyrus Thomas]

The following description from the Suns play-by-play announcer might as well be the soundtrack to Stoudemire’s career: “Hello! Amar’e Stoudemire elevates, and detonates! A devastating dunk here in Oakland! Maybe the top dunk of his career! That was savage! Oh my goodness! He has had some masterpieces in his career … I have never, ever seen anything like this!”

The Suns won the game. And Amar’e, having since moved to New York to play for the Knicks, still owns that little piece of Oakland.

He is the only three-time Slam Dunk contest winner in NBA history. He’s also one of only two sub-six-footers to win the contest. But with all due respect to Spud Webb, “KryptoNate” has put together a dunking resume that makes Spud’s look prehistoric.

Nate does things that you’re only supposed to be able to do when you’re 6-foot-5, not 5-foot-9. He goes between his legs. He does windmills. He jumps over seven-footers. He catches tip dunks in games while power forwards get turned into powerless bystanders.

[RELATED: The Top 10 Football Players In The NBA]

Novelty act? Not even. The worst thing you could say about Nate is that he missed a lot of dunks in those contests, but that’s like arguing Prince Fielder isn’t a great power hitter on the basis that he hits a lot of fly balls to the warning track. When he does go over the wall, though, it’s something special. So it is for baseball’s Prince, and so it is for the NBA’s miniature dunk king.

You had to know the “dunker” label wouldn’t be long for Kobe Bryant. Even before he entered the league at 18, you saw that recognizable swagger, the familiar mannerisms, the undeniable all-around talent, and you knew Kobe had bigger things planned than just being a fast-break finisher.

So he did the dunk contest thing as a rookie. Won it. He did the YouTube thing early: over Ben Wallace, around Tim Duncan, through Yao Ming, during what we’ll call the No. 8 phase of his career.

[RELATED: Kobe Bryant’s Top 10 Dunks]

But eventually, Kobe put his focus on becoming the best basketball player in the world, and he gave us so much more than dunks. Oh, he never stopped dunking. And even as he creeps closer to 35, he’ll still teach a lazy shotblocker or two a harsh lesson in underestimating him. But Kobe’s dunking prime has been decidedly overshadowed by his basketball prime. And considering how nasty he can get when he attacks the rim, that makes his all-around game that much more amazing.

You know, just like Mike.

J-Rich carved out his place in dunking lore by being bold.

He was bold enough to try dunks that had never been done before in an NBA contest: like the off-the-glass, between-the-legs perfect 50 in 2004, or the off-the-bounce, reverse between-the-legs backwards one-hander that clinched his ’03 championship.

Bold enough to dunk on a windmill-based diet and not be afraid of the Dominique Wilkins comparisons. (“Dominique is back in the building!” Kenny Smith screamed at TV viewers in ’02; “This IS Dominique!” Magic Johnson hollered in ’03.)

Bold enough to try contest-caliber dunks during NBA games that counted, even if it was the fourth quarter and the score was close and human fly swatter LeBron James was closing in on him.

[RELATED: We Reminisce – Jason Richardson’s Off-The-Backboard, Through-The-Legs Dunk]

Bold enough to throw down a tip dunk on Jahidi White‘s head during one game in the ’03-04 season, sit on White’s shoulders for a second, then not flinch an inch when the 6-9, 290-pounder got in his face about the alleged disrespect.

J-Rich competed in three NBA Slam Dunk contests, winning two of them. Nobody was better at the self-alley-oop, and few were better at executing two-foot leaps as effortlessly as a one-foot leaper. And while others may have performed bigger in the most crucial moments, nobody was bolder.

Volume. Dwight Howard makes the list because of the volume of his dunks, and because of the volume of his dunks.

On one hand, Dwight has seemingly led the league in total dunks every year since he was the No. 1 pick of the 2004 NBA Draft. His .577 career field-goal percentage, fifth all-time, speaks to that. On the other hand, have you heard Dwight’s dunks? They’re loud. He gets that Men’s Health cover-shot of a physique off the ground, brings the force of those 260-odd pounds upon the rim, and you hear the reverberations from Disneyworld to Disneyland.

[RELATED: The Top 5 Dunks Of Dwight Howard’s NBA Career]

But what separates Dwight from his power-dunking predecessors (Shaq, Kenyon Martin, Larry Johnson, etc.) is that Dwight also has the flair, flexibility and creativity of somebody who shouldn’t be playing center. His “sticker dunk” from ’07 – when he literally left his impression two feet higher than the rim – is now part of Slam Dunk contest lore. And that takes a backseat to Dwight’s entire performance during the ’08 contest, when he took the title by channeling everybody from Misty May-Treanor to Andre Iguodala to Superman in one show.

When we first conceived this list at Dime HQ, one of the only rules was that a player had to have participated in at least one NBA dunk contest to qualify. After all, would you put together a list of the 10 best track and field athletes without a caveat that they had to have competed in the Olympics?

But then early in the process we got to LeBron James and, well, LeBron did what he’s been doing his entire basketball career. He broke the mold.

No, LeBron still hasn’t thrown his headband into the Slam Dunk contest ring. Odds are he never will. But the three-time league MVP and reigning NBA Finals MVP has put together a video archive of in-game dunks that rivals any athlete’s career highlight film in any sport, ever.

[RELATED: The Top 5 Dunks Of LeBron’s NBA Career]

LeBron isn’t a variety-pack dunker. He’s got the right-hand tomahawk, the cuff, the occasional jackknife reverse. That’s about it. But LeBron’s dunks aren’t as much about style as they are about statements. And whether the guy on the other end of the highlight is Kevin Garnett or Damon Jones, Tim Duncan or Delonte West, the statement has a familiar tone: I run this.

While you can’t walk through an NBA locker room without finding “God’s Son” or “The Chosen One” or “God’s Gift” tattooed across somebody’s skin, Blake Griffin may actually be a product of the basketball gods.

Think about it: Seven years after Shawn Kemp plays his last NBA game, two years after the Seattle Supersonics are wiped off the NBA landscape and Kemp’s legacy starts to become endangered, Griffin arrives on the West Coast as the next coming of the Reign Man, reincarnating perhaps the best dunker of the ’90s and the best dunker the power forward position has ever seen.

[RELATED: Blake Griffin Destroyed The Rim With 2 Dunks At Team USA Practice]

We’ve all watched, rewound and watched again the soul-taking dunk over Timofey Mozgov, right? That arguably wasn’t even Blake’s best dunk from that game. There was a spin-move banger on Danilo Gallinari later that evening that some would consider better than the official Mozgov’ing of Mozgov. We’ve all seen last season’s Kendrick Perkins dunk enough to work “Oh me, oh my!” into playground rotation, but Blake had arguably a better dunk later in the year when he annihilated Pau Gasol.

OK, so the dunk contest in 2011 was a little gimmicky. But you can’t front on the fact that Blake jumped over a car to seal the deal. He jumped. Over a car. The only problem was that by then, just halfway through his NBA rookie season, Blake had set the bar so high he would’ve had to jump over a monster truck and dunk to meet expectations.

Don’t rule that out, though. Blake is only 23 years old.

Carter’s domain knows no boundaries. This could have been a list of the best dunkers since 2000 or the best dunkers since 1900, and Carter’s place in above-the-rim hierarchy would still be secure.

It was Carter that effectively ruined the Slam Dunk contest – not just for Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady on that memorable night in February 2000, but for everyone else who would follow him in every dunk contest thereafter. The 360-degree windmill has since been duplicated. So has the off-the-bounce, between-the-legs jam, as has the elbow-hang and the two-hander from the free-throw line. People have done it, like Vince. But nobody has done it like Vince.

[RELATED: Jalen Rose Speaks On The Time Vince Carter Fought His Coach]

Same goes for the human hurdle he made out of France’s 7-foot-2 Fred Weis in the 2000 Olympics. It’s been duplicated in contests and games since then, but never on the level that Vince did it.

That 2000 highlight reel from Athens and Oakland could stand on its own as an offering of Vince’s top five dunks in his career, and it would still make him one of the best in history. But we haven’t even gotten to the dunks Vince executed in actual NBA games over his current 15-year career. Some were beautiful, others were ugly. Some were vicious, others were majestic. On breakaways or in traffic, Vince was an attraction. For several years, the attraction. From Toronto to Jersey to Orlando to Phoenix to Dallas, even at 35 Vince can still bring the house down.

Who is the most underrated dunker of the century?

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