For many years, the dunk contest was the highlight of All Star Saturday. It has given fans some of the most electrifying moments All Star weekend has ever produced. The dunk contest has been able to match the excitement of the game itself in some instances. A player can enter the contest as an unknown but a great performance can catapult them into relative stardom. There have been a lot of great moments in the dunk contest throughout the years but a few stand above the rest.
The Greatest Moments in the NBA Dunk Contest
5. Kenny “Sky” Walker – 1989
Kenny Walker had his greatest NBA moment came in the 1989 Dunk Contest. He was competing three days after the death of his father and he dedicated his performance to his memory. Walker was in the zone as he threw down dunk after dunk. He capped off his performance with a vicious 360 windmill that brought the crowd to its feet. He walked away with the trophy, the bonus money, and a fitting tribute to his late father.
4. Isaiah Rider – The Eastbay Funk Dunk 1994
Isaiah Rider gave us one of the greatest performances ever in the ’94 contest. What made it even more impressive is that he called his victory on draft night. Rider followed up his verbal bravado with a performance for the ages. He tore down the house when he debuted the now classic “Eastbay Funk Dunk”. This was the first time many had seen the dunk and to break it out on such a grand stage etched Rider into the history books forever.
3. Vince Carter – “It’s Over” 2000
This may be the most polarizing performance in Dunk Contest history. It was the first contest since 1997. The once popular event was scrapped in 1998 because frankly, people didn’t care about it anymore. Then the lockout the following year robbed fans of All Star weekend altogether. After Vince Carter basically put on an 82-game dunk contest in his rookie campaign, the NBA had no choice but to bring the event back. To say Carter lived up to the hype would be a severe understatement. His first dunk sent the arena into a frenzy and each dunk just added to the legend. Carter’s performance was completely dominant and overwhelming. Steve Francis and then teammate Tracy McGrady gave masterful performances but they were dwarfed by Carter’s brilliance.
The guy who suffered the most was Jerry Stackhouse. He had the misfortune of directly following the eventual champion. Many times the crowd was still trying to process what just happened while Stackhouse was doing his dunks. The star for the Toronto Raptors all but sealed the deal with a remix of the aforementioned “Eastbay Funk Dunk”. Vince Carter singlehandedly revived and destroyed the dunk contest. He brought back the excitement and anticipation of the yearly event. But he also ruined it forever because no one would ever be able to duplicate such a legendary performance.
2. Spud Webb – 1986
Spud Webb will be forever linked to the 1986 dunk contest. He walked in the building as the unanimous underdog and walked out the most improbable champion in the history of the event. His incredible performance was a surprise to everyone except his teammate, Dominique Wilkins, who he beat in the final round. Wilkins knew Webb was cooking something up special. He cheered his friend on as he soared to the rim for his championship clinching flush. Webb dazzled the crowd and provided us with the ultimate “David and Goliath” moment as he took down the former champion. Webb at 5’7″ remains the shortest player to ever win the dunk contest.
1. Michael Jordan – 1988
Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins gave fans perhaps the most epic showdown in dunk contest history. It was a clash of the titans in every sense of the phrase. Two former champions and two of the game’s highest flyers traded haymakers as the contest was decided on the final dunk of the night. Jordan put a dramatic cap on things when he took off from the free throw line earning the perfect score needed to secure the victory. It wasn’t the first time we’d seen the dunk but it was definitely the most memorable. Julius Erving first introduced the world to the acrobatic feat in the first ever dunk contest in 1976. Even Jordan himself had performed the dunk before. But the stage he delivered on made this one the most memorable. Jordan sealed the repeat victory and in that moment, created the image for his now iconic Jumpman logo.