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NBA Slam Dunk contest: A look at the 5 best ever heading into 2024 event

The NBA Slam Dunk Contest was once one of the most popular events in the sports world. Back in the 1980s, this event dominated the landscape. From the likes of Spud Webb and Michael Jordan to Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler, the showmanship that took place on the court during All-Star weekend was nothing short of amazing.

The golden era of the slam-dunk contest has long since passed, but this doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the festivities for what they are — fun and entertaining.

As we enter NBA All-Star Weekend around the Association, it’s time to look back at the five-best dunk contests of all-time.

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1. 1988 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

  • Winner: Michael Jordan
  • Participants: Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb, Otis Smith, Jerome Kersey, Clyde Drexler, Cadillac Anderson

You don’t have to be a child of the 1970s or 1980s to know about this specific dunk contest. It was the one where Michael Jordan—the greatest basketball player of all time—defended his championship. While that was definitely the headline-grabbing moment here, some seem to forget that his trademark dunk is something that Jordan had perfected at this point (see No. 4 on this list).

nba slam dunk contest: michael jordan
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Overall, Jordan went at it with Dominique Wilkins to define what it meant to have two powerhouses inspire a new generation of basketball fans. For children of the era, this was a defining moment at a time when basketball stood above all other major sports in the United States.

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2. 1986 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

  • Winner: Spud Webb
  • Participants: Spud Webb, Roy Hinson, Jerome Kersey, Paul Pressey, Terence Stansbury, Terry Tyler, Dominique Wilkins, Gerald Wilkins

At 5-foot-6, Spud Webb absolutely stunned an unsuspecting audience. Going up against the likes of Dominique Wilkins, Gerald Wilkins and Jerome Kersey, the smallest dude on the court stood the tallest. It was a sight to behold.

Terence Stansbury also awed with his performance despite never really making it to NBA stardom. He’d play only three seasons, averaging a mere 6.3 points after the Dallas Mavericks made the Temple product a first-round pick in 1984. As for Webb, he played 12 seasons in the Association and is known as one of the best small players to ever suit up.

3. 1993 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

  • Winner: Harold Minor
  • Participants: Harold Minor, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, David Benoit, Cedric Ceballos, Tim Perry, Kenny Smith, Clarence Weatherspoon

“Baby Jordan,” as he was called, I remember this year like it was yesterday—just a youngster collecting Minor rookie cards in hopes that it would pay for my college education. This bust of an NBA player dazzled onlookers in every possible way.

Looking at the participants of this specific NBA Slam Dunk Contest, there’s no reason why it should be so high on this list. David Benoit, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Kenny Smith and Tim Perry. The word you are looking for here is “who?”

Many expected returning champion Cedric Ceballos to defend his title here, but Minor’s performance stood the test of time as one of the best ever. If not for his appearance on the court in Salt Lake City, this would have likely gone down as a disastrous contest. Minor was that good.

4. 1987 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

  • Winner: Michael Jordan
  • Participants: Michael Jordan, Tom Chambers, Johnny Dawkins, Clyde Drexler, Ron Harper, Jerome Kersey, Terence Stansbury, Gerald Wilkins

“His Airness.” Of the slam dunk contests that Jordan participated in, he only lost one. Fortunately for those of us who hold him in such a high regard, that specific contest is not on this list.

Jordan’s exploits at the now defunct Kingdome in Seattle is what made everyone (and I mean everyone) jump for joy. Not much more to say here other than Tom Chambers didn’t stand a chance against a dude that could dunk from the free-throw line.

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5. 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

  • Winner: Vince Carter
  • Participants: Vince Carter, Ricky Davis, Steve Francis, Larry Hughes, Tracy McGrady, Jerry Stackhouse

“Vinsanity” was born in Oakland at the dawn of a new age. Going up against the likes of Steve Francis (remember him?), Tracy McGrady and Jerry Stackhouse, Carter absolutely dominated the competition here.

It also came during an era of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in which many had lost faith. More than a decade removed from the excellence of the 1980s, Carter made us all want to get out our Nintendo Entertainment Systems and play our Jordan vs Bird game.

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