22 of the Best Dunkers in NBA History

Blake Griffin

No feat in basketball symbolizes athleticism and creativity more than the slam dunk. Basketball players who can reach the rim at will and pound the ball through the net over their competition make the people on the floor and in the audience in awe of what they are watching. As the game evolves and NBA players add new elements to their repertoires, the dunking, both in-game and in-competition, becomes more dynamic and exciting.

With all of that said, it's time to look at the 22 best dunkers in NBA history. These high-flyers get you off your couch and screaming like nobody else!

1. Vince Carter

Vince Carter
Image Credit: Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Vinsanity topping this list is as surprising as the sun coming up in the sky each morning. Vince Carter possesses the greatest dunk in basketball history, the best dunk contest performance in NBA history, and a slew of in-game theatrics that gave birth to the nickname “Half Man, Half Amazing.” Carter would attempt feats in the air that didn't make sense, combining power and finesse like nobody else!

2. Michael Jordan

1992 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan
Image Credit: Unknown author – El Gráfico, Public Domain / Wiki Commons.

Michael Jordan wasn't known as Air Jordan for nothing. One look at Jordan flying through the air, legs spread apart and tongue outside his agape mouth, mesmerized fans who sometimes didn't even know anything about basketball. Jordan's aesthetic while dunking led to his personal logo and branding, along with a shoe deal unmatched in sports. 

3. Dominique Wilkins

Dominique Wilkins
Image Credit: Jamie Lamor Thompson/Shutterstock.

Dominique Wilkins dunked like he was holding a grudge on the rim. When the Human Highlight Reel picked up speed and trounced through the competition, you knew someone would be on the other end of a poster. His famous dunk contest duels with Michael Jordan are the stuff of legend!

4. Julius Erving

Philadelphia 76ers Julius Erving
Image Credit: Steve Lipofsky – Own work, CC BY 3.0 / Wiki Commons.

Dr. J made dunking into the event, viewing it so many decades later, introducing high-flying to the masses. His large hands and added height made his dunking unique compared to more modern dunkers on this list. Erving remains one of the most popular players from the 1980s, and his rock-the-baby dunk may be the best in-game feat in the sport's history!

5. Shawn Kemp

Shawn Kemp
Image Credit: Bryan Horowitz: Flickr, website, CC BY-SA 2.0/ Wiki Commons.

Shawn Kemp towered over his competition as one of the only power forwards to dunk with artistry and personality. When the Reign Man dunked over you, he was out to embarrass you and your entire family tree. Alton Liston knows a thing or two about getting in the way of Kemp on the open floor!

6. Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin
Image Credit: Keith Allison, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Blake Griffin represents the evolution of Shawn Kemp and the oversized dunkers at the turn of the 21st century. Griffin initially garnered endorsement deals because of his dunk content exploits, such as leaping over sedans. Still, his relentless careens to the basket during games, sometimes even dunks that didn't touch the rim (termed “thrunks” by some fans), built his dunking reputation exponentially. 

7. Zach Lavine

Zach Lavine
Image Credit: Erik Drost, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Zach Lavine has tried hard to become known more for his three-point shooting and playmaking in recent years, but he single-handily saved the dunk content with his victory over Aaron Gordon in 2016. LaVine combines Michael Jordan's grace and Vince Carter's power in his dunking arsenal. 

8. LeBron James

LeBron James
Image Credit: Erik Drost/CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

LeBron James famously ducked the dunk content for his entire career, claiming he preferred to show off during games. We can't knock him for this decision, as two decades of seeming James sprint and slam was a nice consolation prize. Even in his old age, LeBron can still get up high!

9. David Thompson

David Thompson
Image Credit: Unknown North Carolina State University, Public domain/Wiki Commons.

David Thompson did for guards what Julius Erving did for forwards regarding spearheading dunking techniques. Skywalker dunked in the lane, took off from the free-throw line, and made his competition look a step slow. Michael Jordan and Vince Carter wouldn't exist as dunkers without David Thompson. 

10. Clyde Drexler

Clyde Drexler
Image Credit: University of Houston, Public domain/Wiki Commons.

Clyde Drexler's effortless gliding through the court gave him a dunking style that juxtaposed that of Michael Jordan and other guards from the '80s. Drexler looked like he was moving in slow motion, creating poetry through athletics. Even as he went to the Rockets, Drexler pulled out a smooth dunk every now and then. 

11. Larry Nance

Larry Nance
Image Credit: Sports Marketing via tradingcarddb.com, Public domain/Wiki Commons.

Larry Nance Jr. is more famous with the kids now, but his father was the better dunker. Larry Nance has an iconic dunk contest win in 1984 and various in-game slams that showcased his lankiness and eclectic dunking forms. 

12. Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
Image Credit: Sgt. Joseph A. Lee – Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

Kobe Bryant is so lauded for his post moves, handle, and many shots that his dunking prowess goes unnoticed. Young Black Mamba was a menace around the rim, with insane spins and in-air moves that nobody had ever seen before and hasn't been copied. 

13. Jason Richardson

Jason Richardson
Image Credit: Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

If 360 dunks are the most popular in basketball, then Jason Richardson's game was the epitome of the profession. J-Rich had an unlimited supply of swirls, twisting more times than a Dairy Queen ice cream treat in the summer sun!

14. Shaquille O'Neal

Shaquille O'Neal in Conan (2010)
Image Credit: NBC Universal Television Studios.

Shaq didn't have any fancy dunks, but when you use the dunk as your primary weapon in the post, you have to be considered one of the best of all time. The seven-footer used his inhuman strength to overpower defenders who even dared to get close to him in the interior of the paint!

15. Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady
Image Credit: lam_chihang, CC BY 2.0 /Wiki Commons.

Much like Julius Erving, Tracy McGrady's larger frame made his dunks look more angelic than a smaller player's. McGrady typically liked to focus on jump shooting and majestic scoring. Therefore, his dunking sometimes came as a surprise to audiences and peers! 

16. Ja Morant

Ja Morant Basketball Player
Image Credit: All-Pro Reels,Flickr,CC BY-SA 2.0/ Wiki Commons.

Ja Morant dunks so viciously that some fans on social media fear he'll hurt himself someday. The Memphis point guard is the next revision on the dunking point guard after Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, topping both due to his desire to try dunks that aren't even possible. 

17. Darryl Dawkins

Darryl Dawkins
Image Credit: Dickieboy818, Public domain/Wiki Commons.

Darryl Dawkins nicknamed himself “Chocolate Thunder,” and he brought the heat to the backboards of the 1970s NBA. Dawkins broke rims and shattered glass all over the hardwood, and his charisma and energy while doing so is a nostalgic blast from the past for older NBA fans who remember the show!

18. Amar'e Stoudemire

Amar'e Stoudemire
Image Credit: Keith Allison, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Steve Nash's perfect playmaking aided Amar'e Stoudemire, but his signature dunking added so much flare to the Phoenix Suns games of the 2000s. Stoudemire gave a preview of the dunking of Blake Griffin, which sprouted from the seeds planted by Shawn Kemp.

19. Andre Iguodala

Andre Iguodala
Image Credit: Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Andre Iguodala's enormous biceps and broad shoulders made his dunks in his younger years look both methodical and raw at the same time. Unfortunately, Iggy's career as a role player throughout the last ten years has erased his high-flying days from fans' minds. 

20. Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard
Image Credit: All-Pro Reels from District of Columbia, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 /Wiki Commons.

Dwight Howard has the most dunks in NBA regular season history. A lob to Dwight Howard in his prime seemed like the surest bet you would get two points. 

21. Nate Robinson

Nate Robinson
Image Credit: Keith Allison, CC BY-SA 2.0 /Wiki Commons.

Nate Robinson stood up for the little guys by dunking with unmatched charisma at the mundane height of 5'9”. The Seattle native enjoyed the dunk contest, winning it over and over again while peppering his in-game exploits with crazy dunking, too. 

22. Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose
Image Credit: Keith Allison – CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Derrick Rose is the first point guard to make dunking part of his game regularly. Others may have tried to dunk from the position before him, but never at the frequency that Rose rocked the rim. His quiet demeanor off the court juxtaposed his dunking to make it even more jarring!

Author: Shawn Laib

Title: Writer

Expertise: Gaming, Sports, Film, Television

Bio:

Shawn Laib is a writer for Wealth of Geeks, The Manual, Den of Geek, and Edge Media Network. Shawn loves sports, gaming, film, and television and uses his knowledge of these subject areas to deliver interesting and entertaining content to his readers.