THERE'S nothing that excites the senses of any basketball fan quite like the dunk. And when the aerial showdown of dunk artistry, a.k.a. the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, is done exceptionally well, that’s basketball nirvana right there.
Case in point: the 2016 jamfest between defending champ Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic that rocked the basketball world over the weekend.
Words can’t begin to express the feeling after such an epic showdown between the two. And naturally, superlatives were loosely thrown, with many crowning it the best dunk contest in history.
Then again, there have been plenty of memorable duels since the NBA started the Slam Dunk contest in 1984. The 1988 battle between ‘His Airness’ Michael Jordan and ‘Human Highlight Film’ Dominique Wilkins has long held the honor of the greatest dunk duel of all time. Others also mention the 2000 version (when Vince Carter took the Dunk Contest out of its dark, bland phase in the 90s) in the conversation.
SPIN.ph digs out the five most memorable contests that came before the LaVine-Gordon show, based on impact (the stars involved, the drama built, the missed dunks because those ruin the pace and flow) and creativity (just ask yourself: how many times did your mind get blown away in the duration of the contest?). And after watching all the highlights and letting your emotions settle, hit us up in the comments if you think LaVine vs Gordon has set the new standard for dunk contests.
5. 2006 Nate Robinson vs Andre Iguodala
To put the year 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson won his first of three Slam Dunk titles among the elite could be called a travesty, mainly due to the number of missed dunks from the eventual champion. In fact, Robinson took 14 tries to nail the championship-winning dunk. But you can’t fault him for trying to put on an electrifying show. Also, runner-up Andre Iguodala almost stole the title with an aerial display like no other when he teamed-up with then teammate Allen Iverson for one of the most iconic dunks of all time that forced the first-ever dunk-off in Slam Dunk Contest history.
4. 2003 Jason Richardson vs Desmond Mason
Before LaVine, there were only three men who’ve successfully defended the Dunk Champ crown: Michael Jordan, Nate Robinson, and the 2003 king Jason Richardson. The man had three perfect dunks on the way to the title, but had to dig deep in his arsenal to pull off the victory over Desmond Mason. For his first dunk in the finals, Mason pulled off a between-the-legs slam with his left hand that had commentator Kenny Smith asking to send the guy a ‘get well card’ because the dunk was sick. Then Richardson pulled off the sicker slam with a reverse between-the-legs along the baseline jam that needed no get well card, the trophy will do just fine.
3. 1986 Spud Webb vs Dominique Wilkins
In only the Slam Dunk contest’s second staging, the smallest dunk champion stole the show and won not just the crown but the hearts of millions. Five-foot-seven Spud Webb stunned a determined Dominique Wilkins, who was looking to win consecutive titles, with two picture-perfect jams in the finals. ‘Nique wasn’t too shabby with a finals total of 98, two points shy of Webb. But the night belonged to Spud, who made plenty of kids in the 80s dream that they too can fly.
2. 2000 Vince Carter vs Steve Francis vs Tracy McGrady
No Slam Dunk Contest ranking is possible without mentioning the one and only time Vince Carter owned All-Star Weekend. Not only because the greatest dunker of his generation, and maybe of all time, had an almost flawless performance with one breathtaking dunk over another. It’s fair to mention that the co-finalists Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis brought their A-game as well and pushed VC to pull out all the cards and took the air inside the building. You’ll lose count in counting how many jaws were left hanging after Carter’s dunks.
1. 1988 Michael Jordan vs Dominique Wilkins
Without this granddaddy of a Slam Dunk duel, there would be no debate about where LaVine and Gordon’s showdown stands. But when Jordan faced off against Wilkins in their long-awaited rematch from the 1985 contest, history was made. Not only because of the controversial finish, but because of the type of historic and iconic dunks they unleashed that night. It’s worth noting that MJ and ‘Nique repeated some of the slams they’ve uncorked before, but to look at the entire duel as a whole, it’s a groundbreaking show that remains unmatched, until now that is. Check out the similarities below.