The Top 10 Dunkers In NBA History (2023)

The slam dunk is one of the most energizing plays in the game of basketball. Over time, it has become an art form. Personally, it’s my favorite play in basketball and it’s what introduced me to basketball in the first place. Dunking has evolved tremendously over time and every time that we think we’ve seen the peak of dunking, someone comes along to raise the bar. This is why it’s important to look back through the lens of history and attempt to fairly and accurately rank the top 10 dunkers in NBA history.

Honorable Mentions

Gerald Green – Green has been a high flyer in the NBA for a long time. He was incredible in the dunk contests, but he’s left off of the top 10 list due to the lack of consistent in-game dunks and posterizers.

Kobe Bryant – Kobe’s game was heavily influenced by dunking, and it was blatantly obvious. He would posterize a player in literally any and every situation possible. It didn’t matter if it was in crunch time of a playoff game or near the end of a regular season blowout win, Kobe was gonna dunk it. He’s left off of the top ten because his dunking strongly mimicked that of another NBA legend (hint: it’s MJ).

Shaquille O’Neal – Shaq is widely regarded as the most dominant player in history, and his crazy collection of broken rims and shattered backboards backs up that claim. His dunking power remains unmatched even in the current NBA, but due to his size, he was never able to retain a super high vertical. This resulted in a lack of flashiness and air time.

Clyde Drexler – Clyde “The Glide” Drexler was one of the best dunkers of his era, which happened to be an era defined by brute strength and physicality. Although many of his dunks will go down in history, there are a few dunkers from his time that eclipse his greatness.

The Top 10 Dunkers In NBA History (1)Bleacher Report

Darryl Dawkins was one of the first players to consistently shatter backboards. In fact, he was the reason that the NBA switched to breakaway rims in 1979 after he broke two backboards in three weeks. He had a ridiculous amount of power behind his dunks, paired with freakish athleticism. His dunks had everything from power and airtime, to grace and style.

Being the first player to ever be drafted straight out of high school, Dawkins was a pioneer throughout his entire career. His dunking legacy will forever have a huge impact on the game.

9. Zach LaVine

The Top 10 Dunkers In NBA History (2)Associated Press

Zach LaVine is one of the most unique dunkers we have ever seen. He has an amazing dunk package that portrays effortlessness, despite including some ridiculously difficult dunks such as a between-the-legs dunk from the free throw line. He is the second youngest player in history to win the dunk contest, second only to the late Kobe Bryant.

In addition to historic dunk contests performances, his in game dunks are nothing short of spectacular. Whether it’s on an open fastbreak or in traffic against three defenders, he is likely gonna throw it down.

The Top 10 Dunkers In NBA History (3)

8. Jason Richardson

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Jason Richardson is the definition of creativity. Not only did his dunks have amazing style, but they were often extremely unique and difficult. Being a two-time dunk contest champion, Richardson is no stranger to powerful dunks, but none was as impressive as the dunk that he pulled off in the 2003 Dunk Contest. On his final dunk, he decided to create his own dunk that had never been created before. It has been dubbed the “J-Rich” dunk, and it’s gone down as one of the best dunks in contest history.

In addition to incredible dunk contests performances, his in-game dunking ability is exceptional. Whether it was an alleyoop on a fastbreak or a backdoor cut turned into a posterizer, Richardson was going to take flight.

7. LeBron James

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LeBron James has cemented himself as one of the best basketball players ever and arguably the best player of all time. Much of this legendary career has been reliant on dunking, and with a career total of 1,943 dunks, the sample size to judge his dunking abilities is historically large.

There are few athletes in history that can float as high as LeBron. He can jump off two feet but his forte is one foot jumping. With a 6’8”, 250 LB frame, he has the strength to push through any player that stands in his way while also possessing the speed and athleticism to pull off some of the craziest dunks in NBA history. He would likely rank much higher on this list if we had gotten the opportunity to see him in the NBA Dunk Contest, unfortunately we will probably never see that happen.

6. Blake Griffin

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If you ever wanted to see a player with the dunking style of Shawn Kemp, but the frame of Karl Malone, look no further than Blake Griffin. The 6-time All-Star has given us some mind-boggling posterizers over the years. From the day he played his first NBA game, we knew he was gonna be special. His physical domination combined with a super high vertical jump paved the way for the creation of “Lob City”, the nickname for the early 2010’s LA Clippers team that included himself, Chris Paul, and Deandre Jordan. This trio completed a number of lobs that would only be imagined in video games. Many of these alley oops featured Griffin flying to the rim and trying to break the rim on a dunk. Not only did he catch a lot of lobs but he perfected the art of driving to the rim and throwing it down.

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The in-game vault of dunks isn’t the only thing that puts Griffin on this list. His consistent Dunk Contest performances have put him over players such as LeBron James, who never participated in the Dunk Contest. Some say he is the best posterizer of all time, a claim that is undoubtedly backed by tons of evidence.

5. Shawn Kemp

The Top 10 Dunkers In NBA History (8)Getty Images

To start my top five list, the best selection for this spot was none other than Shawn Kemp. The Seattle Supersonics legend is undoubtedly one of the best dunkers in NBA history. His combination of power, style, and grace powered the Supersonics to face the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals alongside the legendary Gary Payton. His explosiveness came in especially handy when bursting past defenders and taking it to the rack. He made it normal for big men to get creative and flashy with their dunks.

Like most NBA big men, his best dunks were in-game dunks instead of in Dunk Contests. Nevertheless he participated in four such contests and although he never won, he still ranks high against other big men who took part in the Dunk Contest.

4. Dominique Wilkins

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Dominique Wilkins was a one of a kind dunker. His hang time was unmatched and he dunked harder than just about anyone. His jams were electrifying and made everyone in the building stand up. The crazy thing about his dunks were that they didn’t have to happen in the open court for them to be flashy. Wilkins would find a way to throw down a windmill over hall-of-fame caliber players.

This goes without saying that his performance in the 1988 Dunk Contest will go down in history. Although Michael Jordan came out with the win, the epic battle between the two helped secure Wilkins’ spot in the top five.

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3. Julius Erving

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Julius “Dr. J” Erving made the NBA fun. He could take a difficult layup and do it without effort. This translated to his dunks and he quickly became known as the “Father of Dunking”.

He was one of the first stars in the league that primarily played above the rim, paving the way for players like MJ, LeBron, and Dominique. He had one of the most memorable dunks ever with his “rock the baby’ dunk over Michael Cooper.

It’s not completely accurate to say he is the best dunker to ever live, but he’s definitely the most important.

2. Michael Jordan

The Top 10 Dunkers In NBA History (12)Getty Images

There’s not much to be said about MJ that hasn’t already been said. He perfected nearly every aspect of basketball, but his niche was the dunk. Michael was the player that single handedly made basketball a global sport through the art of dunking on anyone and everyone. He won several dunk contests in great fashion and always drew a crowd and pleased the fans when All-Star Weekend came around.

He had some of the best hangtime in human history and was never afraid to give his dunks a little extra flare. More so than any other player on this list, he understood that dunks could give him a mental edge over his opponents. His competitiveness drove him to dunk it every chance he got, and his opponents knew they were doomed before he even jumped.

The Top 10 Dunkers In NBA History (13)GIPHYVince CarterThe Top 10 Dunkers In NBA History (14)

As you can see, a lot of big name players made this list, but Vince Carter is without a doubt the best dunker ever. He was explosive enough to jump higher than just about anyone while aggressive enough to dunk it extremely hard. He would jump so high to catch an alley oop, some became concerned that he would cut his head on the rim. He could improv a dunk and make it look planned, just ask Frederick Weis, the 7-footer that he jumped over in the 2000 Olympics and dunked it emphatically.

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He also had the single greatest performance in dunk contest history when he became the first player to pull off the 360 windmill dunk. After an NBA career that spanned four decades, its safe to say that he is the one and only Dunk Master.

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