Innovation and creativity in the NBA All-Star dunk contest

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The NBA Slam Dunk Contest has for 35 years showcased the art of the jam. Hard-core and causal fans alike tune in to the event every year, looking to see something they have never witnessed before. With the rise of social media, creating something completely novel has gotten harder and harder, but dunk men keep finding new and unique ways to make us ask ourselves, “But how?”

Sometimes trying something new goes too far, like in 1997, when Michael Finley tried a cartwheel in the middle of his attempt. He failed miserably, but no one can say he wasn’t thinking outside the box. Innovation doesn’t necessarily equal a win in the dunk contest, but it never goes unnoticed.

From Spud Webb in the 1980s to Vince Carter in 2000 to Aaron Gordon in the 2010s, these are the most creative, jaw-dropping slams in the history of the dunk contest.


Spud Webb, 1986

Webb became the shortest person ever to win the dunk contest in 1986. The 5-foot-7 point guard defeated 6-foot-8 Dominique Wilkins with two perfect 50-point dunks in the final round, one of which he bounce-passed off the backboard to himself.

Vince Carter, 2000

Before the contest started, Carter told judge Kenny Smith that he had four dunks no one had ever seen. This honey dip dunk on which Carter stuck his whole forearm through the rim was the icing on one of the greatest performances in contest history.

Cedric Ceballos was the first to complete a blindfolded dunk in 1992, but Davis tried to put his own — ahem — spin on the trick nine years later, adding a windmill and naming it “blind man’s bluff.” The bluff part must have referred to his air ball on the attempt.

Iguodala asked his teammate Allen Iverson to kiss a pass off the backside of the backboard while he ran in from the corner, grabbed the pass and reversed it into the hoop. He predictably smacked his head on the backboard the first time, but on the second try, he was money.

Nate Robinson, 2006

These days, dunk contestants love jumping over upright humans, but Robinson did it first. Contestants had jumped over only sitting or kneeling subjects before the 5-foot-9, three-time dunk contest champion brought aforementioned dunk contest legend Spud Webb out of the crowd to pay homage.

Gerald Green, 2008

When it comes to dunk contest props, no one has done it better than Green. The man blew out a lit candle on top of a cupcake on top of the rim while dunking a basketball. And the cupcake never moved!

Iconic. That’s the one way to describe Howard’s launch from just beyond the free throw line. Michael Jordan, Julius Erving and others had done the free throw line leap before, but Howard set himself apart by catching the ball in midair before downing it.

Related: Expert picks for 2020 dunk contest, Rising Stars, All-Star Game


McGee’s 2011 performance was all about multiples. First, he dunked two balls in two different hoops with absolute ease. Then he put three balls through the same hoop. It can be argued that kind of creativity deserved to win, but then …

… this happened. Griffin’s leap over a Kia will be part of his NBA legacy. The most underrated part of the dunk was Baron Davis, who threw a lob for Griffin out of the sunroof. Oh, and there was also a choir for some reason?

Steve Nash’s soccer skills have made two dunk contest appearances. In 2005, Amar’e Stoudemire took an alley-oop off Nash’s head. Then Nash returned in 2016 to provide the assist for Drummond. It took them six tries, but the ball finally found the net.

Aaron Gordon, 2016

Not only did Gordon complete this incredible pike dunk over the Orlando Magic mascot, but he also jumped over Stuff while he spun around on a hoverboard. A year later, Gordon brought out a drone to provide the assist. His middle name is Innovation. Look it up.

If Nate Robinson set the bar, Glenn Robinson III raised it. He completely cleared the highest obstacle in the dunk contest — a guy sitting on another guy’s shoulders — and finished it off with a smooth reverse windmill.

Jones had barely played in the NBA before his 2017 dunk contest appearance, but he already had a reputation among fans, thanks to his high-flying pregame dunk shows. He pushed the envelope in New Orleans but came up short against Robinson in the finals. He’s back this year in Chicago, where he’ll face off against fellow innovators Gordon and Howard and first-timer Pat Connaughton, who might have something unexpected up his sleeve.



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