- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Here's one man's tally, as 2013 draws to a close, of the absolute finest five dunks witnessed in the NBA over the past 12 months:
The heart is not rational. We feel what we feel. So I refuse to apologize for loving the pass part of great dunks as much as the throwdown itself. I know; I'm weird. But I can't help it. And I, speaking purely for myself, loved the creativity of Crawford going between the legs before he lobbed the ball -- just the sheer fun of such improvisation in the heat of the moment -- more than any other dunk we could list here. One man's opinion.
If I made a mistake, this is it. The case could be made that LeBron's latest gem, no matter how late it came in the competition, should have snagged top billing, such was the degree of difficulty involved. Jeff Van Gundy raised the question on the broadcast as soon as it happened: Has anyone ever finished an oop off the glass with his off hand? Seen-it-all vet Antonio Davis echoed those same thoughts on the set of "NBA Coast 2 Coast" last Friday, saying he couldn't even imagine another right-handed player trying to pull off the combo of a left-footed jump and a left-footed finish that LeBron gifted to all of us in L.A. Ridiculous
This is the one, I suspect, that will top most of your lists. And I get it. The finish was absolutely lethal. DeAndre's dunk face after driving Knight into floor was priceless. And the lob from Chris Paul was plenty sweet, too. Maybe it's just me, but the apparent newness of the first two -- how they stood out in terms of uniqueness -- is what made the difference on this scorecard. (P.S.: We really shouldn't be docking Blake style points just because he made his windmill finish of Crawford's lob look as easy as a finger-rolled layup.)
Something else about me that regular readers know by now: I'm a nostalgic sap to the core. So when Kobe turned back the clock in Brooklyn, got a step on Gerald Wallace and thundered home over both Wallace and Kris Humphries with Brook Lopez lurking nearby, there was no chance my sentimental side could exclude it. You could certainly argue that Xavier Henry's lefty pile driver over New Orleans' Jeff Withey was truly the best dunk submission of 2013 from the Lakers. But I admit it: I wanted to give the 35-year-old future Hall of Famer his due.
In the first week of 2013, Smith was a Knicks darling whose stunning athleticism on a seemingly routine basket cut enabled him to slam home a down-the-middle feed Pablo Prigioni threw at crotch level. In the first week of 2014, New York will drag into San Antonio with a 9-21 record, clinging to hope that Carmelo Anthony can finally shake his recent ankle woes to return to the lineup ... and wondering how long Smith will stay submerged in a season-long funk that has dragged his PER all the way down to (yikes) 10.7. I'm guessing I'm not the first person to ever say this: What a difference a year makes.
3dMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo