When it's great, it's as exciting as a heavyweight title fight. And when it's not, well, it can turn even the NFL's Pro Bowl into must-see TV.
Saturday marks the 25th NBA All-Star slam dunk contest. Despite not always being, for lack of better words, a slam dunk, the contest is forever a part of All-Star lore.
It has also endured throughout many ups and downs since its NBA inception in 1984, then a spinoff of the ABA's legendary one-time 1976 event featuring Julius Erving and David Thompson.
From big-name rivalries of the 1980's that dominated early contests to its rock-bottom moment in 1998 when the league cancelled the event in favor of the WNBA-themed "2Ball". And through its creative resurgence over the past 10 years despite some questionable rule changes, the slam dunk contest has provided many unforgettable moments.
So as All-Star Saturday celebrates its silver anniversary in Dallas, let's count down the Top 25 moments in NBA slam dunk contest history:
25. Eyes Wide Shut (2001)
Baron Davis capped off the worst slam dunk contest of the decade with maybe the most pathetic dunk attempt (yes, even worse than Darrell Armstrong's layup in 1996) in contest history. Trailing by only one point entering the last dunk of the finals, the Hornets guard needed to bring out his best dunk. But wearing a headband as a blindfold, Davis attempted a no-look windmill that fell at full three feet short of the rim. The awkward miss left players and fans at courtside shaking their heads. It also opened the door for Sonics rookie Desmond Mason, who completed a consistent, yet unspectacular performance, to win the title in Washington, D.C.
24. Candle In The Wind (2008)
In a dunk contest where creativity was raised to new heights, Minnesota's Gerald Green took the cake, literally, with an all-time great dunk that relied on plenty of poise and control. While the defending champion's performance wasn't enough to best Dwight Howard's "Superman" dunk in the finals, his "Birthday Cake" slam nearly stole the show in New Orleans. Green had teammate Rashad McCants place a cupcake with a single lit candle on the back of the rim. In one motion, Green soared in to catch a bounce pass from McCants and blow out the flame before sending down a two-handed jam. The cupcake stayed in place on the rim the whole time as the silent crowd stood in shock. It wasn't until replays were shown in the arena that fans understood the gravity of Green's dunk.
23. The Statue Of Liberty (1985-87)
Journeyman guard Terence Stansbury played just three seasons in the NBA for the Sonics and Pacers. But he produced three memorable performances in the slam dunk contest, becoming one of the first to bring swagger and style to the event. Despite finishing third each time, joining Shawn Kemp as arguably the most talented repeat dunkers never to win, Stansbury unleashed some of the more impressive dunks of the contest's early history. No dunk was more aesthetically pleasing to watch than his signature 'Statue of Liberty,' a picturesque 360 with the ball extended above his head that was more akin to ballet than a basketball court.
22. Baby Jordan Arrives (1993)
Despite owning the moniker of "Baby Jordan" for his likeness to His Airness, Harold Miner wasn't much of an NBA player. But as a Miami rookie, the 6-foot-5 USC product was already well known for his ability to dunk. Miner electrified the Utah crowd with a repertoire of basic yet powerful slams to win his first of two slam dunk contest titles. While 1993 victory was strong despite coming against a watered-down field, his second title in 1995 should come with an asterisk. Miner stumbled to victory in what is the clubhouse leader for the worst slam dunk contest of all-time, defeating forgettable names like Jamie Watson, Antonio Harvey and Tony Dumas (see below).
21. The Rim 3, Tony Dumas 0 (1995)
Quite simply, Mavericks rookie Tony Dumas turned in the single worst performance in any slam dunk contest. Ever. Of all-time. In a first round that saw each competitor given 90 seconds to do as many dunks as he chooses, Dumas missed all three of his attempts and was repeatedly stuffed by the rim. Adding injury to insult, Dumas reaggravated his right knee during his final dunk, becoming the only player in contest history to get shut out.
20. The Only Dunks Allowed In Mutombo's House (1992-2009)
More of a lifetime achievement award than a specific memorable moment, no courtside fan was more entertaining to watch at a slam dunk contest than Dikembe Mutombo. Known more for rejecting dunk attempts during the season, All-Star Saturday night was the one time each year that the finger-wagging Mutombo openly welcomed attacks on the rim. Becoming the contest's top "hype man", the 7-foot-2 giant regularly leaped out of his seat after particularly impressive forays of flight. But it was his dramatic facial expressions – a mixture of shock and disbelief - that endeared him to everyone involved. If your dunk caused Mt. Mutombo to erupt, you knew you had truly arrived.
19. Houston, We Have A Problem (2006)
Producing an incredibly creative and difficult series of dunks wasn't enough for Andre Iguodala to win in 2006. The 76ers' forward had one of the most visually astounding dunks in history when he jumped from behind the hoop for a reverse slam from a pass off the rear of the backboard. Iguodala later added another perfect score of 50 by transferring the ball behind his back in mid-air before throwing it down. But a panel of judges, all Houston legends, inexplicably handed 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson the title after the contest's first-ever "Dunk Off". The judges' scores appeared to be unaffected by the contest's horrid new rule allowing unlimited attempts to complete a dunk. Robinson, who benefited countless times throughout the night from the rule, took 14 tries to complete his final dunk. The more efficient and spectacular Iguodala could only shake his head and humbly accept defeat.
18. The East Bay Funk Hits Minnesota (1994)
While the 1994 edition will never be confused with any of the more star-studded and exciting dunk contests of old, it did provide an impressive performance from Timberwolves guard Isaiah "J.R." Rider. Using power and flare, the 6-foot-5 rookie got the hometown crowd going by winning the title with the contest's first dose of "gangsta swagga". Rider closed the show with a dunk he perfected while in college at UNLV called the "East Bay Funk", a between-the-legs power slam from the baseline. He then sold it to the crowd by leaning back in celebration with his shorts hiked up and a sly smile on his face as he danced with his right hand. The dunk was innovative for its time, though many forget that Orlando Woolridge did it first to much less fanfare in 1984. At the time, Charles Barkley called Rider's slam the greatest dunk he had ever seen.
17. Take These Broken Wings (2005)
One of the more embarrassing moments in slam dunk history, Chris "Birdman" Andersen's comical misadventures of flight from 2005 in Denver have become legendary. The eccentric Hornets forward fell right into the trap of the NBA's rule change allowing an infinite amount of attempts for each dunk. Relying on a difficult baseball pass from well beyond half court to set up his attempt, Andersen missed eight straight times before finally putting the two-handed dunk down. Not only did he miss, he missed them all badly. In every conceivable way. Drawing laughter and jokes from many of the courtside players and analysts, the Birdman needed six additional attempts to complete his final dunk in this monumental train wreck.
16. Excuse Brent Barry While He Kisses The Sky (1996)
Brent Barry's run from underdog to slam dunk champion in San Antonio quickly became a memorable moment in the event's history. But it's also one of the most overrated moments this side of Cedric Ceballos' blindfold. There is no doubt that Barry, in his rookie season with the Clippers, becoming the first and only white player to win the contest has something to do with it. You can argue that his dunk from the free throw line (with the warm-up jacket still on) was impressive, and it was. But don't forget that he used the same dunk a second time in the finals, knowing that no one else in the competition had a better dunk to beat it. While that strategy was smart enough to secure victory (let's not forget, Michael Jordan did the same thing in 1988), it played poorly within the grounds of originality and entertainment in a contest void of any other memorable dunks.
15. Vince's Entourage Nearly Steals The Show (2000)
While Vince Carter's other-worldly performance may have saved the dunk contest just two years after being cancelled, it was the fierce battle for second place between Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady that truly elevated this night in Oakland to its place in history. Francis, a Houston rookie, and McGrady, in his third and final season with Toronto, came through with performances that would have won the contest in most other seasons. They also pushed Carter to perform at an even higher level with each thunderous dunk. The diminutive Francis, unable to palm a ball with his small hands, relied on lob passes and an outstanding vertical to go get the ball and throw it down. The 6-foot-8 McGrady used a raw, twisting assault of windmills and reverses to trail Carter by only one point after the first round. All three would reach the finals with Francis snagging second place when McGrady missed his final attempt.
14. One Small Leap For Nate (2006)
In a dunk contest ridiculed for the excessive amount of attempts allowed for each dunk, this was the only dunk that Nate Robinson completed on the first attempt. And boy was it spectacular. The 5-foot-9 rookie joined Spud Webb as the only dunkers less than six-feet tall to win the contest, by using the 5-foot-7 Webb as a prop to make it happen. The dunk couldn't have come at a more crucial and dramatic time in the final round as Andre Iguodala appeared to lock up the title with a perfect 50. But Robinson, who had just one dunk left remaining, matched Iguodala's perfect score by catching a high bounce from Webb and dunking clean over the top of him. Robinson later prevailed by one point in the first ever "Dunk Off" to claim the first of his two slam dunk titles.
13. Atlanta's New Human Highlight Film (2005)
Hawks rookie Josh Smith ushered in a new contest trend in 2005 by donning the jersey of a former player to perform a tribute dunk. Wearing Dominique Wilkins' No. 21 as the "Human Highlight Film" looked on in approval, Smith produced one of three perfect 50s with a stunning windmill straight out of 'Nique's repertoire. The 19-year-old nearly brought down the house in the first round by windmill dunking over Kenyon Martin, who tossed a pass to Smith while seated in the middle of the lane. Smith, who wasn't even born when the NBA's slam dunk contest made its debut in 1984, completed one of the most impressive and underrated performances in recent memory.
12. Walker Does It For Dad (1989)
Three days removed from the death of his father, late-replacement Kenny "Sky" Walker stunned the Houston crowd with a fairytale run to the slam dunk crown. After former champions Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Larry Nance withdrew late because of injuries, the unheralded Walker was among a trio of replacements given a chance to shine. Walker, whose father Jerome passed way after complications due to a stroke, was convinced by his mother, Ola Mae, to carry on in his father's memory. The inspiration lifted the Knicks' forward to a consistent performance good enough to hold off Clyde Drexler, who fell apart late with three missed dunks. Walker did not win over the crowd with a signature dunk, but he combined the dunking styles of Nance and Julius Erving with his raw, whirling style (complete with legs kicking in different directions) to take home the emotional victory.
11. Dominique vs. Jordan: Part 1 (1985)
Most slam dunk contest fans are quick to recall the epic 1988 duel between Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan, but their rivalry began three years earlier with their first meeting in Indianapolis. Wilkins produced two perfect scores in the final round, using a stunning array of power dunks to defeat Jordan for the first of his two slam dunk titles. But it was Jordan who stirred up a bit of controversy by completing his first round dunks while wearing gold chains and a full Nike warm-up suit. Jordan's fellow All-Stars were reportedly upset about the Nike-endorsed rookie's salesman approach on such a large stage. Some believe it was part of what led to a Jordan "freeze out" during the All-Star game the following day spearheaded by Pistons guard Isiah Thomas.
10. Blindfold Magic In Orlando (1992)
It's one of the first images that most recall when looking back over the history of the slam dunk contest. Phoenix's Cedric Ceballos, with a dark blindfold covering his eyes, counting his steps near midcourt before running 60 feet to throw down a blind two-handed jam. It was one of the first examples of outside-the-box creativity brought to the contest. But let's not sugarcoat our memories, it was also pretty lame, even for its day. In the most overrated dunk in contest history, one that many still debate whether he was able to actually see, Ceballos scored a perfect 50 on his final attempt to win the title. Hornets rookie Larry Johnson (when he could still sky before his back injury) dominated the first two rounds of competition before failing to complete a single dunk in the finals.
9. Dee Brown 'Pumps Up' The Volume (1991)
Boston's Dee Brown gained instant notoriety by bending over to pump up his black Rebook sneakers before each dunk in 1991. Brown backed up his showmanship by holding off a determined effort from Seattle's Shawn Kemp to win the title in Charlotte. The 6-foot-1 rookie impressed many with his tremendous hops and athleticism, unveiling a complete arsenal of double-clutch, 360 and windmill stuffs. He and Kemp traded impressive jams into the finals of their mini-classic before Brown, with the lead in hand on his final attempt, nailed the signature dunk in his collection. Covering his face with his right hand, Brown soared down the center of the lane for a no-look flush with the left hand.
8. Dr. J Makes Second House Call To Denver (1984)
Eight years after the ABA slam dunk contest took flight in Denver with a finals duel between Julius Erving and David Thompson, the NBA resurrected the event at the same arena in 1984. And just shy of his 34th birthday, the veteran Dr. J agreed to headline the field of nine aerial artists at the league's first All-Star Saturday showcase. Despite losing to 6-foot-10 Larry Nance due to a missed jam in the finals (remember kids, your father's dunk contest didn't allow replacements attempts), it was Erving who stole the headlines on his final attempt. With defeat almost surely in hand, the good Doctor earned a perfect score by recreating his immortal free throw line dunk from 1976. It may not have won him the title, but it gave Erving a moral victory in the hearts of fans with one of the most endearing images in contest history.
7. Krypto-Nate Takes Down Superman (2009)
Wearing an all-green Knicks jersey with bright green sneakers while clutching a green ball, Nate Robinson didn't just tug on Superman's cape, he jumped right over him. "Krypto-Nate" captured his second slam dunk crown, defeating Dwight Howard in the finals by winning 52 percent of the fan vote. Three years earlier, Robinson dunked over 5-foot-7 Spud Webb to win the title. This time in Phoenix, the 5-foot-9 Robinson upped the ante by soaring over the 6-foot-11 Howard to end a creative and exciting contest. Howard, who won the title in 2008 with his incredible "Superman" dunk, brought it to another level by changing into his cape in a phone booth before dunking on an 11-foot hoop. He proved to be an even better sport by assisting Robinson, who always seemed to have one more dunk up his sleeve despite being seemingly too small to perform it.
6. J-Rich's Knockout Punch (2003)
Needing at least a 49 on his final dunk to defeat former champion Desmond Mason, Jason Richardson responded with a never-before-seen all-time great dunk. Richardson caught his own lob from the baseline and threw down a between-the-legs reverse with his left hand for a perfect 50, joining Michael Jordan as the only back-to-back winners in contest history. Mason had given Richardson all he could handle as the two continued a dunking rivalry that brought back memories of Jordan vs. Wilkins. Mason electrified the Atlanta crowd with his first dunk of the finals, a between-the-legs windmill (also with the left hand) that caused TNT analyst Kenny Smith to exclaim, "We need to get him a get-well card, he's sick right now!" The victory marked the second straight year Richardson needed a huge return on his final attempt to win the contest, having come from behind to defeat Kings rookie Gerald Wallace in 2002.
5. Sleepless In Seattle (1987)
Returning from defeat in 1985 and injury one year later, Michael Jordan came to Seattle in 1987 determined to make the slam dunk contest his personal showcase. And despite the absences of rival Dominique Wilkins and defending champion Spud Webb due to injuries, Jordan came through with a performance for the ages to win his first of two titles. Adding a wrinkle to the free throw line dunk that he first pulled off as a rookie two years earlier, Jordan pumped his right hand back while in mid-air. But his most impressive dunk of the night may have been his patented "Kiss the Rim" leaner from the side where he completed the windmill with his head parallel to the rim. Jordan gave each of his Chicago teammates $1,000 of the $12,500 winning purse, an act of generosity he repeated the following year.
4. Superman Is Back In The Building (2008)
It's a shame the NBA's modern slam dunk rules allow for a maximum of four total dunks per contest (as opposed to nine in 1984). Dwight Howard had enough artistic and physical ability on this night in New Orleans to nearly challenge Vince Carter's standard as the greatest performance in dunk contest history. All four of Howard's dunks were worthy of mention among the all-time best and each of them would have likely earned perfect scores had the league not switched to fan percentage voting in the final round. Howard defeated defending champion Gerald Green by winning 72 percent of the fan vote with a mix of creativity, spontaneity and freakish athleticism. It may not have been better than Carter, but it did some serious knocking on his door. The 6-foot-11 Howard became the tallest winner in history by, most notably, donning a Superman cape and literally throwing in a dunk on an alley-oop from well above the rim.
3. Little Big Man Comes Home (1986)
Competing in his hometown of Dallas, 5-foot-7 rookie Spud Webb made a believer out of anyone who doubted the underdog or the little man. Apparently that included his Atlanta teammate and defending champion Dominique Wilkins. Claiming he had never seen Webb dunk before the event, Wilkins got a front row seat on this night. Webb uncorked three perfect 50s, including two in the final round to edge Wilkins, 100-98. The shortest dunk competitor of all-time, Webb used his 42-inch vertical to nail a variety of dunks with none more impressive than his final slam. With the contest on the line, the crowd favorite caught a high lob pass and nailed a two-handed reverse to seal the victory.
2. Shootout In Chicago (1988)
Ask a basketball fan between the ages of 30 and 45 and it's quite possible that the Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins duel from 1988 was one of the defining moments of their youth. It was the long-awaited rematch to their first meeting in 1985 won by Wilkins. And it featured a star-studded field including Clyde Drexler, 1986 champion Spud Webb and 1987 runner-up Jerome Kersey. But once the final round kicked off, the contest turned into a heavyweight fight as Wilkins and the defending champion Jordan traded emphatic slams, each fighting to lay claim as the best dunker in the world. Needing a 49 or better to win on his final dunk, Jordan stole the show in front of his home crowd with a 50, dunking from the free throw line with the ball cocked back and his feet kicked out to the sides. Now more than 20 years removed, we can all be honest with each other and admit that Wilkins got a raw deal from the judges (a 45 on his two-handed windmill?!?), but it almost didn't matter. Both dunkers came out victorious in the end by showing just how good this competition can be at the highest level.
1. Air Canada Lands In Oakland (2000)
It doesn't get any better than this. Just two years after the NBA cancelled the slam dunk contest due to lack of a creativity and star power, Toronto's Vince Carter made sure the league didn't regret bringing it back. A perfect blend of Dominique's size and power with Jordan's vertical and flare, Carter put together the most stunning collection of dunks ever seen. His first dunk, a 360 windmill against the grain, caused contest judge and TNT analyst Kenny Smith to exclaim, "Let's go home ladies and gentleman! Let's go home!."
By the time his third dunk connected, a between-the-legs windmill off a bounce pass from teammate Tracy McGrady, even the judges couldn't contain themselves. Isiah Thomas went as far as leaping over the judges' table and dropping to one knee to congratulate him. The first round wasn't finished and Carter turned to the camera saying, "It's over." And it was. Despite impressive runs from McGrady and Steve Francis, nobody was beating Carter's virtuoso effort on this night. He had the entire arena in the palm of his hand like no other time in contest history.