Now largely taken for granted, the slam dunk has a permanent place as an exciting and efficient basketball move to finish off a play. In days past, however, basketball was largely played beneath the rim, and players would look to make set shots, finding baskets off screens and cuts within the flow of orderly half-court sets.
In those days, critics dismissed the dunk as a classless move to show up opponents, while also arguing that the simple ability to run and jump had undermined solid fundamentals and team play. The NCAA even went so far as to ban dunking between 1967 and 1976.
But each of the five greatest NBA dunkers of all time knew to strike the right balance between showmanship, skill, and sending authoritative messages to opponents. With time, the slam dunk naturally grew to be associated with many of the more memorable moments in league history.
5. Dominique Wilkins
Also known as the Human Highlight Reel, Dominique Wilkins (pictured above, far right) was notable for his windmill slams. Out on the open floor, Wilkins would fill the wing in transition, where he was the preferred target of point guard Doc Rivers in Atlanta. With a full head of steam, ‘Nique would take in a bounce pass in the lane before taking off and rotating his arms backward, slamming the ball into the goal. In half=court sets, Wilkins would set up shop in the low post before going to an array of drop step and spin moves that cleared the way for thunderous tomahawk jams.
To showcase his skills, ‘Nique participated in five slam dunk contests, winning two of these competitions, in 1985 and 1990. In doing so, Wilkins was willing to face off against the likes of Larry Nance, Shawn Kemp, Kenny “Sky” Walker, Spud Webb, Julius Erving, and Michael Jordan in what may have been considered a heyday for the dunk. In 1988, Wilkins went down to Jordan, 147-145, at the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest in Chicago. Jordan took off from the free throw line to cap off this duel.