The 2010-11 NBA season has been the year of the Blake Show, as after missing his entire first season with a knee injury, Blake Griffin returned to the NBA as one of the highest fliers that the association has ever seen. He’ll be the overwhelming favorite in Saturday night’s dunk contest, but even if he is crowned champion, he’ll have a long way to go before he can claim to be the greatest dunker in NBA history.
That conversation, in fact, features some of the league’s best players of all-time. Kobe Bryant’s aerial game may have lost some of his explosiveness with age, relying on his guile, craft and ability to make impossible jump shots to remain among the league’s very elite, but back in the day, nobody in the NBA could jam like the Black Mamba. During the era of the Mamba, though, there was one major challenger to his crown as the league’s top dunker. Vince Carter, who’s athleticism has worn with age even more than Bryant’s has, was once among the association’s most electrifying leapers, throwing down 360s and jumping over seven-footers.
The player to whom Bryant is most often compared, however, is perhaps the most iconic dunker — and player — ever to put on an NBA jersey. While his career took a course similar to Bryant’s, Michael Jordan once threw down dunks that nobody had ever seen before. His free throw-line dunk was even so legendary as to become the logo for his massively successful shoe brand.
Other greats from Jordan’s area and even earlier, however, were perhaps more instrumental in the development of the institution of highlight-reel jams. Julius “Dr J.” Erving and Dominque Wilkins, in fact, really deserve much of the credit for what dunking has become today.
Following in their high-flying footsteps, Griffin has become the foremost dunker of modern day, but he still may not actually be the best in the association. LeBron James, perhaps the best athlete ever to play in the NBA, still has a strong case for such — whether or not his many detractors want to admit it.