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The Complete History of the ABA / NBA Slam Dunk Contest


The Complete History of the ABA / NBA Slam Dunk Contest

The NBA Slam Dunk Contest (which is officially known as the AT&T Slam Dunk Contest) is an annual National Basketball Association (NBA) competition held during the NBA All - Star weekend. Sports Illustrated stated, "The dunk contest was the best halftime invention since the bathroom."

The contest was conceived of and started by the American Basketball Association (ABA) for its 1976 ABA All - Star Game in Denver. The winner was JuliusDr. J” Erving of the New York Nets. As a result of the ABA / NBA merger later that year, the contest moved to the NBA for the 1976 - 1977 season.

There was not another slam dunk contest at the professional level until 1984. The contest has adopted several formats over the years, including, until 2014, the use of fan voting, via text - messaging, to determine the winner of the final round. The current champion of the Slam Dunk Contest is Mac McClung of the Osceola Magic.

1976 ABA Slam Dunk Contest

The first - ever Slam Dunk Contest was held on January 27, 1976 at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver during halftime of the 1976 ABA All - Star Game, the league's final All - Star game before the completion of the ABA - NBA merger. In financial trouble and fighting with the NBA for viewers, the ABA started the slam dunk contest as a gimmick to attract viewers nationwide.

In Remember the ABA, Jim Bukata recalled, "We were sitting around the office one day, discussing things that would draw more people, and it just came to us…It was Julius (Ervin) really giving us the idea that we're the league of the dunkers. So, we said, 'Well if that's the case, let's have a contest.' It really was as simple as that. …Three guys talking about what we could do to sell a few more tickets."

Bukata was the director of marketing and public relations for the ABA. The other two in the room were the league's finance director Jim Keeler and Carl Scheer, general manager of the Denver Nuggets who were hosting the All - Star game.

There was an original format each player had to follow in which they must attempt 5 - dunks in a row under 2 - minutes, with the clock stopping after each shot to allow the player to plan their next attempt. One required dunk was from a standing position under the basket, and another from a distance of ten feet away from the basket in the foul lane. The next 3 - required dunks were freestyle positions, one coming in from the left side of the basket, one coming in from the right side of the basket, and lastly from either corner down the baseline to the basket.

At the contest, it was announced that the competitors were judged on artistic ability, body flow, fan response, and imagination, earning up to 10 - points in each category. There were $1,200 in prizes provided by the Denver Nuggets as well as the KHOW radio station.

There were 5 - competitors that included Artis "A - Train" Gilmore of the Kentucky Colonels went 1st followed by George "Iceman" Gervin of the San Antonio Spurs, Larry "Special K" Kenon of the San Antonio Spurs, David "Skywalker" Thompson of the Denver Nuggets, and finally Julius "Dr. J" Erving of New York Nets.

A rookie as well as the shortest competitor in the contest, Thompson revealed, "Since my hands weren't very big, I couldn't really palm the ball so I would cup it. I'd cup it with my left hand between my hand and forearm and put it above the rim and come over the top with my right hand and punch it into the basket. Very few guys could do it, I was told that Wilt Chamberlain could do something like it but I never seen it. You not only had to be able to jump high but you had to have the hang time, you had to be able to levitate up there and punch it through the basket.”

Thompson performed a 360 - degree or twist - around dunk to finish his routine - the 1st - time this trick had ever been seen. Although, Thompson missed a dunk during his routine which counted as a zero, Gervin happened to miss 2 - dunks.

All competitors had to perform a dunk from ten feet, but “Dr. J” started marking his steps from the free throw line which is 15 - feet away. Erving then completed a dunk from the free throw line, winning the contest. He said, "I just wanted to make a nice, soaring play that would get the fans out of their seats. I really started going at half court and got a good running start and made sure that I made the shot authoritatively."

Erving said that his favorite dunk of the night was by Thompson who "came out of the corner, spun 360 - degrees in the air and slammed it, 50 by anyone's standards.” One great unnamed basketball historian said, "The 1976 Slam Dunk Contest represents a key focal point in basketball history. David Thompson and the rest of the ABA players were true pioneers and innovators; they transcended the game of basketball into what it is today."

1976 - 1977 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

In 1976, Arthur Erhat filed a patent for, "a rim that had give, but immediately returned to its original position," making dunking safe for the first time by significantly reducing the shattering of backboards.

After a 10 - year ban, the NBA brought back the dunk to regular play for the 1976 - 1977 season. That year, NBA held its first Slam Dunk Contest as a one - off, season - long event similar to NBA Horse event held the following season. During halftime at each game, there was a one - on - one slam dunk competition.

There were 22 competitors at multiple venues throughout the event - one for each team at the league - including future Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul - Jabbar, Alex English, Julius Erving, George Gervin, Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, and David Thompson.

Former ABA player Darnell "Dr. Dunk" Hillman was named the winner that season, beating out the Golden State Warriors' Larry McNeill in the championship round on June 5th, 1977 in Portland during the halftime of the final playoff game. Although he received the winner's $15,000 check, Hillman did not receive a trophy until the year of 2017.


The NBA reintroduced the Slam Dunk Contest on a permanent basis as a free - standing event during the NBA All - Star Weekend in 1984 at its birthplace in Denver. Phoenix's Larry Nance defeated the original ABA / NBA Slam Dunk contest winner in “Dr. J” in the final round.

Dominique Wilkins won the contest the following year, but in 1986 his Atlanta Hawks teammate Spud Webb made history when he defeated Wilkins in the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk Contest finals, preventing him from retaining his title. Standing a mere 5 - feet - 6 - inches - tall, Webb became the shortest player ever to win the contest, a distinction that he still holds.

The Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan, won back - to - back dunk contest victories in 1987 and in 1988. His victory over Wilkins in 1988 in Chicago finished with a perfect 50 - dunk from the free - throw line for his 3rd - NBA Slam Dunk Contest to win the event. However, the announcers did note that Wilkins was given abnormally low score for his breathtaking 3rd - dunk of the contest, a 45, allowing Jordan to win it by 2 with his perfect score from the judges of 50.

To this day, the allegations of "home cooking" still float around surrounding the event (it was held on M. J’s home court; one of the judges was the former Chicago Bears star in Gale Sayers; and another judge, former NBA star Tom Hawkins, is a Chicago native) and until the competition in 2020, was considered arguably the most controversial of the slam dunk competitions.

Extensive debate continues whether Wilkins 3rd - dunk should have scored higher than a score of 45 and whether Jordan's 2nd - dunk, which scored a 47, was a superior creative effort to Wilkins 3rd - dunk.

The following year in Houston, the New York Knicks, Kenny "Sky" Walker, a last - minute replacement whose father died just days beforehand, upset the Portland Trail Blazers, Clyde Drexler, the hometown favorite and Houston native who was seen as the favorite, being that other previous champs Larry Nance, Michael Jordan, and Dominique Wilkins were not competing in that year’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

The 1986 dunk champion in Webb finished 3rd, while Shelton Jones finished in 4th - place. Though Nance, Jordan, as well as Wilkins still played in the 1986 NBA All - Star Game, Nance and Jordan chose not to compete due to minor injuries to themselves, and Wilkins did not compete in the competition due to a hand injury.


In 1990, Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks edged out Kenny Smith of the Sacramento Kings to win his 2nd - NBA Slam Dunk Contest. His 1st - win in the competition over the NBA all - time great in Jordan. Smith scored high points for originality with his signature dunk, he started by turning his back to the basket, bouncing the ball backward between his legs and off the backboard, then turning and grabbing it in the air and reverse dunking it.

As the 1990’s progressed, stars such as Jordan, Wilkins, and Drexler sometimes declined to participate and were replaced by less - known players. Harold Miner was a standout in 1993, winning the contest with a reverse power dunk, reaching between his legs and down to his feet in mid - air before sending the ball down. In 1994 and 1997 respectively, Isaiah Rider and the Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant won the contest.

Rider would win with a spectacular, between - the - legs dunk, reminiscent of the Orlando Woolridge effort in the 1984 contest. However, he wasn't able to repeat in 1995, missing the same dunk on several tries, opening the way for Miner to grab his second slam dunk title in three years. In 1998, the Slam Dunk Contest was replaced with the WNBA / NBA 2 - Ball Contest. In 1999, there was no All - Star Game due to the NBA lockout.


The NBA brought the Slam Dunk Contest back for the 2000 All - Star Weekend in Oakland, California. The 2000 contest was widely acclaimed, featuring a showdown between eventual winner Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors, his cousin and then - teammate Tracy McGrady, and the Houston Rockets' Steve Francis.

Carter won after performing a number of very impressive dunks, including two 360 windmills, a honey dip, and a between - the - legs dunk off a bounced alley - oop from McGrady. The next four contests did not feature superstars like Carter and Bryant, and despite innovative efforts by the likes of Desmond Mason and Jason Richardson, the lack of A - list superstars willing to participate hurt the appeal of the contest.

In 2005, the NBA Slam Dunk Contest returned to its birthplace in Denver. With the spectacular dunks of prior contests, there was buzz that the dunk competition could regain the popularity it had in the 1980’s. The Phoenix Suns' Amar'e Stoudemire alley - ooping 360 off a soccer - style header from teammate Steve Nash; J. R. Smith putting it around his back and dunking, and the new champion, Josh Smith alley - ooping over Kenyon Martin all wowed the crowd with their maneuvers.

With the change in the rules requiring an additional teammate starting in the 2nd - round, they proved there were indeed many ways to dunk a basketball that had not been done before. Amar'e Stoudemire received rave reviews, as did Smith when he did a tribute dunk to Dominique Wilkins while sporting a Wilkins' basketball jersey.

Again in 2006, the Dunk Contest in Houston revitalized the interests of audiences as 5’ 9" Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks took the title with a great dunk - off. One of his most exciting dunks was a high - flying dunk over former Slam Dunk Contest winner, 5' 7" Spud Webb.

The 2006 Slam Dunk Contest was also the first Dunk Contest in history to have a "Dunk Off", the equivalent to a Dunk Contest overtime, between Knicks point guard Nate Robinson and shooting guard Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers. Many fans argue that Iguodala should have won the contest, as it took Robinson fourteen attempts before finally completing his dunk.

Iguodala pulled off a dunk where he started out of bounds from the right side of the baseline while teammate Allen Iverson bounced the ball off the back of the right side of the backboard. Iguodala caught the ball in mid - air behind the backboard, spun around to the other side while ducking his head (to avoid colliding with the backboard) and dunked it with his right hand.

On February 17, 2007, the contest was held in Las Vegas. Judges for the event were all past winners: Jordan, Wilkins, Bryant, Erving, and Vince Carter. The title was taken by the Boston Celtics' Gerald Green, who, among other dunks, jumped over reigning champ Nate Robinson while covering his face - a homage to 1991 winner, Dee Brown, whose jersey Green had worn.

He also scored a perfect fifty with his last slam, a windmill over a table. Other noteworthy dunks include a dunk by Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, who, while making his dunk, stuck a sticker with his smiling face on the backboard a reported 12' 6" from the ground, two and a half feet beyond the regulation NBA rim.

On February 16, 2008, the contest was held in New Orleans. Judges for the event included Darryl Dawkins, Dominique Wilkins, Karl Malone, Julius Erving, and Magic Johnson. The title was taken by Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. Howard's most noteworthy dunk came during the first round, his second dunk overall, when he took off his jersey to reveal a Superman shirt and cape. With teammate Jameer Nelson's assistance he would make a leaping dunk from just in front of the free - throw line after a running start, throwing the ball through the rim from a few feet away.

Other noteworthy dunks included the 1st - round slam by Jamario Moon while the previous year's winner, Gerald Green, relied heavily on theatrics by blowing out a cupcake with a birthday candle on the rim before dunking (a jam he termed "The Birthday Cake"). For the very 1st - time ever, fan voting determined the outcome of the final round of the contest; Howard beat Green for the trophy by claiming 78 % of the fans' votes.

Nate Robinson won the 2009 contest on February 14 in Phoenix, Arizona. The 5' 9" guard dressed all in green as "Krypto - Nate" (a portmanteau of 'Nate' and Kryptonite) and jumped over 6' 11" Dwight Howard characterized as Superman. He defeated Howard in the finals by a fan vote of 52 - 48 percent. J. R. Smith and Rudy Fernández also competed.


Nate Robinson won the 2010 NBA Slam Dunk Contest on February 13th, 2010 in Dallas, Texas becoming the first 3 - time Slam Dunk champion. Robinson took on Shannon Brown of the Los Angeles Lakers, Gerald Wallace of the Charlotte Bobcats, and DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors.

DeRozan earned his spot in the competition by defeating Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Gordon in the inaugural Sprite Slam Dunk - In held the night before the actual dunk contest. Robinson and DeRozan advanced to the final round, where Robinson's double - pump reverse dunk helped seal a 51 % to 49 % victory.

Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers won the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest by jumping and dunking over the hood of a Kia sedan on February 19th, 2011 in Los Angeles. JaVale McGee of the Washington Wizards, DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors, and Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder all competed against Griffin. Griffin and McGee advanced to the final round, where Griffin stole the show, winning the contest with 68 % of the vote.

Jeremy Evans won the 2012 Sprite NBA Slam Dunk Contest by performing a dunk over Kevin Hart on February 25 in Orlando, Florida with 29 % of the votes. Joining Evans were Chase Budinger of the Houston Rockets, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, and Derrick Williams of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

While George awed the crowd with a dunk with the lights turned off, Evans had perhaps the dunk of the contest by jumping teammate Gordon Hayward, catching two balls from Hayward, and dunking it.

Terrence Ross won the 2013 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest after a tomahawk dunk in tribute to former Toronto Raptors player Vince Carter, as well as a between - the - legs dunk performed while jumping over a ball boy. Ross took on Jeremy Evans of the Utah Jazz, Eric Bledsoe of the Los Angeles Clippers, Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets, Gerald Green of the Indiana Pacers, and James White of the New York Knicks.

Evans advanced to the final round to defend his title of slam dunk champion, but was thwarted by Ross. Ross carried the momentum of his near - perfect first round, in which he scored a 99 out of a possible 100, with a stellar final round. Ross won the competition decisively, earning 58 % of the vote.

Team East, composed of dunkers Paul George, defending champion Terrence Ross, and John Wall won the 2014 Sprite NBA Slam Dunk Contest in commanding fashion. Under the new team format, they dominated the Freestyle Round, capping it off with a pass off the backboard from Ross to Wall, then off the shot clock from Wall to George for the finish.

In the Battle Round, Ross defeated Damian Lillard with a through the legs dunk from rapper Drake, George took down Harrison Barnes with a 360 - degree, through the legs finish, and Wall defeated Ben McLemore by jumping over the Wizards' mascot G - Man and throwing down a reverse on the first try. Though Team East are the official winners, Wall was voted by fans as the Dunker of the Night.

To the delight of NBA fans, the 2015 contest was changed back to its original format, as the Freestyle Round as well as the teams were taken out. The 4 dunkers competing were all up - and - coming players: The Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Timberwolves' Zach LaVine, the Magic's Victor Oladipo, and the Nets' Mason Plumlee.

LaVine took home the hardware with dunks that included a between -the - legs reverse, a behind - the - back slam in which he caught it in midair, a between - the - legs left - handed dunk, and finished with a between - the - legs dunk as he caught it off the pole behind the backboard.

Similar to Howard with Superman, LaVine did his first dunk with a cultural homage, wearing Michael Jordan's jersey from Space Jam. Zach LaVine won the 2016 slam dunk contest with incredibly talented dunks, from a windmill from the free throw line to a sensational between - the - legs reverse dunk. Aaron Gordon (runner - up) of the Orlando Magic, Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets and Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons also competed.

Slam Dunk Contest Champions (1976 to 2023)

The 1976 Slam Dunk Contest was held during the ABA All - Star Game and it was the 1st ever professional basketball slam dunk contest.

Year Host City Player Team
1976 Denver Julius Erving New York Nets
1977 Milwaukee Darnell Hillman Indiana Pacers
1984 Denver Larry Nance Phoenix Suns
1985 Indianapolis Dominique Wilkins Atlanta Hawks
1986 Dallas Spud Webb Atlanta Hawks
1987 Seattle Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls
1988 Chicago Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls
1989 Houston Kenny Walker New York Knicks
1990 Miami Dominique Wilkins Atlanta Hawks
1991 Charlotte Dee Brown Boston Celtics
1992 Orlando Cedric Ceballos Phoenix Suns
1993 Salt Lake City Harold Miner Miami Heat
1994 Minneapolis Isaiah Rider Minnesota Timberwolves
1995 Phoenix Harold Miner Miami Heat
1996 San Antonio Brent Barry Los Angeles Clippers
1997 Cleveland Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers
1998 New York City N / A N / A
1999 Philadelphia N / A N / A
2000 Oakland Vince Carter Toronto Raptors
2001 Washington D. C. Desmond Mason Seattle SuperSonics
2002 Philadelphia Jason Richardson Golden State Warriors
2003 Atlanta Jason Richardson Golden State Warriors
2004 Los Angeles Fred Jones Indiana Pacers
2005 Denver Josh Smith Atlanta Hawks
2006 Houston Nate Robinson New York Knicks
2007 Las Vegas Gerald Green Boston Celtics
2008 New Orleans Dwight Howard Orlando Magic
2009 Phoenix Nate Robinson New York Knicks
2010 Dallas Nate Robinson New York Knicks
2011 Los Angeles Blake Griffin Los Angeles Clippers
2012 Orlando Jeremy Evans Utah Jazz
2013 Houston Terrence Ross Toronto Raptors
2014 New Orleans John Wall Washington Wizards
2015 New York City Zach LaVine Minnesota Timberwolves
2016 Toronto Zach LaVine Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 New Orleans Glenn Robinson III Indiana Pacers
2018 Los Angeles Donovan Mitchell Utah Jazz
2019 Charlotte Hamidou Diallo Oklahoma City Thunder
2020 Chicago Derrick Jones Jr. Miami Heat
2021 Atlanta Anfernee Simons Portland Trail Blazers
2022 Cleveland Obi Toppin New York Knicks
2023 Salt Lake City Mac McClung Philadelphia 76ers / Delaware Blue Coats



“NBA All - Star Slam Dunk Contest Winners: Check out every NBA slam dunk contest winners since 1984.”, nba.com, February 18, 2024.