The last decade of competitive dunking reached an immediate zenith when Vince Carter, in 2000, blew the roof off of Oracle Arena. The contest has been riding the coattails of that performance ever since, never quite reaching the same heights. A long dead period followed. Dwight Howard resuscitated the event eight years after Air France’s hallmark showing, with a refreshing array of slams that engendered a collective “oh my God” from anyone who witnessed it. The dunk contest, like it did with VC’s masterpiece, has been running on D12’s fumes ever since.
Take away the Carter and Howard showcase, and the dunk contest, in the last ten years on the entertainment scale, has been somewhere between watching a Lifetime movie and the Oscars.
In the eight-year doldrums that saw Fred Jones (who dat?) take the title in ’04 and Chris Anderson torture viewers with the worst performance in history, there was a lone bright spot: Jason Richardson.
He’s the most underrated dunker in the event’s history. He gets absolutely no love from the media and is consistently forgotten by fans. But Jason Richardson is—wait for it—a top-6 contest dunker of all-time.
And it’s all because of his creativity. It was peerless. No one other than Dwight Howard comes close in imagination. J-Rich executed dunks you didn’t think were possible.
He pulled off dunks you hadn’t even thought of.
And check out the artistry. He was always mindful of his body and his limbs and how their placement would enhance the aesthetics.
I’ll stack up J-Rich’s highlight reel against anyone’s. He’s among the greats.
Here’s how I see the greatest contest dunkers in history:
- Vince Carter – Takes the top spot even though he participated only once. But it was a one-and-done performance, if I ever saw one. It couldn’t have been topped. He had no choice but to walk away; a title defense would’ve sullied his 2000 tour de force. Aside: isn’t it sad that Carter’s most lauded basketball achievements are in an exhibition dunk contest and the Olympics? That sums up his career nicely.
- Dominique Wilkins
- Michael Jordan
- Julius Erving
- Dwight Howard
- Jason Richardson
I’ll stop just short of putting him in the upper echelon, but he’s only a half-peg below iconic status. J-Rich suffered from small hands and the inability to jump off of one foot, limiting how far he could take off. But he made up for it with imagination.