Throughout NBA history, we have been blessed to see some of the greatest players and dunkers ever to win the Slam Dunk Contest, including players such as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon, and Vince Carter. However, we have also seen some incredible three-point contest champions, such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Devin Booker, Kyrie Irving, Ray Allen, and Larry Bird. However, the question has to be asked; of all the greatest dunkers and three point shooters in NBA history, who ends up having greater careers? Today, we’re going to break it down, starting with the dunkers.
Many of the greatest players have become Slam Dunk Champions, but not all Slam Dunk Champions have become great players. Having a vertical leap of over 40 inches makes it incredibly easy to dunk, as well as win the contest. When the dunk contest as we know it started in 1984, the first-ever winner was Larry Nance of the Phoenix Suns, father of Larry Nance Jr. However, a few of the most legendary dunkers ever would proceed Nance, such as Wilkins, Spud Webb, and Jordan’s two titles in ’87 and ’88, most notably with his dunk from the free-throw line. After the reign of Wilkins and Jordan, the dunk contest became less interesting in the 90s, with players like Dee Brown, Kenny Walker, and Cedric Ceballos. However, in 1994, Isaiah Rider won the contest with the first-ever between the legs “Eastbay Dunk.” Although Rider’s career was only nine years long, he was incredibly underrated, averaging 20+ points per game in 1995 and 18.5 points per game throughout his first five seasons. Although certain teammates considered him a jerk, he is best known for his dunks, and this crazy shot he made while on the Timberwolves.
I already talked about this in another blog, but after Bryant’s 1997 dunk contest win, everyone disliked the other horrible dunks so much that the league shut down the Dunk Contest until Carter revived it in 2000, putting on an absolute show. Following that, Jason Richardson would win the contest in 2002 and 2003, before the era of Nate Robinson, in which the 5’9″ guard would deliver jaw-dropping dunks. Soon after, there would be Gerald Green, Dwight Howard, and Blake Griffin‘s dunk over a car. After John Wall won the second-worst dunk contest ever in 2014 (if you need proof, watch this), LaVine won his two titles, followed by a bunch of role players on different teams and Donovan Mitchell. Recent dunk contest winners have lacked star power that previous winners demonstrated as in 2021, Anfernee Simons won the contest, and in 2019, it was Hamidou Diallo of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Next up we have the three-point contest. Larry Bird would win the first three contests in NBA history, 1986-1988 (this has already been discussed in another blog). After Dale Ellis in 1989, Craig Hodges of the Chicago Bulls would win three titles, beating out Jordan in one of those contests. Mark Price would then win two titles, followed by Glen Rice, Tim Legler, and Steve Kerr, former Chicago Bull and current coach of the Golden State Warriors. After Kerr, the next five years were dominated by Jeff Hornacek, Ray Allen, and Peja Stojakovic, two of whom were some of the greatest shooters ever. After a few sub-par performances, Dirk Nowitzki won the contest in 2006, followed by Jason Kapono winning the contest in 2007 and 2008. Paul Pierce would win in 2010, followed by Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Marco Belinelli, and the reign of the Splash Brothers.
One of the key things you could argue about the dunk contest in 2021 is that no big names entered the dunk contest, because of fear it would hurt their brand if some reserve player completely destroyed them. Why do you think LeBron James never entered? Another reason why the Dunk Contest has become “boring” to some is that as fans of the NBA, we’ve become spoiled. We’ve seen almost every dunk that can physically be done, whether in a dunk contest or online. Free throw line dunk? Yup. Double-between the legs? Right here. 360 windmill? Vince Carter did that in 2000, and Zion Williamson did it in high school. Between the legs from the free-throw line? Zach LaVine did it in 2016. We have witnessed some of the greatest dunk contests in NBA history, but now, it looks like the league might have to shut it down again until some superstar like Carter can revive it.
As for the three point contest, it’s the same format it’s been since its creation. However, knowing the score you have to beat while you are shooting is mentally fatiguing, and makes it very interesting for the fans. There’s also lots of star power in most years, making it interesting for the fans to tune in. One change I would make if I was the NBA commissioner would be two players shooting at the same time, because of how much tension there would be, just like they did with Hodges and Jordan back in the day.
Never did I think we would reach the era of the NBA where watching a guy shoot threes is more impressive then dunks, but here we are. So, let’s look at the 10 most impressive Slam Dunk champions, followed by the 10 most impressive Three Point Contest Champions.
Most impressive dunk champions:
Most impressive Three-Point Champions:
If you had a choice, which of these two groups of players would you rather have? This is honestly a really close call for me. The Slam Dunk champions are better players, but they would have little to no floor spacing. With the three-point shooters, you have the best shooters ever and some of the most difficult to guard. I would pay good money to see every player on these two teams in their primes go at it. However, in the end, I think that if you compare all the three-point champions and all the slam dunk champions, the three-point champions have had better careers so far than the dunkers. While very few have had better careers than Jordan and Bryant, Wilkins suffered one of the worst injuries in basketball with a torn Achilles, Howard has had back problems since 2012, Wall missed in essence two seasons from his own torn Achilles, and Griffin missed considerable time with the Pistons. Meanwhile, Bird is a top ten player of all time, Nowitzki has an MVP and a championship under his belt, Curry has two MVPs and three titles, Pierce is a champion and Finals MVP, Allen is a 10-time All-Star and Hall-of-Famer, Irving has a championship and the best handles in the world, Love has a championship and was an MVP candidate in the early 2010s, Booker just made his first Finals and is an All-Star, Stojakovic is a three-time All-Star and won a chip with Dirk, and Kerr amassed 5 titles as a player. All in all, the three-point champions are winners and have much fewer injuries, so I would have to take them.
Do you think dunkers or shooters are better? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!