The NBA’s Best In-Game Dunks of All Time: Comparing Ja Morant’s Insane Slam to LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and More

As much as we love the NBA Dunk Contest, it will simply never compare to the exhilaration of a well-executed poster dunk in-game. The brief moment of anticipation when you see the player charge in, the hesitation when you think for a split second, “there’s no way he’s actually going to finish this”, and finally, the heart-pounding explosion as the ball is thrown through the rim.

I’ve been a dunk connoisseur for most of my time on this Earth. I religiously reviewed my recorded VHS versions (yeah, yeah…laugh it, Gen Z) of Vince Carter, Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady legendary NBA Dunk 2000 contest and James White’s McDonald’s All-American Dunk contest in 2001. In 2004, I jumped out of the camping-style folding chair in my college dorm when Jason Richardson came out between the legs of the glass, forgetting that my Minolta digital camera was in my lap – it shattered on impact with the hardwood floor, but I have no regrets. I was speechless 2016 epic showdown between Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon alone on my tablet in a Parisian AirBnB at 4am, while the rest of the family slept.

This story is why my reaction to Ja Morant’s stunning poster against the Indiana Pacers Saturday was so revealing. When the Memphis Grizzlies guard apparently bounced off a trampoline, cocked his fully outstretched arm behind his head, and posterized poor Jalen Smith, I didn’t yell. I did not jump. I didn’t spit out my adult drink.

The dunk actually, literally, left me speechless. I leaned forward, gesticulated wildly with my fists, and looked around my empty house to see if any nonexistent onlookers saw what I had just seen. I was flabbergasted, but my entire post-dunk celebration was silent – ​​a silent movie. Soon after, I started shouting, going into Slack and my group messages to relay what had just happened. When my wife got home from work, I showed her the dunk about 50 times, using the NBA’s “every angle” handy post.

Dunk of the year? How about the best in-game dunk of all time?

The contest dunks, obviously, have the highest degree of difficulty. But the element of surprise of an incredible dunk in the middle of an NBA game is impossible to overcome. When we think of the best ever, we have to make a few caveats: first, wide-opening fast breaks don’t count. The guys did 360s, went between the legs, did windmills when alone in transition – sorry, that sounds too much like a dunk contest. The dunks that Morant faces must take place during real game action. Second, these are just NBA dunks, so unfortunately Carter literally dunking on Frederic Weis at the 2000 Olympics will not be on the list.

Here are some of the best in-game dunks of all time (I wouldn’t dare say they’re ALL the best), and you can judge for yourself if you think Morant tops them.

Julius Erving (1983)

Might as well start with a classic. Dr. J’s “rock the baby” dunk is one of the most iconic in league history and has truly never been replicated. Not only was it one of the smoothest dunks we’ve seen, but it also happened against the defending champions and an all-time defender in Michael Cooper. It was punctuated by NBA GOAT broadcaster Chick Hearn’s incredible call, who offered “rock the baby and put him to sleep” on the fly. It’s not much better.

Dominique Wilkins (1984)

Its nickname was the “Human Highlight Film” for a reason. There are plenty of potential submissions for Dominique, but this one gets the nomination for her power and creativity. Not only is ‘Nique walking away from a double-team, but he’s also having fun (mostly sideways) on Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, who didn’t speak to Wilkins for nine years after.

Tom Chambers (1989)

Poor Mark Jackson. playing for the Phoenix Suns, the 6-foot-10 Chambers got up…and up…and up…until he was about elbow level with the rim, and threw a vicious two-handed poster of the future NBA head coach and ESPN analyst. The side angle best shows how high Chambers has reached, but he could get a few micro points deducted due to a possible boost after hitting Jackson.

Michael Jordan (1991)

You knew MJ had to be here somewhere. This dunk speaks for itself, but it gets a little more juice because it was a playoff game and because of how Jordan repeatedly devastated the Knicks during his career.

Shawn Kemp (1992)

Oh baby, the Lister Blister. This dunk has it all: the headline, the poster, the point. Add to the fact that he came in a playoff game? Kemp is up there with the best of them.

John Stark (1993)

The Bulls beat the Knicks a lot in the 90s, but Starks will always have that dunk on Horace Grant and (sort of) Michael Jordan. A right-handed player, Starks elevates and contorts his body to throw a sick left dunk in the closing seconds of an Eastern Conference Finals game. It’s one of the most defining moments in Knicks history.

Ricky Davis (1999)

It’s a deep cut, but deserves more love than it gets. Look how high Davis is! His head is literally on the edge. When it comes to set-up dunks and pure athleticism, it’s tough to beat.

Vince Carter (1999)

Carter stormed the NBA en route to Rookie of the Year in 1998-99, and it was one of the dunks that made us realize we weren’t dealing with an ordinary being. It would have rightfully won a dunk contest back in the 90s, and it did it mid-game in traffic. Absolutely dirty.

Vince Carter (2005)

Lots of Carter dunks to choose from, but he listed it as his favorite, so who are we to disagree? He first hits the dribble smoothly behind the back to evade Jason Williams, then he reaches out and dives on Alonzo Mourning, one of the best shot blockers in NBA history. If you’re picking the best dunker of all time, VC has to be at the top of the list.

Baron Davis (2007)

The imperishable memory of “We Believe” Warriors is probably the most aesthetically similar to Morant’s dunk. Davis brings it back and releases the 6-foot-9 Andrei Kirilenko, sending the Oracle Arena crowd into a frenzy.

We couldn’t choose just one. First Griffin created a new verb when he “Mozgoved” the 7-foot-1 Russian center. Then, the following season, he may have outdone himself by destroying another great man, Kendrick Perkins. Some would say these aren’t technically dunks because Griffin doesn’t hit the rim. Get out of here with this. When you’re high enough to throw the ball down through the net, you can come back to me with those arguments. Griffin has two extremely impressive candidates for the best in-game dunk of all time.

Gerald Green (2012)

Green is one of the greatest dunkers of all time, and this may be his masterpiece in the game. Yes, it’s in transition, but there are enough defenders in the box that it qualifies. Even thinking about making a windmill in this situation is sheer madness, but I guess that’s what goes through your mind when you can get to eye level with the rim.

King has plenty of NBA accolades to his name — he’s on the cusp of becoming the league’s top scorer, for one thing — but he’s also one of the few players to ever jump over a goddamn thing. human being for a dunk. John Lucas III never knew what hit him, because LeBron never really hit him. He just passed it, clearing it like a traffic cone on the way to that alley-oop finish.

Griffin deservedly gets most of the flowers, but DJ is on his side for the best dunks in the game. If some of the dunks on this list are ballets, this one is a monster truck rally – pure carnage and without mixed. This has led to countless memes of poor Brandon Knight getting pounded in the ground and in space. He has even laughed at himself after the catastrophic event. It was “Lob City” Mowers at their best.

Remember when LeBron jumped over a person? Well, Giannis jumped over an even taller person and made it too laid back. There’s a reason they call him the Greek Freak.

Aaron Gordon (2022)

Just to add a recent one, Gordon gets extra points for context here. Not only did this happen in an exhibition game on Christmas Day, but it also happened in the final seconds of a one-point overtime game. When you designate someone as one of the most crucial assets in a game, it takes some trust.

As I said, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to contact me on Twitter @ColinCBSSports with the dunks that I forgot. No matter where you put Morant, he’s certainly joined the pantheon of in-game NBA dunks.

Comments are closed.