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A Brief History of The Slam Dunk
When superstars like Lebron James or Blake Griffin in the open court, the crowd rises to their feet as it anticipates the finish. Watching him take off, we all hold our breath in awe at the athletic feat taking place. Afterwards we cheer and look at each other in disbelief. The Slam Dunk, the most exciting play in basketball, is a big part of the game today, dominating the highlights as high school, college and NBA games are filled with high flying action and flashy theatrics. Today's above the rim game was probably not what Dr. Naismath had in mind when he first hung those peach baskets.
The first player to dunk regularly in game play was a 7’2” center by the name of Bob Kurland. Kurland led the Oklahoma A&M Aggies to back to back NCAA titles in 1945-46. Kurland would regularly jump above the rim to block incoming shots, prompting the NCAA to ban “goaltending” in 1945. Kurland never played professionally and was eligible to play for the ‘48 and ‘52 Olympic teams.
Of course all of this changed with players such as Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Dunking became a regular part of the sport, with their size and agility they could dunk regularly and at will. Before the shot clock era, teams would often hold the ball in hopes to limit possessions to their respective teams.
In 1967, the NCAA banned dunking altogether. Although different reasons were given, such as to keep players from hanging on the rims, bending the rims, and breaking the glass, the ban would become known as the Lew Alcindor rule. Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul Jabaar, was a long 7 footer John Wooden had recruited to UCLA. The ban was lifted in 1976, long after Alcindor was gone.
Perhaps the biggest game changer in slam dunk history was the creation of the ABA. The American Basketball Association began in the late sixties and offered a different brand of basketball. Known for its red, white and blue ball, the ABA also implemented the three point arc. During its last season before merging with the NBA, the league introduced the slam dunk competition. Taking off from the free throw line, Julius Erving of the New Jersey Nets won the contest over David Thompson, Artis Gilmore, George Gervin, and Larry Kenon.
The NBA finally picked up on the idea of a dunk contest in 1984. Larry Nance beat Dr. J in the inaugural contest.
The Tall and The Short of It...
- The shortest player to ever win a dunk contest was Spud Webb. In 1986, the 5'7" Webb defeated his Atlanta Hawks teammate Dominque Wilkins with his impressive performance.
- The tallest player to win was 6'11" Dwight Howard in 2008. Superman, as he is called, marveled the judges with his athletic feats putting to rest the idea that a center couldn't win a dunk contest. He would go on to lose the 2009 contest to the 5'9" Nate Robinson.
Perhaps the most exciting play in sports, the alley-oop is performed when one player lobs the basketball near the basket as a teamates catches it in the air to slam it home. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have made this play commonplace in Los Angeles as it is now called Lob City
The Modern Era
With Dominiuqe Wilkins and Michael Jordan, the dunk contest was ready for a new chapter. Finesse met Power in 1988 when Michael Jordan and Dominique met for their epic clash in Chicago. Many still think Wilkins was robbed, but Jordan was flawless in his performance. Both were equally impressive and would influence dunks for years to come. Jordan’s creativity and Wilkins sheer strength made this one for the ages.
Widely considered the greatest game-time dunk was Vince Carter’s “dunk of death” over the 7’2” Frederic Weis in the 2000 Summer Olympics. The French center stood his ground as Carter came down on the break. Thinking he would take a charge, he prepared for contact only to be jumped over entirely. Even Carter’s teammates seemed to be amazed by the leap over the much taller player.
Today’s players seem to be bigger and faster than ever. Every game, the leagues high flyers make plays that were thought to be impossible. The modern dunk contest is all about the gimmicks. Leaping over cars, chairs, players or even ladders, but many feel the contest seems to have lost some of its magic.
Whether it be risk of injury or lack of prestige,the bigger stars no longer feel the need to enter the contest. This makes way for the younger, lesser known players to compete on the big stage. Players will always find new ways to make dunks exciting, whether it be borrowing from the greats, or coming up with something new.
Today, the dunk is more a part of the game than ever. It can energize the crowd and demoralize the opponent, it can be a thing of beauty or a violent collision. From peach baskets to break away rims, Chuck Taylor's to Air Jordan's, the game has evolved over the years and the dunk has evolved with it.