Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ranking The Careers of The Dunk Contest Winners

Today, I continue All-Star week at Diminishing Skills by ranking the careers--in actual games, not just dunk contests--of the past dunk contest winners.  Because aren't you just dying to know once-and-for-all who was better:  Harold Miner, or Fred Jones?

1. Michael Jordan (1987-88)
This isn't really fair, considering Jordan is the best player ever.  Just as unfairly, he was probably the best dunk contest participant ever.  Yes, Vince Carter was absolutely electrifying in 2000, but Jordan's duels with Dominique in '85 and '88 really felt like they mattered, unlike the manufactured "rivalry" between Nate Robinson and Dwight Howard.

2. Kobe Bryant (1997)
The man that killed the dunk contest (after Bryant's win, the contest was abandoned until the arrival of Vince Carter in 2000 made it necessary again, which could probably be blamed on the 1997 host city being Cleveland as much as Bryant's performance), Black Mamba is actually trailing MJ by two titles (one NBA championship, and one dunk contest win; I'll let you decide which is more important).  As much as I don't want to admit it, Bryant is clearly number two on this list, and is also quickly making his way up to #2 on The List, as well.  It's hard to remember, but Kobe was actually pretty pedestrian as a 19-year old rookie*, getting only 15.5 minutes per game and shooting just over 41% from the field.  And then there were his air balls vs. Utah  in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals that same season, which show that while he wasn't nearly the elite player he would soon become (by the next season, his PER would rise from 14.4 to 18.5, the second lowest of his career, and a mark that would rank 111th all-time on the career PER list if he had plateaued at his second season level), Kobe was already making terrible decisions in the clutch even as a rookie.

*I seem to remember the Lakers getting Kobe almost solely for salary cap purposes.  He was drafted by Charlotte at #13 (right after the Cavs took Vitaly Potapenko #12), and then immediately dealt to the Lakers for Vlade Divac.  That trade was part of Jerry West's housecleaning (along with his acquisition of a 2nd round pick from Vancouver in exchange for Anthony Peeler and George Lynch) to clear the way for Shaq.  It just seems strange to me that the Portland Trailblazers are constantly given crap for taking Sam Bowie over Jordan, but the 12 teams who passed on Bryant--not to mention the 13th team that traded him--aren't given an equal amount of gruff.  I guess the Todd Fuller era (taken #11) was sweet enough for Golden State fans to forgive their front office.


3. Dr. J (1976)
The dunk contest was invented because of Dr. J, so it's fitting that he was the inaugural winner.  While Irving technically won the ABA dunk contest (you can watch it here and here), I think he deserves mention, since without him, there probably wouldn't have ever been a dunk contest..  As I was researching this, I was shocked at how good Dr. J's numbers are.  We've all heard stories about what a marvel he was to watch, but the guy could actually play, too.  He destroyed the ABA, leading the league in scoring 3 of his 5 years there, in PER his last 4, in Win Shares his last 3, and winning two championships.  His first year in the NBA, he won the All-Star game MVP, led the Sixers to the Finals for the first of four trips during his Philly career (with the last one yielding his only NBA championship), and ushered in the modern era of the league that would soon be built upon by Bird and Magic.  Oh, and he won NBA MVP in 1980.  For a guy I always thought was overrated, Dr. J sure is underrated.

4. Dominique Wilkins (1985, 1990)
1985, of course, was the first epic showdown with Jordan, but why was Wilkins still doing the contest in 1990?  I mean, look at the competition.  Scottie Pippen would eventually equal (okay, surpass) Wilkins's stature, but in 1990, he wasn't in quite the same stratosphere.  'Nique actually edged Kenny Smith in the finals, which is hard to imagine since my only memories of Kenny Smith the player are of his playoff threes for the Houston Rockets.  Wilkins was one of the better scorers the league has ever seen (13th all-time in points and points per game), kind of a less-refined-but-more explosive Carmelo Anthony.  The striking similarities between the two scorers' career arcs may be why Anthony is trying to force a trade: he doesn't want to become the ring-less vagabond 'Nique became at the end of his career.

5. Dwight Howard (2008)
My least favorite player in the NBA right now, Howard is the most dominant big man in the league by what may be the largest margin over his competition in NBA history (Shaq had Duncan; Hakeem had Ewing and Robinson; Kareem had Moses; Russell had Chamberlain; Dwight has...Gasol?).  The fact that he doesn't take advantage of that fact and dominate the league is part of the reason he's my least favorite player (the other parts being his constant bitching to the refs, his smile, his "sense of humor," his perfectly square shoulders, and his atrocious post game).  His dunk contest performances were as charming as a Sprite ad, which I think is what they actually might have been all along.  Does anybody even drink Sprite?  It has no caffeine, so what's the point?  I bet Howard drinks Diet Sprite, once a week, as a treat for being the most obnoxious superstar to come along in ages.  All that said, he changes the game on defense in a way that only a handful of other players have, and at 25, he's still getting better.  I just hope he has some sort of sex scandal or something where the media turns on him so he'll drop his shtick and get good and pissed. 

6. Vince Carter (2000)
They probably should have put the dunk contest back on ice after Vinsanity was unleashed in 2000*.  Some might argue we would have missed the charm of the Dwight Howard-Nate Robinson showdowns, but I say good riddance to them.  The only good thing to come out of any dunk contest since 2000 is this insane Andre Iguodala dunk, but he didn't even win that year, so it kind of negates the significance of it.   Should we have put Vince on ice after 2000, as well?

Toronto fans would probably say yes.  Later that spring, Carter got his diploma before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and then missed the game-winning shot.  It has pretty much been all downhill from there, which shows what heights Carter was riding at after the 2000 dunk contest.  He just passed 20,000 career points, a feat accomplished by only 36 other players in NBA history.  He's played in 8 All-Star games, 56 playoff games, and made over $156 million in his career.  Yet none of those things comes even close to matching what Vince Carter did during the 2000 All-Star break.  For most players, the dunk contest is their one time to shine, or, for someone like Jordan, a chance to go slumming while still etching his legacy.  For Carter, the contest is a curse, a virtuoso performance that promised greatness that simply wasn't in him. 

*Of course, it would have to be thawed out this year for the Blake Griffin show I am eagerly anticipating.

7. Larry Nance (1984)
Technically the NBA's first dunk champion, Nance beat Dr. J with the first gimmick dunk, the two-basketball slam.  Nance made two All-Star games with the Cavs (and another with Phoenix), and was a shot-blocking machine (2.2 career blocks per game).  It's a good thing Mark Price and then Terrell Brandon were so good, though, since I think I would have rather had Kevin Johnson's entire career over 7 1/2 seasons of Nance.  But then, I really loved Kevin Johnson.


8. Josh Smith (2005)
Smith is the modern-day version of Nance, a thin, pogo-stick power forward who blocks shots and slams the ball home with authority.  Smith has a better floor game than Nance, but he shoots way too many 3s (his target goal for attempts should be right around 0).  It will be interesting to see how Smith develops as he hits his prime, as he could either finally fully harness his ample physical gifts and become something transcendent, or he could continue to coast somewhat and fade-away as his physical prowess erodes and he's left with no skills or know-how to fall back on.

9. Jason Richardson (2002-03)
For a two-time dunk champion, it seems like Richardson does very little attacking of the rim these days.  According to, Richardson is shooting a whopping 5.9 threes per game (which is actually in line with his recent career trend), but only a career-low 2.1 attempts per game at the rim.  It's entirely possible this potentially game-winning missed dunk vs. the Spurs last season has frightened him away from the rim, but it seems a shame to have such a devastating finisher camped out in the corner.

10. Spud Webb (1986)
11. Nate Robinson (2006, 2009-10)
Webb gets the nod over fellow Mighty Mite Robinson due to the fact that Spud actually was a starter on a playoff team, while Nate appears to be nothing more than a spark off the bench.  Robinson's upside is much higher than Webb's ever was (see: Robinson's 41 points on New Year's Day, 2010), but when he's bad, he's horrible.  Robinson is the only three-time champion in dunk contest history, which may be the saddest thing I've learned all day.

12. Cedric Ceballos (1992)
Ceballos has the 3rd dumbest dunk in history with his blindfold dunk.  Yuck.  Did you know: Ced Ceballos led the NBA in field goal percentage in 1992-93?

13. Isaiah Rider (1994)
Rider won the first dunk contest I watched live, and for a short time, he was my favorite player in the league (especially after he hit this shot).  He had a reputation as a knucklehead (which he was), but he did start for some good Portland teams at the end of the 90s, and won a ring with the Lakers in 2001 (total minutes for Rider in the playoffs that year: 0, so maybe he didn't get a ring after all).  Did you know: the Trailblazers acquired Rider's services for James Robinson, Bill Curley, and Paul Grant, a package that tells you all you need to know about how much Minnesota hated to let Isaiah go.  50,000 blog points to whoever can tell me what crazy feat Robinson accomplished against my beloved Cavaliers.

14. Desmond Mason (2001)
Mason always seemed on the cusp of a breakout year, but he's out of the league now and that year never came.  The closest he got was an empty 17.1 points per game for the Bucks in 2004-05, but he was exposed as a starter and robbed of his athleticism by back problems; he would never rise above replacement level again.

(How crazy is it Baron Davis is throwing down in this video?  Why don't I remember this?)

15. Brent Barry (1996)
The only white guy to win the dunk contest, "Bones" pulled the fat-kid-in-the-pool-who-won't-take-his-shirt-off routine by keeping his warm-ups on the entire contest.  Barry's win paved the way for Kobe to end the contest the following year (and I don't mean that in a good way).

16. Dee Brown (1991)
Brown did the second worst dunk ever, the "no-look" dunk, where he kind of put his arm by his eyes.  In 1998-99, Brown led the league in 3 points made and attempted.  He did not lead the league in 3 point percentage. 

17. Fred Jones (2004)
The last four guys on this list are known almost entirely for their dunk contest exploits, as they have done almost nothing else in their careers.  Jones somehow tricked four different teams into giving him significant minutes before disappearing from the league following a 2008-09 stint with the Clippers.

18. Harold Miner (1993, 1995)
Remember when all a guy had to do to be the next Jordan was be bald, black, and slam dunk?  Miner had those three things down perfectly, and even had the nickname "Baby Jordan."  The rest of Jordan's repertoire, however, was sorely missing.  After just four years in the league, Miner disappeared, last playing for the Cavs.  Considering how short his career was, it's kind of remarkable he found a way to not only participate in 2 dunk contests, but to win them, as well.

19. Kenny Walker (1989)
 Kudos have to go to Kenny "Sky" Walker for having A.) an awesome nickname, B.) the longest pair of boxer briefs ever, and C.) a sweet, complicated handshake he shares with a mysterious man in a yellow jacket (could it be one Mr. Wesley Snipes?  Probably not, and probably racist of me to say). 

20. Gerald Green (2007)
Green did the worst dunk ever when he blew out a cupcake on the rim.  Drafted out of high school, Green never showed any basketball skills beyond dunking and blowing out candles, which could be said of me, as well (at least, as long as we're talking about blowing out candles on an Oreo cake and then dunking that Oreo cake into a tall, cool glass of milk).




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