These guys did more than just jump out the gym.
They made you go, “Oh lawd” like the late Bernie Mac used to say.
We’ll always miss you, Bernie.
Anyway, these guys had crazy hops and did things that no one else can duplicate. You got guys who can dunk, but can they have the hang time, elevation and do so with a forcefulness?
That’s the definition of a leaper to me.
So before continuing, you know the routine people.
These guys are not on my list: Kenny “Sky” Walker, Dee Brown, Harold Minor, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin (he may be in the future if he stays healthy), Larry Nance, Steve Francis, Kobe Bryant, J.R. Rider, Josh Smith or Gerald Green.
So with that being said, let’s get to it.
10. (Tie) Spud Webb and Nate Robinson – Although Webb didn’t throw it down with much force, hard to deny a 5-6 guy dunking. Plus he beat the great Dominique Wilkins in a dunk contest. He kind of goes against my leaper criteria, but you can’t take away the kind of hops he had. It was incredible to see a guy that small and short dunk.
As for Robinson, he’s 5-9, but the difference between the two is power. Nate is much stronger than Webb ever was, is more creative and has better hang time. Spud was straight up and down. Robinson can hang in the air and get off acrobatic shots. Plus he’s won three NBA Slam Dunk contests be it the last one was weak, but still got to give him credit.
9. Elgin Baylor – When he came into the game in the late 1950s and 1960s, Baylor was really the first guard to play above the rim. Baylor’s gift was his hang time was horizontal. What I mean by that he would jump on one side of the lane and be able to hang to get his shot off on the other side of the lane. He did things with the ball in flight few have done since.
8. Connie Hawkins – His nickname wasn’t by accident. Some might say The Hawk” should be in the Top 5, but I’m taking points away because he was one, 6-8 in height, two, had very long arms and three, those big hands. So because of that, he could jump and move the ball around in flight. Like Baylor, Hawk would cross the lane with the hang time and flip the ball in the basket with finesse.
7. LeBron James – He’s interesting in the sense that at 6-8 and 260 pounds, he carries a lot of mass in the air. Guys his weight aren’t suppose to elevate like him, but James can really rise once he gets his “1-2 down” as he told me during a press conference after dunking on Kevin Garnett in the NBA Playoffs in 2008. When he takes that arm back in the air for that windmill dunk, oh lawd, look out.
6. Shawn Kemp – The reality of this list is you have to make some hard choices. This is the most difficult one. Shawn Kemp did things that no one can do to this day. He was such a gifted athlete and just had a fury to this dunks. Gary Payton had so much fun just throwing him lob passes for dunks. The reason he’s 6th is the next five are just that good.
5. David Thompson – With a 44-inch vertical jump. David Thompson is a guy who at 6-4 1/2 would just climb the ladder, elevate over much bigger opponents and cram it down. Where you really saw his elevation was on the jump shot. The guy would just hang in the air. Thompson had to cuff the ball to really dunk so that meant he had to jump even higher.
4. Michael Jordan – I love Mike, but I just couldn’t stick him in that top 3. Wanted to, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead of dwelling on that, let’s talk about “His Airness.” He may have been the first to jump, then lean towards the basket and finish either with the dunk or the reverse. Of course anyone who can glide from the free throw line is a high riser. He dunked on big men with regularity. Air Jordan defied gravity time and time again.
3. Dominique Wilkins – A two-foot jumper, Wilkins not only had the power in his jump, but he had the finesse to go along with it. Who else can do a two-handed windmill and a dunk in which he moved the ball away from the defender and still dunk it? No one. Once Dominique established himself as a great leaper, big men didn’t even try to block his dunk after a while. “The Human Highlight Film” was in a class by himself.
2. Julius “Dr. J.” Erving – Before Jordan, there was this guy. He was the one who inspired us all by jumping from the free throw line and throwing it down with that fro blowing in the air. See, Erving had the mits like Hawkins, the creativity like Baylor, the hang time like Jordan and the force of nature like James. He was a one-man fast break and at the end of it, if a big man was there, say Bill Walton, it didn’t matter.
1. Vince Carter – Oh my lawd. Not only did he have the greatest performance in NBA Slam Dunk Contest history, Carter had ridiculous hops in his prime. Plus he had the power and hang time. A very rare combination and then to finish time and time again over big men was incredible. So unique in the sense that he made it look so easy, but like Kemp, he had that fury within and when it brought it out, look out 7-footers. They got posterized.