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

For most of my time on this Earth, I’ve been a dunk connoisseur. I religiously re-watched the legendary 2000 NBA Dunk Contest by Vince Carter, Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady and my recorded VHS versions of James White’s 2001 McDonald’s All-American Dunk Contest (yes, yes … laugh, Gen Z ). In 2004, I jumped out of my folding camp chair in my college dorm when Jason Richardson stepped through the glass, forgetting that I had my Minolta digital camera in his lap; it shattered after hitting the hardwood. necessary, but I don’t regret it. I watched the epic 2016 matchup between Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon alone on my tablet at an AirBnB in Paris at 4am while the rest of the family slept.

This story is why my reaction to Ja Morant’s face-melting poster against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday was so telling. When the Memphis Grizzlies guard seemingly jumped off a trampoline, stuck his fully extended arm behind his head and posterized poor Jalen Smith, I didn’t scream. I did not jump. I didn’t spit out my adult drink.

The dunk really, literally, left me speechless. I leaned forward, shook my fists wildly, and looked around my empty house to see if non-existent spectators saw what I saw. I was stunned, but all my celebration was silent—a silent movie. Shortly after, I started bawling, logging into Slack and my group’s messages to recount what had just happened. When my wife got home from work, I showed her the dunk about 50 times using the handy NBA “every angle” post.

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

Competition knives obviously have the highest level of difficulty. But the element of surprise from an improbable dunk in the middle of an NBA game can’t be beat. When thinking about the best ever, we have to make a few caveats. First, wide open fast breaks don’t count. Guys have done 360s, passed between the legs, done windmills when they’re alone in transition, sorry, it’s a lot like a dunk contest. The tackles Morant goes up against should be in real game time. Second, these are only NBA dunks, so unfortunately Carter’s literal dunk on Frederick Weiss in the 2000 Olympics won’t make the list.

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

Julius Erving (1983)

Might as well start with the classics. Dr. J’s “rock the baby” dunk is one of the most iconic in league history and has never really been duplicated. Not only was it one of the smoothest dunks we’ve ever seen, but it also won against reigning champions and all-time defending champion Michael Cooper. It was punctuated by an incredible call from GOAT NBA announcer Chick Hearn, who urged him to “put the baby down and put him to sleep” on the fly. It doesn’t get much better.

Dominic Wilkins (1984)

It was nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film” for a reason. There are many potential Dominic performances, but this one gets the nomination for sheer power and creativity. “Not only does Nike leave the double team, but he (mostly on the side) hits Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, who didn’t speak to Wilkins for nine years after that.

Tom Chambers (1989)

Poor Mark Jackson. While playing for the Phoenix Suns, the 6-foot-6 Chambers went up … and up … and up … until he reached the edge of his elbow and threw down a vicious two-handed poster of the future. NBA head coach and ESPN analyst. The side angle is the best indication of how high Chambers is, but he could take off a few micro points due to a potential boost after hitting Jackson.

Michael Jordan (1991)

You knew MJ had to be in here somewhere. This dunk speaks for itself, but it gets extra juice because it was a playoff game and because of how Jordan destroyed the Knicks multiple times during his career.

Sean Kemp (1992)

Oh baby, Lister Blister! This knife has it all: the punch, the poster, the point. Add to that the fact that it came during a playoff game. Kemp is up there with the best of them.

John Starks (1993)

The Bulls beat the Knicks a lot in the 90s, but Starks will always have this sting over Horace Grant and (sort of) Michael Jordan. A right-hander, Starks lifts and contorts his body to throw down a sick left-handed dunk in the dying seconds of the Eastern Conference finals. This is one of the most special moments in Knicks history.

Ricky Davis (1999)

It’s a deep cut, but it deserves more love than it gets. Look how tall Davis is! His head is literally on edge. When it comes to layup dunks and sheer athleticism, it’s hard to beat.

Vince Carter (1999)

Carter took the NBA by storm en route to winning Rookie of the Year in 1998-99, and this is one of those dunks that made us realize we weren’t dealing with an ordinary being. This would have legitimately won the dunk contest in the 90s, and he did it in mid-game traffic. Absolutely filthy.

Vince Carter (2005)

Too many Carter dunks to choose from, but he ranked this one as his personal favorite, so who are we to disagree? First he hits a smooth behind-the-back dribble to avoid Jason Williams, then he reaches back and stabs all over Alonzo Mourning, one of the best shot blockers in NBA history. If you’re picking the best dunks ever, the VC has to be at the top of the list.

Baron Davis (2007)

The Warriors’ lasting memory of “We Believe” is perhaps most aesthetically similar to Morant’s dunk. Davis backhands it and unleashes a 6-footer over 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 very next season, he may have outdone himself by destroying another big man, Kendrick Perkins. Some would argue that they aren’t technically dunks because Griffin doesn’t touch the rim. With that, get out of here. When you’re tall enough to shoot the ball 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 best dunkers of all time, and this might be his crowning masterpiece. Yes, it’s in transition, but there are enough defenders in the area to qualify. Thinking about doing a windmill in this situation is just crazy, but I guess that’s what goes through your head when you can line the eyes on the edge.

The King has numerous NBA honors to his name. he’s going to be the league’s all-time leading scorer, but he’s also one of the few players to ever jump over a whole damn man for a dunk. John Lucas III never knew what hit him because LeBron never actually hit him. He just ran over her, clearing her like a traffic cone on the way to the end of this lane.

Griffin deservedly gets most of the flowers, but DJ is right up there with him for the best dunks in the game. If some of the conspiracies on this list are ballets, then this is a monster truck rally. pure, unadulterated carnage. This resulted in countless memes of poor Brandon Knight hitting the floor and into outer space. He even made fun of himself after the disaster. This was the Lob City Clippers at their best.

Remember when LeBron jumped over a man? Well, Giannis jumped over the bigger man and made it look very casual. There’s a reason they call him “The Greek Monster.”

Aaron Gordon (2022)

Just to throw in the last one, Gordon gets extra points for context here. Not only did this happen during the Christmas Day exhibition game, but it also happened in overtime in the final seconds of a one-point game. When you play someone as one of the game’s most important assets, it takes a certain amount of confidence.

As I said, this is by no means a comprehensive list. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter! @ColinCBSSports with forgotten dunks. No matter where you place Morant, he has certainly joined the pantheon of NBA plays.


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