For basketball fans, the slam dunk is the most exciting and entertaining play in sports. It dazzles and energizes the fans watching in the arena and on television. A breathtaking dunk can change the course of a game. Often a dunk will excite the team and the crowd, turning momentum. Players who make a dunk are fired up, using adrenaline to increase their intensity on defence.

A dunk or "flush" displays not only the strength and leaping ability of a player, it also showcases his artistry in mid-air. An athletic expression of power and grace, find out more about dunking with Basketball U.

Styles of Dunking:

Skywalkers / Aerial Artists

Kobe Bryant
Skywalkers such as Kobe Bryant add their own artistic flair to dunking. (Catherine Steenkeste/
NBAE/Getty Images)

Skywalkers are players who add their own artistic flair to dunking, such as Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, rookie Jason Richardson of the Golden State Warriors and Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets. Aerial artists feature their best dunks with "breakaway jams" and fast-break transition baskets. These players display their creative moves to the basket, often changing direction and hanging in mid-air before delivering the ball to the hoop with a forceful slam. Most skywalkers play the position of guard or small forward.

The moves of former Philadelphia 76ers star Julius Erving advanced dunking from two points to an art form. Former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan discusses how the dunk has evolved.

"I'll give you a great example of the evolution of the game. In the slam dunk contest, the major feat was to take off from the free-throw line. Dr. J (Julius Erving) was the first to do it, then I did it. What was different about the way the two of us did it?

"When Dr. J took off, he ran. I dribbled, which is harder to do because you've got to get your rhythm together. People never even noticed that. That was my way of improving on what Dr. J did. That was taking it to the next level the evolution of the dunk. And then in the All-Star game in 2000, Vince Carter took off with two hands from the free-throw line. That's the evolution of how change happens."

Skywalkers are more likely to appear in NBA slam dunk contests than power dunkers due to their ability to be creative and awe-inspiring. They are the NBA's showmen. The ability to hang in the air is known as "hang time." Former NBA star Clyde Drexler often exhibited his soaring hang time in the NBA slam dunk contest, acquiring the nickname "Clyde the Glide."

Some high-flying players, such as Toronto Raptors star Vince Carter, decide what they are going to do once they are in the air. Carter will often attempt a "windmill," where he brings the ball to his waist and raises it back up in a circular motion before dunking.

Power Dunkers

Power dunkers like to use their brute strength to dunk the ball with force. This demonstration of power is used to intimidate opponents and fire up teammates and fans alike. Most of the NBA's power dunkers, such as Antonio Davis of the Toronto Raptors, jump off two feet to dunk. Most skywalkers jump off one foot. Power dunkers usually dunk during the course of a game when close to the basket or on an "alley-oop" pass. An "alley-oop" is when a passer throws the ball to another player in the air, who shoots or dunks it in the basket before landing.

Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett is one of the NBA's most powerful dunkers. (David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)

Some of the NBA's most powerful dunkers include Chris Webber of the Sacramento Kings, Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Rasheed Wallace of the Portland Trail Blazers. Most power dunkers are their team's "big men", playing the position of power forward or centre.

Some guards, such as Michael Finley of the Dallas Mavericks and Jerry Stackhouse of the Washington Wizards, also are power dunkers, unafraid to challenge the "tall trees" that protect the basket. These players drive to the basket or "attack the rack."

Perhaps no player today "throws down" harder than Los Angeles Lakers centre Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq actually has broken basketball backboards when dunking the ball. Like O'Neal, former NBA centre Darryl Dawkins was the first to break backboards with his "monster jams." Dawkins would often name his dunks, such as the "spine-chiller supreme" and the "in-your-face disgrace."

Power dunkers dunk through and over their opponents. No player wants to be dunked on or "posterized." This word came about because photos for posters are made from these types of plays. A "facial" is when you dunk directly in an opponent's face.


Size Doesn't Matter

Former NBA guard Spud Webb was the shortest player to ever win the slam dunk contest, standing only five feet seven inches tall and weighing 133 pounds.

Competing in the 1986 slam dunk contest, Webb reached the final versus his good friend and Atlanta Hawks teammate, Dominique Wilkins. "The Human Highlight Film", as Wilkins was known, had won the previous year, defeating Michael Jordan. Playing in front of his hometown Dallas audience, Spud lobbed the ball from near midcourt causing it to bounce off the floor, catching it backward for a dunk. He received a perfect score.

Webb, though proud, was not surprised by his achievements. He dunked the summer before his senior year of high school when only four feet 11 inches tall!

"It helped that I could jump. But dunking wouldn't have meant a thing to me if the other guys didn't first respect me as a basketball player," said Webb.


A player's vertical is an abbreviated form of vertical leap, indicating how high a player can jump vertically from a stationary position. Players with large verticals are able to use their "hops" or jumping ability to "jump out of the gym." The Los Angeles Clippers have three young players with verticals over 40 inches: Keyon Dooling, Corey Maggette and Quentin Richardson. Maggette competed in the 2001 NBA slam dunk contest.

Jumping Tip

NBA great Dominique Wilkins, slam dunk champion in 1985 and 1990, offers the following jumping tips.

"Aside from God-given talent, I used to work on my timing and my explosiveness. I used to have a bench, about two feet high and eight to nine inches wide. I used to jump over it back and forth for 50 times. We used to do that when I was in high school four to five times a week. In addition to this, I did leg extensions and leg-strengthening exercises. Stretching when you're tired can improve stamina and strength."