DeAndre Jordan kicked off the 2017 NBA Slam Dunk Contest by hopping over D.J. Khaled’s turntables on his way to the rim. Glenn Robinson III followed; jumping over two people for his own initial offering — he earned extra points for stacking his assistants vertically. Not to be outdone, Derrick Jones Jr. leapt over his entire team for his opening slam. After these first three dunks of the contest, it was clear — this is the Year of the Jump-over Slam!
Inspired by the frenzy of dunkers jumping over things, I watched every slam dunk in Slam Dunk Contest history and charted everything (top) and everybody (bottom) that dunkers have jumped.
Since the inaugural NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1984 there have been 35 successful dunks in which the dunker jumped over something or someone, including seven perfect-50s and some of the most memorable dunks in the history of the Slam Dunk Contest.
Gerald Wilkins jumps a chair
It all started in 1986. That was the third NBA Slam Dunk Contest and it was a doozy. You might remember it as the year when the 5-foot-7 Spud Webb beat out his Hawk-teammate Dominique Wilkins in front of his hometown Dallas crowd. What’s forgotten is that it was also the year when the jump-over dunk premiered at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
No matter how many good-natured tips Dominique offered that day in 1986, New York Knick rookie, Gerald Wilkins, would never be able to power-windmill quite like his older brother. In fact, Gerald knew that If he was going to make it out of the first round, he would need to try something different. So, for his second dunk of the competition, the younger Wilkins dragged a folding chair with him from the players’ bench into the middle of the lane. He made a full-court run-up and leaped over the chair for a 50-point slam.
Wilkins’ competitor, Terence Stansbury, was impressed by the first-ever jump-over dunk. He really like it. He thought to himself:
Man, that was pretty cool. But you know what might make it even better, T? If somebody was sitting IN the chair. Now, that would really be something.
So Stansbury had a teammate sit in the chair and he had a ball boy kneel next to the chair and he proceeded to jump over both of those people and the chair to slam home his own historic dunk. Oddly, after being treated to these two groundbreaking jump-over dunks in the space of 15 minutes, dunk fans would be forced to wait another 15 years before they saw the next one.
Upping the ante
From 2001 to 2005 five more Slam Dunk contestants completed jump-over dunks, but like their predecessors each of these modern dunkers dared only to leap over seated or crouched assistants — sometimes employing the hilarious dunk-and-cover style slam. This is where the non-dunker throws a pass to the dunker before crouching on the floor to avoid being knocked over. However, as illustrated by the chart above, jump-over dunkers have become progressively bolder through the years.
In 2006, Nate Robinson cleared Spud Webb to become the first dunker to jump over a person standing upright and Gerald Green returned the favor the following year by jumping over Robinson. Tyrus Thomas also leapt over his teammate, Ben Gordon, for one of his 2007 dunks. Still, these were three relatively modest-sized obstacles; at least compared to the average NBA frame. In contrast, Robinson’s 2009 dunk over the red-caped Dwight Howard can be viewed as an inflection point for jump-over dunks.
At 6-foot-11, Howard was legitimately an NBA-sized person and by jumping over him, Robinson raised the bar for all future contestants. Afterwards, simply jumping over somebody would no longer be enough to impress the judges. For example, in 2015, Mason Plumlee jumped over his 7-foot-tall brother, Miles, and the judges just yawned…36 points and a look of disapproval from Chief Justice Julius Erving. Consequently, since 2009 dunkers have incorporated increasingly outlandish flourishes to their jump-over dunks.
The sea-change was evident in 2011 when Blake Griffin jumped over a Kia (or at least, the bumper of a Kia), accompanied by a full-on gospel choir, and assisted by a sun-roof-protruding Baron Davis. The jump-over drama continued the following year as Derrick Williams Evel Knievel-ed over a motorcycle, Paul George dunked over two people, and Jeremy Evans dunked two balls over one person. Additionally, celebrity helpers and costumes were central features of the jump-over act in 2012, as Evans delivered a jam over a U.S.-mail-clad Kevin Hart while donning a Karl Malone jersey and his competitor Chase Budinger pushed P-Diddy to the edge (of the restricted area) before dunking on him while wearing a Billy Hoyle-inspired backwards hat.
The last two Slam Dunk Contests have pushed the jump-over dunk to new heights with unprecedented amounts of mascot-jumping, multiple-person obstacles, and hoverboards. The technical details have been equally impressive with the ball moving between-the-legs, beneath-the-butt, and around-the-basket during various dunks.
But, who did the jump-over dunk best?
The king of jumping over things
To date, there have been seven dunkers who pulled off multiple dunks while jumping over something or somebody.
Throw in Griffin in recognition of his historic hood hurdling and you have a group of eight deserving candidates to compare and contrast. Impressively, all but one of these nominees is a Slam Dunk Contest champion. The one exception being Aaron Gordon — the most worthy runner-up in contest history. Additionally, these eight dunkers account for six of the seven perfect-50 jump-over dunks. Here’s how I’d rank them:
8. Desmond Mason — A holdover from the bygone jump-over dunk days, Mason’s showings were relatively straightforward. He earned a 49 on the way to his 2001 championship by taking off outside of the paint and sailing over Rashard Lewis for an aggressive slam.
7. Josh Smith — After grabbing an alley-oop from Kenyon Martin, Smith converted a 50-point windmill that was worthy of his nickname — very smooth indeed. It helped him secure his 2005 championship.
6. Gerald Green — I’m a sucker for an homage to a former Slam Dunk Contest hero, so I was glad to see Green pump up his Reeboks and dunk over Nate Robinson with his eyes closed like his Celtic forerunner, Dee Brown. Green added his own 50-point windmill over a card table to seal his victory in 2007.
5. Nate Robinson — An innovator of the jump-over dunk. As discussed, he was the first dunker to jump over an upright man in the Slam Dunk Contest and then the first dunker to jump over a full-sized NBA player. He won the contest both times — in 2006 and again in 2009. The only thing keeping him out of the top-3 is his dunk off the back of Wilson Chandler, which was possibly the most ill-conceived jump-over dunk ever.
4. Blake Griffin — Responsible for the most memorable jump-over dunk in Slam Dunk Contest history, Griffin’s theatrical flare earns him a spot near the top of the list. It also earned him the 2011 Dunk Contest win.
3. Jeremy Evans — Just based on sheer volume, no other dunker embraced the jump-over dunk quite like Evans. He presented five separate jump-over dunks over the course of two years, more than any other entrant before or since. His standout dunk was a double-ball alley-oop set up by teammate Gordon Hayward who was seated on a bar stool below Evans’ flight pattern. The impressive dunk paved the way to Evans’ 2012 title. Evans also once jumped over a life-sized painting of himself. This was an underrated moment in Slam Dunk Contest history, as the portrait actually depicted Evans jumping over the painting — how meta! [note: the Evans painting is so life-like I opted to include this dunk in the “folks they jumped” section of the chart]
2. Glenn Robinson III — This year, Robinson pushed the jump-over dunk in several entertaining new directions. He cleared the highest obstacle ever — a guy perched on top of another guy’s shoulders — and jumped a trio of Boomer the Panther, Paul George, and a Pacers cheerleader. Both novel feats netted perfect-50s and the latter came as the final dunk of the night — locking in Robinson’s big win.
1. Aaron Gordon — His brilliant performance jumping over Stuff the Magic Dragon in the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest inspired this year’s cohort of dunkers to emulate him. He was the trendsetter for the Year of the Jump-over Slam! The pageantry and fun of incorporating “Stuff”, plus the technical difficulty of the between-the-legs and under-the-butt elements of his jump-over dunks was the perfect complement. I mean, come find me the next time somebody else dunks over a seven-foot-tall (counting the star antennas) dragon on a hoverboard; until then, Gordon will be the king of the jump-over dunk.
The king of being jumped over
Dahntay Jones. It’s Dahntay Jones.
There’s really no discussion, but for the sake of completeness, here’s the honorable-mention list: Terence Stansbury’s ball boy (for his awestruck face), Stuff (for his authentically exuberant celebration), and Wilson Chandler (for being a good sport).
But, yeah, it’s Jones. He was dunked over three separate times by three separate dunkers while playing for three separate teams. In the most recent instance (as noted by Kenny Smith during the broadcast) Jones wasn’t even a teammate of the dunker. He just seems to have a knack for getting dunked on. One could argue that he’s demonstrated an ability for throwing Slam Dunk Contest alley-oops and has therefore earned a spot as a trusted member of his dunk teams. But, I won’t. I think there’s something deeper, more intrinsic. Something on a subconscious-level that makes people want to lash out at Jones. Whatever it is, Jones has been the straw man more times than any other person in Slam Dunk Contest history, he is the king of being jumped over.