The NBA slam dunk contest is an annual event scheduled during the Saturday of the All-Star break and is on the eve of the actual All-Star game. The slam dunk contest was first held in the American Basketball Association (ABA), in Denver, during the All-Star break in 1976 when Julius Irving became the inaugural winner. After the ABA and the NBA merged in 1976, the slam dunk contest was not held again until 1984 when it was held in Denver. During the 1984 contest, Larry Nance of the Phoenix Suns became the first winner of the NBA slam contest when he defeated Julius Irving in the finals.
Since the 1984 contest, the slam dunk contest has been held during every All-Star break except the years of 1998 and 1999 when the NBA All-Star break was cancelled due to a lockout. During the 1980’s, the dunk contest attracted some of the biggest names in the NBA including, the aforementioned Julius Irving, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler and Dominique Wilkins. Beginning in the 1990’s, the dunk contest has seen superstars mostly stay away from the contest and has had more upcoming, young players compete. This trend has mostly persisted, with a few exceptions, through the 2013 contest with fans clamoring for someone like LeBron James to enter the contest. The 2014 contest in New Orleans marks a change to this trend as three All-Star game participants, John Wall, Damian Lillard and Paul George participated in the slam dunk contest. They changed the format this year, with the East beating the West and John Wall going home with the most impressive dunker award.
The following list shows the top 10 dunk contest champions in terms of their NBA career earnings only, so it does not include endorsement money. So don’t be too confused by Michael Jordan’s position on the list. For current players, their career earnings also includes their salaries for the 2013/2014 season.
10. Isaiah Rider – $ 26,398,797
Isaiah Rider won the NBA slam contest in 1994 when the NBA All-Star festivities were held in Minneapolis. Rider was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1993 draft and played in the NBA until 2001. The 6 foot 5 Rider also played for the Portland Trail Blazers, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets throughout his career while becoming an NBA champion with the Lakers in 2001. Rider is only one of three slam dunk champions to win the the award when the contest was held in the city where they played professionally.
9. Desmond Mason – $37,641,002
Desmond Mason won the 2001 slam dunk contest held in Washington D.C as a Seattle Supersonics player and was also the runner-up to Jason Richardson in the 2003 slam dunk contest. The 6 ft 5 Mason was drafted from Oklahoma State University by the Sonics in 2000 and played in the NBA until 2009. He played for a total of five franchises including the Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Hornets, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Sacramento Kings. Since retiring from the NBA, Mason has become an artist and his various works have been on display in art galleries and museums in Oklahoma.
8. Blake Griffin – $39,740,232
Since entering the NBA in the 2009 draft, the 6 ft 10 Blake Griffin has been known for his gravity defying dunks. The former University of Oklahoma star missed the entire 2009/2010 season due to a broken kneecap. After returning for the 2010/2011 season, the Los Angeles Clippers forward won the NBA Rookie of the Uear and won the NBA slam dunk contest that was held in Los Angeles. One of Griffin’s most memorable dunks came in the 2011 contest when he completed his final dunk by jumping over the hood of a KIA. Griffin is one of three NBA dunk contest winners to have won the contest in the city in which they play professionally.
7. Brent Barry – $53,464,860
Brent Barry was the 15th pick of the Denver Nuggets in the 1995 draft. He was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers and played with the team until 1998. Barry is one of two NBA players to have won the dunk contest as a Clipper and is also the only white player to have ever won the contest, when it was held in San Antonio in 1996. The 6 ft 7 Barry won the contest while completing a dunk where he jumped from the free-throw line and dunked with one hand. Barry is a surprise slam dunk champion because he was mostly known for his three-point shooting, where he ranks 13th in three pointers made in NBA history. Barry played in the NBA until 2009 for a total of five teams including the San Antonio Spurs, where he won the NBA title in 2005 and 2007.
6. Josh Smith – $77,839,623
Josh Smith won the 2005 slam dunk contest when it was held in Denver. The 6 ft 9 forward was drafted 17th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2004 draft and is one of three Hawks players to have ever won the slam dunk contest joining Spud Webb and Dominique Wilkins, who won the contest twice. Smith was drafted into the NBA after finishing high school and never attended college. After 2005, the NBA implemented a rule stating that players entering the draft must be 19 years old and be one year removed from graduating from high school. Smith was one of several NBA players who publicly disagreed with this rule. Smith spent his first nine NBA seasons with the Hawks before signing a four year, $54 million contract to join the Detroit Pistons in July 2013.
5. Michael Jordan – $90,235,000
One of the many accolades that Michael Jordan earned in his Hall of Fame career was the slam dunk title. The Chicago Bulls drafted 6 ft 6 Jordan with the 3rd overall pick in the 1984 draft and Jordan went on to win the slam dunk contest on two separate occasions, in 1987 and 1988 when the contest was held in Seattle and Chicago respectively. Jordan was the first of five players to win the slam dunk title at least twice when he successfully defended his title in 1988 and the first player to win the title in the city where he played professionally. He is also the first of three slam dunk champions to have won the slam dunk contest in back to back years.
4. Jason Richardson – $98,754,968
The second NBA player to have won the slam dunk contest in consecutive years was Jason Richardson. The 6 ft 6 Richardson was drafted 5th overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 2001 draft. Richardson won his first dunk contest in 2002 when the contest was held in Philadelphia. He became the second player since Michael Jordan to defend his title when he won the 2003 slam dunk contest when it was held in Atlanta. Richardson also competed in the dunk contest held in Los Angeles in 2004, but his bid to become the first player to win the slam dunk contest for the third straight time was unsuccessful as Richardson lost in the finals to Fred Jones. Richardson currently plays for the Philadelphia 76ers, his 5th NBA team.
3. Dwight Howard – $123,289,952
The last time the dunk contest was held in New Orleans, where it was held this year, saw Dwight Howard become the tallest participant to win the title as a member of the Orlando Magic, in 2008. The 6 ft 11 Howard was the 1st overall pick of the Magic in the 2004 draft and led the franchise to an NBA finals appearance in 2009. Howard’s signature dunk occurred when he put on a superman cape and soared through the air for one of his dunks. Howard was credited for rejuvenating the dunk contest as he performed a series of innovative dunks that also included a dunk from behind the backboard in which the ball was initially cradled by a miniature basketball rim. Howard is returning to New Orleans as an All-Star in 2014 and currently plays for the Houston Rockets, his third team in as many seasons.
2. Vince Carter – $161,663,315
After the 1997 dunk contest in Cleveland, the dunk contest was not held for two years. There was no dunk contest during the 1998 All-Star break in New York and the 1999 All-Star break, scheduled to be in Philadelphia, which were cancelled due to the 1999 NBA lockout. After a two year absence, the 2000 slam dunk contest held in Oakland was one of the most memorable contests due in large part to the performance of Vince Carter, the 5th overall pick in the 1998 draft. In that contest, the 6 ft 7 Toronto Raptors guard electrified the Oakland crowd by performing a variety of improbable dunks including one in which he left his elbow in the rim. After one of his dunks, and when it was obvious that he was going to win the competition, Carter looked at the camera and famously exclaimed that “it’s over.” Carter is regarded as one of the best dunkers in NBA history and his 2000 slam dunk performance is a big reason why. Carter currently plays for the Dallas Mavericks, his 5th NBA team.
1. Kobe Bryant – $279,738,062
The 13th overall pick of the 1996 draft, Kobe Bryant, is one of the most decorated and accomplished players in NBA history. In addition to being a five time NBA champion, Bryant is also a former slam dunk champion. Early in his NBA career, Kobe Bryant earned the reputation as one of the most exciting players and a high flyer when he won the slam dunk contest held in Cleveland in 1997 as a rookie. The 6 ft 6 Bryant was the youngest slam dunk champion when he won the contest at the age of 18, a record he still holds. Bryant has spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers and signed a two year $ 48.5 million contract extension that runs until the end of the 2016 season.