This year's Slam Dunk contest (Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on TNT) will feature last year's runner-up Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic, DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers, Glenn Robinson III of the Indiana Pacers and Derrick Jones Jr. of the Phoenix Suns. In terms of star power, it is an understated field, although as we've learned from past contests, it is not the name of the player that dictates how a dunk contest will go, but the creativity and execution of their jams.
Let's take a look at the greatest moments in the Slam Dunk Contest's 30-year history.
Cedric Ceballos' blindfold dunk in 1992
The dunk contest has been littered with props and gimmicks, from Blake Griffin dunking over a Kia, to Gerald Green blowing a candle on a cupcake, to Jeremy Evans dunking over a painting of himself. The OG prop move though belonged to Ceballos of the Suns, who had teammate Dan Majerle put a blindfold before he proceeded to sprint half court for the dunk.
In an online chat with ESPN, Ceballos claimed it took him two months of practice to execute the blindfold dunk, and took to Twitter to defend himself from haters who believed he could actually see through the blindfold:
The dunk makes the list because it also inspired a future generation. In 2001, Baron Davis of the Charlotte Hornets tried to pull a variation of Ceballos' original dunk by covering his eyes with his headband; he missed the attempt terribly.
J.R. Rider's Eastbay Funk Dunk in 1992
When Rider went baseline and threw down a between-the-legs dunk in 1992, he coined his slam the "Eastbay Funk Dunk," a dunk that's been passed down and is still copied today. At the time, Charles Barkley called it the best dunk he had ever seen.
Just to prove he's still got it, Rider executed the same dunk almost 20 years later in 2011:
Vince Carter's 2000 Slam Dunk Contest performance
Vince Carter's 2000 Slam Dunk Contest performance was so iconic it's hard to choose just one dunk. From the reverse windmill under the basket, to the Eastbay Funk Dunk homage with an assist from Tracy McGrady, to sticking his entire arm through the rim (shouts to the Raptors front office who were probably the only people who were not crazy excited about that), to his 360 windmill, it was epic.
Kobe Bryant wins the 1997 Contest at the age of 18
Once upon a time, the Dunk Contest wasn't just about highlighting the high flyers of the league, but also about highlighting the superstars-to-be of the NBA. Few of us could have known that back in 1997, when Lakers guard Kobe became the youngest dunk contest winner in NBA history. But his performance was an early glimpse at a player destined to put on a show on the biggest stage. (As an aside: one of the best parts of re-watching old dunk contest footage is seeing the former players and celebrities courtside. Brandy!)
Dee Brown's pump and dab dunk in 1991
The dunk contest is also very much about winning the crowd over with theatrics and charisma. Dee Brown of the Boston Celtics brought that to the 1991 dunk contest, when he made a show out of pumping his Reebok Pumps and proceeded to dab on his final dunk.
My favorite part about Brown's dunk: It angered Michael Jordan afterwards as he came up to Brown and said: "Hey, you did a great job out there, young fella. Nice show you put on. But, you know you started the shoe wars." When Brown asked what that meant, Jordan replied: "You started shoe wars. Now, as much as I want to crush you on the court, I gotta crush you off the court." Judging by how the Jordan Brand is still cornering the sneaker market today, Jordan's words were prophetic.
Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins in 1988
The consensus best Slam Dunk contest of all-time was a duel in 1988 between Jordan vs. Wilkins, a back-and-forth showcase of athleticism unlike any we've seen, which included Jordan taking off from the free throw line.
Years later, Wilkins still believes he should have won the dunk contest, saying in 2013: "When you're in somebody's hometown, it's always tough. But he had a great dunk, you have to admit. If anybody's going to beat me, I'd rather have it be him. It felt if [the dunk contest] wasn't in Chicago, it might have gone the other way."
Jason Richardson's final dunk in the 2003 Dunk Contest
The 2003 dunk contest duel between Richardson and Desmond Mason is a forgotten classic. The best moment came on Richardson's final dunk, when he went baseline, between the legs and behind his head for a dunk that no one had ever seen before. Check out Kenny Smith's reaction (always an indicator on whether a dunk is entering the classic vault) and how fellow players rushed the court (another great indicator that you just earned a legit 50 on a perfect dunk).
Terence Stansbury Statue of Liberty dunk in 1985
People will remember the '80s Dunk Contests for Dominique and MJ, and rightfully so. But a forgotten classic is the 360-degree Statue of Liberty dunk from Pacers guard Stansbury, who finished in third place in three consecutive Slam Dunk contests from 1985 to 1987. The Statue of Liberty dunk was graceful, understated, and perfectly executed, a simple aesthetic for a contest that is usually about playing up the moment. Sometimes, a well-executed dunk is all you need to create a classic.
Spud Webb in 1986
At just 5-foot-6, Webb shocked everyone by winning the 1986 dunk contest, including beating his teammate Wilkins, whom he outdueled in the final round. Webb's performance was not just about the novelty of his height -- he pulled off a two-handed double pump dunk, a one-handed slam off the backboard, a 360 helicopter dunk and a reverse double-pump dunk.
Years later, we saw the modern day version of Webb in 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson in the dunk contest.
Aaron Gordon vs. Zach LaVine in 2016
The duel between Gordon and LaVine at the Air Canada Centre last year is probably worth re-watching in its entirety, and even though LaVine ended up taking home the title, Gordon's under-the-legs dunk over a mascot was probably the highlight of the entire battle.
For years, everyone has repeatedly talked about how the Contest was no longer the marquee event for Saturday. But last year's version electrified the entire arena and brought it back into the spotlight for good. Now, it will be up to the four dunk contestants this year (Gordon included) to continue that momentum on Saturday.